Functional teams – or those with mediocre leaders – are generally focused on performing a set of carefully prescribed functions and getting compensated for doing so. Teams of distinction are those that are energized to move forward by aspirational goals and have a determination to prevail over all expectations. How can a team make the leap from the former to latter?
Ask your team this one question:
“What one thing can we do, that if we did it and really nailed it in the next 4-6 months, would make us a team of distinction?”
By asking this question, you are both telling your team that you expect them to improve and letting them set the new bar. The question is, who should answer this question? Should you, as the leader, define what the team needs to do, or should you empower the team to define it with you?
Develop it for them if… you have a young team, a new team, or a team new to a market. In these cases, you develop the aspirational ambition for them. Or, if you have a business situation where you are trying to create a complete breakthrough – like Steve Jobs, MLK, or JFK – then yes, you create new thinking and a new vision for the team.
Create an aspirational ambition WITH them for the rest of the situations, with teams that are experienced, with teams that know the business. If you create the aspiration for this kind of team, it will actually backfire. They will be frustrated that they weren’t included. They will not feel connected and impassioned about it. As a result, it will not serve its purpose to motivate the team to excel.
Whatever aspiration you come up with, make sure it is something to rally around and focus on. Maybe it’s more transparent communication. Maybe it’s better execution. Maybe it’s more positivity. You, as their leader, will remind them of this goal to focus the team when they hit challenges or need help with priorities. Colleagues will talk about it and grapple with how to make it happen. It will keep them aiming higher despite the challenges. It will get the team to strive to be a team of distinction.