Aligning team goals to company strategy makes for clear priorities and healthier teams.
The pace of change is faster than it’s ever been, and it’s only going to increase. Moreover, while the pace of change has increased, the margin for error has decreased. So how can managers keep their teams focused and healthy in such a challenging environment? Let’s talk about two tactics that can help.
Tactic one: resist the “shiny object syndrome”
One of the hardest things for new managers is to work with stakeholders to get aligned on what’s important, versus jumping to task on the whims and wishes of those outside their team. Effective managers understand the broader strategy of their organization and how their team fits into achieving it.
If I was to take a job as a new manager today, the first thing I would do is spend a significant amount of time with my boss and other stakeholders to understand the strategic priorities of the entire organization, and how those filter down to my team. At Lead Belay, we call this “managing up”. It can be hard for new managers to do this, and to do it well, but the more deliberate a manager’s effort to get clarity about a team’s charter, the healthier that manager’s team. Without that clarity, teams end up juggling an ever-increasing number of balls. While it may be tempting, and sometimes might seem easier, constantly jumping in and trying to do more things will eventually fail. Prioritizing is a must.
1. Goals are constantly changing without explanation
2. New requests are keeping your team from finishing what they start
3. Your team is asking for more help
(what they generally need is clear, reasonable priorities)
Tactic two: Create transparency about priorities
After achieving clarity, managers of high functioning teams create a space of transparency and visibility where priorities are communicated to their team and to stakeholders. Everyone knows what was agreed on and why.
Ideally, managers have regular check-ins with stakeholders to make sure priorities are the same and then document the outcomes and share them with their team. Over-communication can’t hurt, especially when priorities are likely to shift.
This is especially clear in teams that practice Agile methodology. Team leaders keep track of priorities on a sprint-by-sprint basis, where if something is added, then something else must be taken away. Another powerful Agile practice is the rule of three: stick to three priorities at a time. The rule of three can do wonders for making meaningful work rise above the mundane, task-to-task rat race. These tensions operate in any system, and understanding what they are and holding them in balance is the job of leader.
Once a team has clarity about priorities, the leader's job largely becomes protecting the team so they can complete meaningful work, generate results, and feel pride in what they accomplish.
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Great people leaders separate the signal (priorities) from the noise (fires that need to be put out or the latest shiny object.) They communicate clearly through the noise that surrounds their team, keeping them focused on the goals of the organization at large.