Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Three Critical Competencies

I was talking to my husband about work the other day and reflecting upon other similar conversations when I had an epiphany.  It was one of those "It's so obvious" moments.  Whenever there are deep and continuous problems with a workplace, a product, or a project, you can boil everything down to a deficit in one or more of these things:
1.    Communication
2.    Trust
3.    Leadership

Failing to have a good communication strategy for any effort is a fast track to tragedy.  In order for any group to effectively work toward any goal, they have to understand what that goal really is.  They need to know why that goal is valuable to their organization or to their customer and how they can individually contribute to attaining that goal.  More importantly, they need to know when a change comes along, what that change is, and why that change is valuable.   Furthermore, the leaders of any effort must be able to effectively communicate to their customers.  Without a clear establishment of expectations for delivery of a project or product, the client can create a fantasy of what they're getting and build upon it as the effort progresses.  Those unrealistic expectations are not likely to be communicated to the work team until the product is presented to the customer.  Then the fruits of your organization's labor are met with a luke-warm reception, if not open hostility due to your having missed the mark, as far as the client is concerned.  A constant flow of information between work teams, leadership, and customers is crucial.  If a group's leaders founder in their communications, they will be met with confusion, frustration, anger, and resentment from both sides.

Trust is a three way relationship.  Not only do team members need to have trust in their leadership, leadership must have trust in their team members.  Open and honest communication about an effort is instrumental in building trust.  The communication must flow freely within a work group, both up and down the leadership ladder.  If team members do not feel like their leaders want to hear honest assessments of the situation, a decision, or an issue, they will shut down communication.  Leaders will then find that they are the last ones to know about problems.  They will not have input from their best advisers on the project, the people who are doing the work.  The work team whose leader does not trust them will not get the full picture of what they're trying to accomplish.  The team may not even be given an understanding of the scope and interrelationships of efforts and so make fallacious assumptions about the work and further undermine both their trust of leadership and leadership's trust in them.  To carry trust even further, the customer must be able to trust that they are getting what they have asked for and what the team has promised to deliver.  Setting realistic expectations and communicating constantly about status and deliverables will keep trust alive between the customer and the supplier.

Leadership is a quality some believe comes from a title.  This could not be further from the truth.  Leadership is seldom given and is almost always developed organically.  Work teams will naturally start to look toward those individuals who express a clear vision of how things are.  They will respect and follow the person who they feel is giving them the opportunity to succeed by providing key information on what is to be done, the goals for doing work, any supporting information, and honest acknowledgement.   They will follow the person(s) making decisions they feel are well considered and take account of different perspectives.  If a work group's managers or other leaders dither rather than decide, the team will feel rudderless since they have no definite goal and no rationale for that goal. Output will suffer and a joint effort will experience thrashing as different factions start working to their own agenda which likely will be divergent.  A more insidious risk lies in the team starting to follow poisonous leaders who can and will crop up in work groups with a power vacuum.  There is always the possibility of a person within a group who will be critical of the project, the organization, and/or leadership and offer themselves as the person speaking the truth about the situation.  

You MAY be able to limp along with communication and leadership alone, but your team(s) will not be as engaged as they could be.  Trust is the glue that binds teams and keeps them working harmoniously together.  Trust breeds frank communication of issues or risks because the team members feel that they can say the hard and unpopular things without fear of retribution.  They feel valued and invested in the work being done.  They have some skin in the game.  That's why I believe that you really must have communication, leadership, and trust in any work effort in order to succeed together.

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