The importance of team governance

From guest writer David Kershaw, from eVisioner MetaTeam®

A friend of mine who has been in business for many years advises new managers who are trying to run an organization for the first time.  Several times he has told me stories of young execs who get down in the weeds helping to get the actual work done while the company starts to drift and lose its way.  His advice to them has to do with separating the work of organizing the work from helping to perform the work in progress.  “Look, playing the odds that things will continue to go right is a bad idea,” he says.  “Pretty often you have to step back and work on the business, not in the business.”

Running a business can be a bit like juggling

Managing a business or team can be a bit like juggling

In simple form, that pretty much sums up the situation many team leaders find themselves in.  A pretty broad swath of project managers and team leaders are savvy enough to know that organizing the group at the outset is Job One.  They bring people together using good communication, create a charter laying out the goals and ground rules, and overall get things off on the right foot.  Great initial organization = great project, right?

Unfortunately, that great initial organization is exactly where the trouble starts. The team leader sees that all is well and succumbs to the temptation to be a technocrat.  They take their eye off the leadership ball for the areas of the work they know best, or that are most intellectually interesting, where they can help get work done quickly. They sometimes even just stick their heads down in the guts of the Gantt charts and grind down the schedule.  While all those activities are vital and well-meaning, they are not what the leader of the overall effort should be doing. Think about it; should a VP of Sales be schlepping his Fuller Brush case from door to door on a regular basis?   As other authors on this blog have pointed out, there are easily identifiable reasons why creating a team is the right thing to do in many situations. And if the situation fits the profile, these other efforts on the part of the team leader are very likely to become distractions that take away from them running an effective team.

Trouble manifests as ambiguity.  While good work continues to be cranked out, the organization and understandings of the team grow cloudy, rules are bent and shortcuts are taken, meetings run long, and decisions don’t stick.  The productivity of the team gets eaten away.  Remember the last time you attended a meeting to re-decide a decision that was finalized the week before because resolved meant different things to different people.  (If that’s never happened to you, please put in a good word for me — I’ve always wanted to work at Nirvana).  Even worse, ambiguity also eat away at the good humor and commitment of the team members.  And with those go the efficiency of the team.

When you engage in a team effort, you trade efficiency for scalability.  Think of the last time you decided to make yourself a sandwich.  It was a short meeting and it ended in unanimous consent, right?  You got your lunch pretty quickly.  Now imagine you need to make the sandwiches for a company picnic with 500 people.  You need a team 10 and the team needs to make some decisions.  It’s going to take a while to decide if you’ll be offering cold cuts or hamburgers, but once you’ve made that call, a team of 10 can work together to feed 500.

The only way to make that efficiency-for-scalability tradeoff work in your favor is to minimize the noise and confusion that naturally happen when highly skilled and committed people with distinct talents and expertise swarm on a challenge. The way to do that is by focusing on the team governance – remembering to work “on the business”. Organize the goals, roles and responsibilities.  Make sure the rules for communication are understood.  Make relationships explicit.  Setup a repeatable structure for decision making.  Make rationale for decisions transparent. None of these ideas is new, and  people much smarter than me have written great books on the subject.  What is less well understood is the idea that the organizing information, the charter, cannot be a holy writ, a Polaroid snapshot or a consultant’s report.  Instead it needs to be married to the actual work of the team and serve as a clear organizing structure and constant guidance.

Part of that coupling of organization to work is in the way you arrange your information in whatever team governance system you use.  Think through that setup carefully, of course!  But mostly it’s a question of making sure you, as the team leader, aren’t focusing too narrowly, reacting to crisis, or just having too much fun working in the business, to actually work on the business.  Once you find and maintain that balance, you’re on your way to running a truly effective team.


For more resources, see our Library topic Team Building.


From Guest Writer David Kershaw, founder of Visioner MetaTeam® :: Revolutionizing the way teams work!

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