The image tells it all. What we want is everyone working together, pulling in the same direction, striving for the same goals. It seems like it ought to be easy. After all, everyone is on the same team.
But the more people who are involved on your team and in your organization, the harder this becomes. People create their own goals and purposes for work. They become more self-focused and seem to have less of a vested interest in the success of others. This doesn’t make people “bad” or selfish; it just means they are human.
There are a range of reasons why keeping a team all on the same page becomes more difficult as the number of people involved grows, but talking about that is less important and valuable than talking about how you can fix it.
So let me give you some ideas to get everyone grabbing onto the same rope and pulling in the same direction. All of these points are focused on helping people see the world in a way that is consistent with the possibility that everyone can win. Use these approaches to inspire and influence, not to force (which likely won’t work anyway).
Help people see the big picture. Emerson said that it is hard to see the forest when you are the forest. Individuals see the tree in front of them, identify with that tree, and make that tree (task, approach or goal) their own. This makes total sense to the individual – it is our job as a leader to raise their sights, help them see something bigger, more expansive and more valuable. With an expanded view people start to see the interconnections between their work and the work of others. This is the first step to getting people pulling together – they must know what they are pulling for and why that is important.
Talk in plain language. Real people talk in plain language. When you move to corporate speak with lots of fancy terminology and acronyms you lose people. How would you share your messages relating to purpose and goals with your grandmother or an 8 year old? Then compare that to how you typically talk with your team and answer these questions:
- Which set of messages works better for you?
- Which do you want to listen to?
- Which will inform and inspire you?
I’m betting your answers are the same as mine. The goal isn’t to be “cool” or professional. The goal is to connect with your audience. Ditch the acronyms. Embrace the simple and straightforward.
Build relationships. It isn’t just about the goals either. Are you more interested in someone else winning if you know and like them? Are you more willing to help someone and celebrate their success when you care about them?
Of course you are.
So are your team members. So take time, make time, and even create time for relationships to build. Not just with you, but with your entire team. Help people connect. Help them find common ground. Make it part of the job expectations that people get to know each other. They may not become friends, but that is ok. What we want are strong working relationships which help in many ways, including reaching common goals.
Create all-win situations. In the end this is the point. You want everyone on the team to see how they win when they help others win. When this is true, everyone will be pulling on the rope together (hard!). So your job is to make that happen. Be careful about internal competition – keep it healthy and not divisive. Give people more ways to work together and recognize and reward their efforts when they do. When we help people win, they want to keep winning. Create the right goal posts and point structures and you will get there.
Check the cultural messages. You can work on these other four things and they can make a big difference, but you must consider the culture people are working in as well. If the pay structures focus on individual contributions, if the message people get is that lone heroes win and if there is no recognition for contributions or teamwork; all of your efforts will be diminished in value. These are just a few examples to get you thinking. Make sure that the cultural cues are helping people work together and take a vested interest of everyone winning together.
If none of these are working, you might have to look deeper to the actions and motivations of individuals. Start by observing their actions and motives, not judging them. Which leads us to one more important point. . .
Beware sabotage. Remember that there is a difference between people being self-interested and relatively ambivalent about others (which, isn’t what we would prefer but may be workable) and people wanting to win at all costs. If people are actively or covertly sabotaging others – operating in a win-lose mindset and approach, you must coach them past that, or invite them to leave. This severe approach won’t likely lead your team to maximum possible success.
Ultimately team members will pull for the team and other individuals on it when they see a worldview where doing so makes sense for themselves. Our goal as a leader is to help people create a picture of success that includes everyone on the team winning together.