The guiding principles of a team


A team by definition is when there is more than one person involved — in fact, as I think about it, I would be hard pressed to think of a situation where there isn’t more than one person involved; except maybe someone stranded on a desert island, if I had to make a guess. Barring a tragedy at sea, most of your life will have you either on a team or leading one; even those so-called “Individual contributors” are part of a team. Like many, particularly if you have been around long enough, I’ve gleaned the spectrum of good to bad teams, as well as good and bad leaders — I will admit after some self reflection (and with full disclosure), I was probably somewhere in the middle. I definitely enjoyed the learning curve.

Discussing teams (and by extension leadership) covers a large swath of topics such as hiring talent, communications, team building, performance management, training, et cetera, et cetera; all far greater in scope than 750 words (or less) can do justice. However, 750 words (or less) will work quite nicely for the foundational components needed to develop a high performing team — and it involves getting your team in a room and discussing just two things (I appreciate that depending on the size of your team this may offer some facilitation and logistical challenges but a little imagination can solve this).

First thing discussed in the room — objectives

objective [əbˈjektiv] NOUN — a thing aimed at or sought; a goal.

In many cases the team is working with objectives that have been given to them so this is an opportunity to ensure everyone understands the objectives, offer an opportunity to raise questions and concerns, and ensure everyone is aligned with them. There is also the opportunity for the team to develop objectives for themselves that are important for success, and these can be folded into the overall objectives. My experience is once you get past three objectives you run the risk of becoming unfocused so prioritizing a list of objectives is important. And as you probably know, keep your objectives Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time bound.

Addressing objectives is something that is relatively straightforward.

The second thing discussed in the room — expectations

expectation [ˌekspekˈtāSH(ə)n] NOUN — a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.

Admittedly I have only ever heard expectations discussed a handful of times so unlike objectives, maybe expectations are not as straightforward. In my discussions around expectations I’ve always started the exercise with the following, “As a team we expect… “.

“As a team we expect an environment of professional candour”

“As a team we expect timely feedback”

“As a team we expect everyone to participate”

“As a team we expect professional growth opportunities”

As a aside, an expectation can not be an objective and needs to speak to the team as a whole. Five to seven expectations is a good working number.

These Objectives and Expectations make up the framework for the team’s actions and behaviour, and drive everything they do — the team’s guiding principles if you will. Once you have these guiding principles it makes it easier to hire the best people, determine the most effective way to communicate, identify the best performance management approach, determine what is key in building the team, et cetera, et cetera.

At the very least, when it comes to teams (and by extension leadership), it’s an obvious place to start.


Fulfilling a debt obligation... a win-win.

photo-helping hand.jpg

I’m not really sure if what I’m about to say is reflective of anything in particularly or just an example of me trying to be helpful — I would like to think it may offer some insight into the importance of strategic social media thinking, networking and the moral imperative that requires you to help when asked (or at the very least, seriously consider it).

In an unsolicited conversation that came my way through LinkedIn I found myself offering some advice and thoughts with regard to a career transition into sales. The conversation went like this (verbatim):

A Stranger — Hi Graham, I have decided to change my career path from being an organic chemist (MSc) to a sales representative. This is what I am truly passionate about and I hope you can advise me on this transition. Please accept my request. Regards

Me— Sure... assuming you have no experience I would start by reading the one minute sales person and the little red book of selling... there is also something called “strength finder”... worth profiling yourself to see if your really align with a career in sales... although older publications still foundational... I would start here...

