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How Do I Make My Team More Effective?

Leadership Institute of Seattle

  • What do we care about?
  • How do we take care of it?
  • What possibilities should we pursue?
  • How do we generate commitment?
  • Are we taking the right action?
  • Are we producing results that matter?

These are some of the key questions for improving the quality of teams.  This section of the Primary Goals website is dedicated to tools and resources from the Leadership Institute of Seattle (LIOS).  The irony here is that despite being dedicated to instilling leadership in others, the organization merged with Saybrook University, and then LIOS was essentially disbanded.

In order to answer how one makes teams more effective, it’s essential to start with

What Is a Team?

In The Wisdom of Teams, Katzenbach & Smith list six characteristics of an effective team:

  1. Small numbers ( < 12)
  2. Complimentary skills
  3. Common purpose
  4. Common set of specific performance goals
  5. Commonly agreed upon working approach
  6. Mutually accountable

That’s all well and good as a descriptive list of attributes, but leaves out the most important part:

How does one actually create a team
and why does it matter?

A more generative definition of a team is “A group of people who share a promise to produce results of value to customers.”

The advantage in the latter definition is that tells you how to actually produce a team.  In cases where a team is not performing well, it also provides a set of guidelines to look for what might be missing, or what could be added in order to make it perform more effectively.  This definition has us ask the following questions:

Do the members share a promise or commitment?

Simply placing them together or on the same project, or even reporting up through the same person is clearly not enough to produce this commitment.  The only way to generate that commitment is through effective conversations about what commitment is required, assessing the team’s ability to deliver, and connecting the required actions up to the purpose of the commitment being requested.

I help teams look at their individual and shared commitments, and facilitate the conversations about making those teams more effective.

Who is the customer?

Customers exist along a chain, from one’s manager to the department, to the company as a whole, to the consumers of the company’s products or services.  In the context of assessing the competence or effectiveness of a team, the key question is from whose vantage point the assessment is being made?  In cases where there is a high degree of organizational alignment, satisfying one customer contributes to satisfying the others.  In cases of misalignment,  asking who the customer is can help surface black holes where there is no way for a team or individual to ultimately succeed.

I help teams evaluate who their internal customers really are, and whether those customers are performing effectively for the results they seek to create through their teams.

What constitutes a satisfactory result?

As people work together, more and more information accumulates into a shared pool of what is obvious.  A common source of breakdowns, however, is when performers fail to meet the expectations of those requesting results.  Here, it’s not about the reasons or changing circumstances that contributed to the lack of satisfaction.  Rather, the key conversations concern the degree to which the conditions of satisfaction were articulated (rather than assumed), and the customer’s level of commitment to being satisfied.

Requests that come in as “if you have time…” or “it would be nice if…” may be presented that way to be polite, when in fact, they are part of a lack of clarity by the customer about what it really means to be satisfied or a lack of confidence in the performers ability to genuinely deliver on what is desired.  Yes, of course, there are always trade-offs with limited resources.  However, a failure to clarify what constitutes satisfaction is often a precursor to a breakdown in the making.

I help teams get clear on their conditions of satisfaction, and facilitate conversations around competing objectives to arrive at mutually understood conditions of satisfaction.



Primary Goals sits at the intersection of three core ideas about communication:
  • Leaders create vision by communicating a compelling future to their teams.
  • Teams create success based on how effectively the communicate and coordinate with each other.
  • Entrepreneurial ventures are successful only when they communicate value to people with a concern that the business can take care of
In all cases, it’s about Conversations for Committed Results.  That’s our Primary Goal.  



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