Focus on the Team, not the Task

Too often in organizations, I have witnessed leaders who were task-focused instead of team-focused.  I have been guilty of this a few times myself.  I’m talking about leaders who become consumed with task(s) or problem(s) and overlook the team assembled to accomplish or solve them.  I’ll use task to describe both tasks and problems in this article.  Does this mean the task is of no importance?  Of course not, but I submit, it’s the quality, diversity and potential in each of the assembled people combined as a team which counts the most.  This assemblage of people or team, if formed and guided effectively can accomplish enormous feats, ones which seem far beyond their capability and experience.  So why is the team overlooked?    

Our consciousness, impatience and drive get in the way of team-focus.  From my own experience as a commander or CEO of a military organization, my conscious mind took me straight to the task, how I understood it and what previous experience I had with a similar one.  My impatience and drive made me gather whomever I could, issue instructions and move on to other demands.  My drive led me to micro-manage the group.  I would tell them exactly what I wanted done and give them specifics on how to proceed.  I might even personally lead the effort.  I have witnessed business leaders take this approach and it is problematic for two reasons.  First it overlooks the people assembled for the team.  Are they all like-minded?  Is there a hierarchy or rank-structure where more junior people may be afraid to speak up and contribute?  Is there enough diversity of culture, gender and experience?  This all matters greatly.  Second, has the team been ‘boxed in’ with specific instructions and micromanagement stifling innovation and creativity? 

To further complicate things, time and number of people to dedicate to a task are never in abundance.  Moreover, the task may be unrelated to the purpose of the organization.  In an infantry unit designed to destroy the enemy with firepower and maneuver, I lacked, almost completely, trained people and methodologies to analyze and solve grievances found in Afghan villages which fueled an insurgency like the Taliban.  Businesses encounter similar situations tackling tasks they never imagined would come their way yet are vital to their survival. 

Hence the focus on the team.  When encountering a task like the one I previously mentioned, I dedicated time thinking of who I might assemble.  Diversity was key.  While I didn’t have anthropologists, social scientists and the like, I did have people of various backgrounds with degrees in philosophy, business, and history.  I had people of different races and genders who could bring to the table divergence of thought and background which would ensure a better outcome.  The results were fantastic.  I was presented effective, innovative solutions to complex tasks, solutions I could have never developed in my haste.  In return the team and its members grew from the experience.  This I considered most important.  I raised the ceiling of their boundaries of capability and the organization was the better for it.  Some would look at me in amazement and fear that I had selected them for the team, but I ensured them that they had my trust and confidence.  I produced future leaders who would emulate the same team-focused approach and grow their own people when their time came to lead.    

Do you want to do the same?  Take these 3 steps.  1.  Get to know your people.  Invest time in peeling back the layers behind resumes’ and college degrees and know the story of your people, their strengths and weaknesses and what they bring to the organization.  I promise it is more than you think.  2.  Take a chance.  Collect the most diverse group of people you can, and give them all an equal voice.  Go to extremes.  Assemble the person who has no college degree but who was raised in a foreign country or worked on his grandfather’s farm.  Find the person who has a large family and has experienced many of life’s crucibles raising children.  Find a veteran who has likely solved a myriad of complex problems in very stressful, dangerous environments.  Think about what might be required for task completion and see if there is any alignment with the experiences and skills of your people.  3.  Give the group intent (Purpose, Key Tasks, End State).  Instead of telling them what to do, tell them why (Purpose) they are doing what they are doing, share some thoughts and guidance (Key Tasks) then try to describe your vision for End State or what you might envision a solution looking, sounding and or smelling like.  Be cautious of telling them exactly what to do.  Let them surprise you with their diverse, innovative, thoughtful solutions.  Make it personal.  You and your organization will benefit immensely.  Focus on the Team, not the task!  For more on this topic, grab a copy of my book “It’s Personal, Not Personnel, Leadership Lessons for the Battlefield and the Boardroom”

Rob Campbell