Renovate your teamwork: The strategy that leaders love

The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score.


Leaders know that teams who are unclear about their goal are as ineffective as water on a paint brush – going through the motions won’t make any difference to the end result.


Have you ever heard the term ‘Think like a CEO’?


I recently participated in a summit that was attended by one of the Atlassian Co-CEOs, Mike Cannon-Brookes. His company, Atlassian, is an Australian start-up valued at US$3.3 billion.


Mike runs a session with all his new recruits called ‘Think like a CEO’.


What is it that Mike Cannon-Brookes is trying to impart in this session? It is what most skills-oriented professionals don’t have: a broader perspective on their role.


By taking into account the context the organisation operates within, together with its specific vision, team members can become aware of what matters most.


It is knowing what matters most that enables teams to be successful.


These are the kinds of situations that can arise when team members are unclear about what matters most:


  • Two employees collaborate to create a solution that they learn will not be used
  • An employee partially completes a task before his employee or supervisor becomes involved mid-stream and changes its purpose, requiring significant adjustment and reworking
  • A supervisor double-checks every task performed by a subordinate employee at the lowest level of detail


High performing teams usually clarify their version of what matters most by setting one clear vision and several long-term and short-term goals. In doing so they avoid a lot of confusion and wasted effort. Strategic decisions about where to spend resources can be made by team members, without requiring managers to be involved every step of the way.


Average teams, on the other hand, are content with unclear goals that seem to be heading in the right direction. These teams are unlikely to have SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound), which are the gold-standard of clear goal setting.


Interestingly, clarity is not the only factor to consider when it comes to goal-setting. Pioneering research by Dr Edwin Locke in the 1960s showed that 90 percent of the time, specific and challenging (but not too challenging) goals led to higher performance than both easy and non-specific goals (such as when a broad goal is given, like “do your best”).


This research shows us that goals should be not only clear, but also specific and challenging. In other words teams need challenging SMART goals to see a real boost in performance.


Some teams find it difficult to set goals – their long-term goals and short-term goals seem more like a sponge thrown into a dark room than a nail hammered into the wall. This is often due to an unclear vision, in which case it is important for leaders to spend more time on strategy and arriving at a clear vision.


Once teams have a clear vision and SMART goals, they have what it takes to know where to expend effort, time and money. In other words, they have what it takes to think like a CEO.


If that team has SMART goals that are also challenging they are set to achieve high levels of performance.


There is an inseparable link between goal-setting and workplace performance. Do your team members know what matters most? Or which questions do you need to ask to get greater clarity around your team’s goals?


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