Sometimes you need to have a conversation about how you are going to do the work before you start doing the work.  

There are several conversations that teams should have when entering a collaborative initiative and that should be revisited on a somewhat regular basis.  In my last post I identified these as:

  1. What is Purpose or Goal?
  2. What are our Roles and Responsibilities related to this purpose?
  3. What are our Shared Expectations of each other as we pursue this mutual purpose?
  4. How are we Internally Organized to get the work done?
  5. What Language do we need to clarify as we merge our diverse organizations and cultures?
  6. What core Values inform our work?
  7. How are we Externally Connected to our stakeholders and other doing work related to our initiative?

Let’s look at the first three.

What is our Purpose or Goal?  How many of you have participated in a group or on a team where the purpose or objective of the group was unclear?  This uncertainty may even have remained following several meetings.

A critical question for any group has to do with purpose or objectives.  I am continually surprised at how many groups and conveners of groups remain unclear on this question.

A fundamental belief at the heart of group formation is that we can achieve better results by working together on an issue than by working on the same issue independently.  The first task of any group is to clarify the mutual purpose for choosing to work interdependently.

The pursuit of mutual purpose is best achieved when teams are organized to engage in shared learning.  This is a fundamental function of any team and should permeate the clarification and pursuit of a team’s purpose.  Questions to consider include:

  • Who or what convened the group?
  • It we are a self-convening group, have we identified our shared or mutual purpose?
  • Is there an external mandate?  Is the work of the team defined by policy? Procedure?  Legislative mandate?
  • What are the required or expected outcomes of the team’s work?

What are our Roles and Responsibilities related to this purpose?  Many teams struggle because there is a lack of clarity as to roles and responsibilities of team members.  Recognizing the importance of relationships, effective teams focus on:

  • Connection before content:  Taking time to get to know fellow team members, their role related to this initiative and the strengths and expertise they bring to support achievement of the groups purpose.
  • Regular interaction:  Making time to meet regularly; balancing technology supported interaction with face-to-face interaction.
  • Building trust and safety:  There is a strong correlation between the presence of trust and safety on a team and the team’s ability to engage in difficult, challenging, and complex conversations.  Effective teams work to build trust and safety and proactively address issues that compromise their ability to maintain these crucial elements.

Questions to consider include:

  • Why are you a member of this team?
  • What is your “area of expertise”?
  • Who do you “represent” and how do you represent them?
  • What strengths do you bring to the team?
  • What would support you to fully participate as a team member?

What are our Shared Expectations of each as we pursue this mutual purpose?  In their book, Reaching Higher Ground in Conflict Resolution:  Tools for Powerful Groups and Communities, authors Dukes, Piscolish, and Stephens write:

“All too often in families, in organizations, and in communities, when well-intentioned people find themselves struggling in difficult and contentious issues, there is a simple but powerful explanation:  They haven’t created shared expectations – the ground rules for working out their differences.  And even when they do work out their differences, they often do so in ways that leave them frustrated, alienated from one another, resentful and in dread of the next confrontation.”

At the heart of conflict will often be found unmet, unclear, and/or misunderstood expectations.  Effective teams take the time to articulate and clarify their “shared expectations” and implement strategies for evaluating their performance against these shared parameters.  They hold themselves accountable to these commitments to maintain trust and safety. 

Effective collaboration results when we align our actions and speaking as a group to our commitments as a group.