Why it’s important to have objectives in ‘inclusive leadership’

Why you should ‘feel the fear, and do it anyway’ in inclusive leadership

The one area that seems to cause the most ‘pain’ when I am working with teams or groups is determining team objectives.  I’m going to speculate as to why this may be:

  • They trigger memories of long tedious conversations where people start to argue about the measure and miss the point
  • They don’t always seem relevant to what we do in our jobs everyday, particularly when the organisations we work in are so complex
  • There are some aspects of delivering objectives that are simply outside of our control
  • There is a sense of them being ‘top down’
  • Objectives reminds us too much of targets/performance and being held accountable, and there is a fear that these will overshadow the important aspects of our roles
  • They become a stick to beat us with as opposed to an enabler
  • No one takes any notice of them, so what’s the point?

Does any of this sound familiar?  Have you found yourself thinking this or saying any of these out loud rather than focusing on the benefits of having clear team or individual objectives?  Our default may often be to treat objectives as a problem; they may be too difficult, too challenging, or too time-consuming.  Yet, time and again we find that one of the key reasons an initiative, change programme, or project hasn’t worked is because the objectives were not sufficiently clear in the first place.  Either that, or we didn’t review and change them as the work progressed and/or the conditions changed.

The work that I do with Aston OD Ltd is based on the research of Professor Michael West and others. It focuses on providing support to teams, team leaders, and organisations to improve overall team performance.  The primary aim to enable teams to improve patient outcomes through the work that they do every day by collaborating and being inclusive.  There are some key principles that we have found to be essential if teams are to be able to focus and improve their effectiveness.  After all, the highest predictor of team success is clear objectives.

Time to reflect on your own experience

Perhaps now would be a good time to spend a moment writing down 5 good things about having clear team objectives, or what might be the consequences of not having clear team objectives.

Some positives about setting objectives that often come up in our group discussions are:

  • We are clear about what we need to do and when we need it to be done by
  • We are able to understand if we are broadly heading in the right direction, and when we may need to change course or take different actions along the way
  • We can involve others and bring their knowledge, skills, insight, and expertise
  • We are able to negotiate more effectively with other teams with whom we need to work in order to deliver on particular objectives
  • We are able to prioritise and de-prioritise
  • We are more empowered and think more clearly about the decisions we can/can’t take
  • We have more shared accountability and ownership, and use the knowledge, skill, and expertise of the team more effectively
  • We can track our progress
  • We individually understand how we contribute to the team
  • We understand how to work with each other better to succeed
  • We have a much higher chance of success
  • Our team conversations are much more focused

How to get beyond the fear of setting an objective:

Going in with a positive narrative to any objective session will really help.  Team members being more optimistic about the value of team objectives helps them for the work ahead.  A good way to start is by making the session more engaging, perhaps by taking time at the beginning to define the purpose of the team.  The key question is ‘what does this team uniquely exist to do?’  It can also be a helpful exercise if the team can agree to suggest sentences that are less than 15 words long and start with a known phrase, i.e. ‘this team exists to…’

In teams of 8 or more we usually use a ‘pyramid negotiation’ approach.  This is pairs coming up with a first draft (in 10 minutes), then 2 pairs compare and contrast their first drafts and negotiate a common draft (another 10 minutes), and so on until a final draft is agreed as a whole team version of their ‘purpose statement.’

This lays the foundations for the objective setting questions for new teams, which are:

  • What must we have achieved in the next X months to ensure that we can achieve our purpose in X months or years?
  • How will we measure our progress?
  • What key milestones will need to be achieved along the way to signal that we are on the right track and working at the right speed?  i.e. activities stated in positive past tense achievement terms, and with timescales
  • Who will be responsible for coordinating the communication of each objective, and then the monitoring of performance against each objective?

If possible you should then turn the answers to the above questions into SMART objectives, or send the team away to do this.   In our experience it is useful to have identified individual team objective ‘coordinators’ for each objective, who will go away and work up the final draft objective with key performance indicators for agreement by the whole team at the next meeting.

Teams are complex entities. When working at their very best, teams can achieve phenomenal heights in human endeavour.  Look around you today and reflect upon what you have achieved as being part of a team, the value of this achievement, and benefit that you collectively brought to the group.  If you’re not achieving the results that you expected then it could be that you need to spend more time on the structure and process of team working.  Dare I say, it’s likely that you need to do a bit more work around having a set of clear team objectives which, hopefully after reading this post, you’ll have no problem with!

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