Not so much a Stranger — Good morning Graham, Thank you for taking the time to respond to my request and sharing your thoughts. It’s interesting because about two or three days before I got your message, I borrowed the red book of selling from a nearby library. I have been reading it since then and there are a lot in that book to learn. I would definitely search for the other book you mentioned in your message. Also, I will try that strength finder to see if my personality traits matches up with a sales career. Regards

Still Me — The thinking is to determine if sales is something you really want to do and what it involves... if you still think you want to do it, redraft your cv to be sales oriented, word smith your linkedIn with subtle sales language... your opportunity will be entry level sales positions or sales gigs with small companies... obviously using your chemistry background is ideal but it may not work out that way in the beginning... start applying... google STAR interview questions as it will give you a feel for what you will be asked... since you have no experience you have to leverage your potential... Good luck

Not a Stranger — I very much appreciate your time providing all those precious information. Regards

I will admit it’s nice to have someone reach out for opinion and advice, so when the person reached out I recognized right away that they were trying to build and work their network as part of a career development goal, and was particularly interested that their career choice was in the commercial space (which I have a big soft spot for). I was also gently reminded of a moral imperative that simply says, “When someone asks for help, you try to help them”… I do appreciate there is some contextual consideration to this imperative, but when it comes to advice and insight in your field of expertise, there is a certain debt obligation requiring you to share.

For anyone who has developed a certain degree of expertise and success, it would be hard for me to accept there weren’t mentors, advisors and supportive conversations involved along the way; all sharing information, advice and insight that ultimately became building blocks for that success. This is a debt that needs to be recognized and passed on in the same way that it was received. And if you don’t like the idea of debt and obligation just think of yourself as a catalyst — sharing doesn’t really impact you in any negative way but can precipitate great change for others.

And if your are still struggling with a perceived altruistic gesture, keep in mind you will expand your network, probably learn something, continue to craft your thoughts and theories, and have a microphone for an audience who wants to hear what you have to say.

And this is what we call a WIN - WIN


Leadership, making a decision, and the subtle serendipity of the universe.


Ultimately this may just be just two independent events that happened in close succession and I’m just mashing them together to get my word count up — let’s see where we land before making a call one way or another There was a trip down memory lane while walking that had me thinking about the definition of leadership, and while I was waiting in line at one of my favourite coffee shops I witnessed a person trying to decide what to have for a breakfast snack.

Independent Event One

The reason I happened to being wading back through the years and thinking about Leadership may be the result of some recent events, a desire to come up with a blog topic, or simply the joy of reminiscing on moments that are now so distant (and if I’m honest, a little sketchy when it comes to the detail). What I do remember is I was at the front of the room engaged in a discussion about leadership, and after a couple of definitions were offered up, I simply said,

“No that’s management, leadership is about having a vision”.

Over the years, I’ve probably enhanced this definition to include a people component but at the heart of it, Leadership is about having a vision that rallies people, process and activities. Leadership is about pulling people to a vision and management is about pushing people to a vision. The whole leadership-management dynamic, in a practical sense, is really more a matter of semantics because most people (to differing degrees) are doing both at any given time. The one thing I can say with great conviction is if you don’t have a vision you aren’t a leader (and that’s OK; I think it’s fair to say in many cases, at many times, there are way too many chiefs and not enough indians — as the saying goes).

vision [ˈviZHən] NOUN: the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom.

I’m sure there are many who can offer a better definition (in both accuracy and wordsmithing) for leadership, but I will have to say it’s hard to disagree with the fact that when there isn’t a vision there is nothing for people and activities to rally around, and although arguably there may be work done, nothing of substance is accomplished or achieved.

Independent Event Two

“ What kind of breakfast sandwiches do you have, ok, ok. I’m not sure which one to have, um, um; Sally, which one do you think I should have… uh huh, uh huh. I’m still not sure; ok, ok, I will have a tea and I guess….”

As I watched her walk away I’m not really sure she got what she wanted but I guess it didn’t matter because she obviously didn’t know what she wanted. Not surprising though, that’s what happen when there isn’t any vision to focus your decisions.

Call it a stoke of luck, a coincidence or the subtle serendipity of the universe, my trip down memory lane and standing in line at a coffee shop was not so independent, and I got the blog topic I was looking for.


PS — Before you use “Leader or Lead” on your LinkedIn profile, business card or CV, you may want to review what your applicable vision is — it will make it much easy when the time comes to making a decision.