October 22, 2015

Teams and Commitment

“The greater the loyalty of a group toward the group, the greater is the motivation among the members to achieve the goals of the group, and the greater the probability that the group will achieve its goals.”

Renis Likert

None of us should underestimate the importance of commitment within the team—the sense of knowing that team members can be relied upon to support each other and to help the team or organisation achieve its goals.

This level of commitment is not always easy to attain and eludes many teams as a consequence of management and/or team members harbouring lingering doubts about:

  • their own commitment,
  • the commitment of other team members or
  • the commitment from the team as a whole.

Commitment requires:

  • understanding and belief in the team’s mission;
  • belief in the goals of the team (and being clear on what those goals are);
  • confidence in one’s own ability to positively contribute to achieving these goals;
  • confidence in the ability of other team members to contribute likewise;
  • being aware of one’s own and one another’s roles in achieving goals;
  • knowing that other team members are committed;
  • being confident that other team members will provide support when required;
  • being able to communicate clearly and comfortably with other team members and
  • having a strong plan that is sufficiently detailed to make the project appear achievable.

When stakes are high, the requirement for confidence and trust in a team increases. So, in the case of a team of climbers tackling K2 or that of firefighters entering a burning building, knowing that one’s team can be totally relied upon is essential.

Building Commitment

Commitment requires high levels of trust and reliability and achieving it takes time and consistent good practices. Confidence among team members in each other’s level of commitment will grow over time if team members consistently deliver for each other. One event can cause significant damage and once that sense of confidence and trust is broken it can take significant effort to rebuild. In some cases it may never be regained.

Reliability and trust develop from a range of fundamental team practices and behaviours that include:

  • a common understanding of the mission and aligned goals;
  • knowing the roles and responsibilities of each team member;
  • co-ordinating and integrating the individual efforts in keeping with the team plan;
  • building a climate of respect through honest, open communication;
  • holding each other to account and
  • not shying away from difficult conversations.

As team members deliver to each other, a pattern of behaviour emerges that becomes the norm. The more that members demonstrate commitment to each other, the less likely they are to ignore this norm. Team members are likely to start feeling morally obliged to conform and meet the often unspoken expectations of delivering on their promises. It can become a virtuous cycle and soon is just “the way we do things”.

Leadership’s Role in Ensuring Commitment

Team leaders play a critical role in ensuring this pattern is embedded in the team culture. They achieve this through:

  • standard good practice regarding the establishment and clarification of goals and roles;
  • recognising that their behaviour will be crucial in setting the tone within the team;
  • highlighting how important it is for team members to rely on each other and codifying this in the team’s operating principles;
  • acknowledging and rewarding instances of commitment early in the team’s life and as the team develops;
  • discouraging team members from giving the answers the leader would like to hear;
  • ensuring that like team goals, promises made are not aspirational efforts but genuine commitments to deliver;
  • encouraging feedback within the team;
  • identifying and highlighting specific examples of members demonstrating commitment and loyalty and
  • addressing poor performance in tasks or behaviours.

Good team leaders know that as the team evolves over time, levels of commitment will grow. However, the leader should never become complacent.  When membership changes, team leaders should not rely on ‘osmosis’ to ensure that the high levels of trust and commitment attained will immediately transfer to new members. A good leader knows that confidence based on commitment is achieved through good practice and so s/he should consciously articulate and reinforce the message: “This is how we do things”.

Having faith in one’s colleagues is the hallmark of an effective team that consistently delivers. It is not just a matter of good fortune in the assembled membership. It is the result of consistent practices and behaviours reinforced over time, initially by the leader and subsequently by the team.

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