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.