State of Confusion

Do you know what you’re doing?

Recently I worked with a project team that had mixed results. In business, “mixed” is a euphemistic way of saying bad. Do you want to be bad?

All teams have challenges in makeup, direction, skills, etc. Part of the reason you and I have work is that teams need our help to do this.

Even so, they often miss the mark.

So how to lead a team? What separates the high-performing groups from the also-rans?

Turns out, just three things.


To deliver better results starting today, do this: Clarify the goal. This step, often rushed through or presumed, is actually your rock. For a number of reasons high performing individuals short-change this step often assuming everyone “gets it” as they do.

You’ll hear things like ‘we all know why we’re here’ or ‘we all know what to do.’

But people don’t.

Work the Goals step with intensity until its absolutely distilled to its essence and people really do know what the goal is and why. If you minimize this step, the ripple damage will extend for the life of the project.


Role confusion is the next most likely problem area for low-performing teams. In English, people don’t know what to do.

Team roles serve multiple functions: people need to accept the moving mantle of leadership with ease. Depending on the topic at hand one may step up and then step aside moving from leader to participant to note taker to follower. These roles are fluid and dynamic.

Unhealthy teams are a collection of fiefdoms with each person leading a tribe of just one in a dance that goes nowhere. Creating, as the late John Kennedy O’Toole might say, a confederacy of dunces.

We can’t all lead at once. We can’t all be sheep. There are multiple roles necessary on a functioning team. Study them and know how to guide and coach people effectively to play these roles.

Or confusion will reign.


People often accept team assignments without accepting responsibility. This is wrong, bad and futile. Stop it.

If someone wants to play on a team, or has been assigned to a team, they need to accept responsibility for team norms. Or get off the team.

That’s right: even when “assigned” to a team you either accept and act according to the norms or you gotta go. People frequently hide on teams offering minimal assistance, ideas, labor and feedback. This is bullshit. You’re either on the bus or off it: if you’re on the team accept your responsibilities and get with the program.

Bring your best or don’t bother to show up.

We have work to do.

The Gist

Teams are an effective solution for many of the vexing challenges facing us today. In a connected, collaborative world effective team skills are essential not just “nice.”

These three elements define the difference between setting teams up for success or letting them flounder in confusion.

So study, prepare, succeed.

Your team is counting on you.


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