Does your team understand it’s mission?

By definition, teams are created to achieve a specific purpose – the mission. Ensuring that team members understand the mission, and the importance of their roles in relationship to the mission, is essential.

That could be the end of this post…

Unfortunately, teams don’t always ensure that the mission is fully understood. In fact, circumstances often challenge mission-awareness, such as times when teams are geographically dispersed (virtual teams) or when team membership is fluid (e.g., team members have specialized roles on multiple teams.)

This short story from stickyminds provides a good illustration. [via Raven Young.]

One team that I worked with told me this story about what can happen when a vision is not shared with the team. They were using an agile approach to software development, and had a product owner who, every two weeks, would attend the planning meeting to tell the team what he wanted them to work on for the next two-week iteration.

During one of these meetings, he told the team that he wanted them to delete the customer whenever the customer selected an opt-out option. The team completed this work and demonstrated it for the product owner, who was pleased with the outcome and accepted the feature. Another successful iteration followed, and another. Then the product owner told the team that for this next iteration, he wanted them to take the deleted customer records and prep them for data mining by the R&D staff.

The team said “Whoa! You told us you wanted the customer deleted when they opted out, so that’s what we did—we didn’t archive that information, we permanently deleted it.”

The product owner was dumbfounded. “How could you do that? Don’t you know that one of the goals of this project is to figure out why we’re losing customers?”

Umm, no.

The team members responsible for the work had never learned the true mission of their efforts. Who knows how this came about…

Perhaps, they were still busy with a previous project and not involved in start-up for this one. Perhaps the team leader hoarded information or communicated poorly about the overall objectives.

Regardless the immediate cause, the effect was wasted time and effort, a dissatisfied client who likely lost faith in the team (if not the entire organization,) and the generally feeling that processes were dysfunctional. No one would be surprised if the client pressed the DELETE key!

How does your team ensure a common understanding of its primary mission? Look around. Is there any chance that team members may not be aware of or fully understand the overall objectives? If so, its worth taking the time to discuss and clarify.

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4 Responses to Does your team understand it’s mission?

  1. dordal says:

    Good story. I’ve had a few similar experiences, although not quite as drastic. You’ve got to get people to look at the big picture, which isn’t always easy.

  2. Thanks for stopping by David!

    It’s easy to get so focused on the day-by-day, hour-by-hour activities and miss the big picture. The best teams keep the overall goal part of the conversation even as they concentrate on short-term.

  3. Raven says:

    Blaine – Isn’t it funny (or sad?) how easy it is to lose sight of a teams mission and get lost in the woods? Zooming in and out on a project is important – you can’t stay too fine grained but you also want to avoid hiding in the clouds!

  4. Raven, It is sort of a balancing act. With all eyes on the speedometer, its easy to miss the curve in the road.

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