Destination Known

Imagine the calamity. The ship captain stands at the bow of his ship to make a grand proclamation. All ship-hands, from the cook to the deck scrubbers, riggers and oar-men, stand at attention. “I have good news, and I have bad news”. The crew listens intently. “The good news is that we are ahead of schedule to complete our trip. The bad news is that I am not sure where we are going”.

Can your team relate to this story? How does this happen? Did you (the captain) forget where you were headed? Did you forget to be clear before you left? Has your team (the individual crew members) done what they thought best based upon where they thought you were leading them?

Whether as the team-leader or the team member, we get caught up in our day-to-day activities of getting to our destination, choose to ride with the winds of fortune, or we hit a big storm, we can forget where we were originally headed. No matter the reason for not having a clear destination, the fault ultimately lays with the team leader. This lack of team leadership leads to wasteful activity and frustration on your part, on the part of your team–and your boss. You can avoid this by checking your course and checking often. Making sure daily activities are aligned with the team’s objectives is often referred to as alignment in which each team member knows how their individual activity supports the larger success of the team.

  • Begin by knowing the role of your team in the context of the larger team or division of which it is a part–that is, know how your success fuels success for the larger group of which you are a part.
  • Secondly, specifically identify the objectives of your team in that context. What are the deliverables of your team that support the larger purpose?
  • Know how your team will fulfill those objectives. Ideally, the strategy for fulfilling these objectives is created by all the team members (after all, you have them on your team for their expertise).
  • Even if you made a top down strategy decision, a measure of success is that each member of your team can articulate the team’s basic strategy for success, and they must be able to give the definition of success for that team in terms of deliverable objectives.

In order to align individual team members’ activities with the team’s objectives and strategy, some managers will go so far as make a list of team objectives on one side and a list of individual team member activities or projects on the other. (Or ask team members to do this.) If you (or they) are unable to draw a solid line between a project and an objective consider refocusing or eliminating that project. This kind of activity is an additional means to drive home the point that projects and their associated activities must be in support of a shared and pre-determined objective. Whenever an individual makes a choice of how to use their time or create a product, for example, they should be measuring how impactful that choice is toward meeting the objectives of their team. This is a powerful means by which to set priorities when our schedule is overloaded.

Even though they knew the message in the beginning, the crew must be constantly motivated by their captain with a reminder of the objectives and the definition of success. Additionally, given the rough seas of customer needs, reorganization, occasional threats of mutiny, and budgetary winds failing to fill the sails, we must also constantly revisit the original objectives and strategy in order to keep the team and individual activities aligned and within the context of their next higher level. While the ship does have a steering wheel, it is critical that the change of direction be purposeful and toward a destination known by all.

*For additional seafaring inspiration, see O Captain! My Captain! –by Walt Whitman, 1900 or Invictus–by William Ernest Henley, 1888