I’m on a bit of a roll on the topic of collaboration on teams. This little flurry of posts stemmed from three teams in a row that raised concerns about the lack of shared ownership for each other’s work. In the first post, I focused on the importance of getting input from teammates before doing too much work in isolation. In the second, I shared some tips for how to give input to your teammates in a way that feels constructive.

In response to the first post, I received a great comment (thanks Larry) asking about the role of the leader in fostering shared ownership. I’m so focused on individual team member accountability that I tend to underplay the role of the leader. So we’re going back to the collaboration topic—this time with the focus on the role of the team leader.

Your Role as a Leader

As the leader of a team, you have a strong obligation in fostering teamwork. For me, teamwork requires two things: 1) a shared goal; 2) interdependence. Have you set your team up with both?

Shared Goals

I have never measured this scientifically, but my guess is that the majority of teams have individual performance goals that obscure their shared objectives. By far the most common measurement and compensation systems are those that jump from corporate goals straight to individual ones. Missing from the middle are the goals that define the purpose of the team. The result is a team optimized for the parts but not for the whole.

Try articulating shared goals using these two questions:

  1. What unique value is our organization counting on us to deliver?
  2. How will we know that we have made the required progress this year?

Having a shared goal is necessary, but insufficient for effective collaboration. You also need interdependence. Your job as a team leader is to build roles that are unique and complementary (minimizing both overlap and gaps).

Then, with the right people in those roles, it’s your job to communicate clear expectations for the unique value you expect each member to contribute to the team.

Use these questions to clarify interdependence:

  1. What is the unique value that each role brings to our team?
  2. What tension is each role supposed to put on the system?

Once you are clear on the shared goal and everyone’s role in achieving that goal, switch to talking about your expectations around the role of the team in shaping the work of individuals.

Try these questions to get the required input at the outset:

  1. What value do we need to add together as a team before individuals or subgroups set off on a project?
  2. Where must we be in alignment before work begins?

Next, be equally as clear about your expectations of the person who owns the work. Leave no wiggle room for interdependence to be used as an excuse for not getting things done. “Geoff, you own this project. I am looking to you to marshal the resources you need to deliver it on time. Geoff, work with everyone to make it happen and escalate it to me only if you don’t have a path to success.”

Use these questions to make sure the accountability is clear.

  1. What are you going to bring back to the team and when?
  2. What are you counting on others for?

When the owner is ready to bring the draft product back to the team, you set the tone for the kind of input that’s welcomed. Take a moment to re-introduce the project. “Three weeks ago, we met to define our requirements for the fall customer launch. Geoff has been working with you and your teams to build the plan. I’m sure everyone will have lots of value to add today. I encourage you to be constructive.”

Ask these questions before the conversation to set the team up for success.

  1. What is our role in discussing this presentation?
  2. How will we contribute in a way that makes the work better?

There you have it; ten questions that will clarify the expectations around shared ownership on your team. Do you have other questions you can share?

Further Reading

Tension is a good thing

Why you owe it to your teammates to disagree

If you Want Teamwork, Stop Creating Cmpetition

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