Have It Your Way

Published: November 9, 2022

Imagine you’ve been given a blank slate. You get to pick your teammates and choose your mission. You can choose how fast or slow to move and how cautious or risky to act. You have unlimited funds and a vast pool of talent. You get to start from zero. What’s your first move?

Freedom begs for limits. Once you know the destination, you can entertain countless paths to get there. Once you’ve defined the mission, you can weigh your talent needs. Once you’ve selected your people, you can negotiate roles. By now, you’ve already begun to shape your team’s chemistry.

Each stage of a team’s growth incorporates both the strengths and the weaknesses of the previous stages. Getting things right at the beginning matters. It’s now or later, and later is far more difficult.

Without a reliable foundation, the team’s energy gets misdirected to searching for structure when it should be focused on the work of the mission. Frequently, this is what ‘office politics’ is all about. Any time spent on the politics of the workplace equates to resources stolen from the mission.

Let’s look at some of the ways this plays out on a team that’s unable to begin their journey with a solid foundation:

  • Trust and accountability need to be tied to norms and expectations, so that teammates know what is acceptable and unacceptable in the team setting. An absence of norms and expectations untethers the team. Without them, anything goes – including disrespect and lack of follow-through.
  • Exploration, discovery, and invention require trust and psychological safety. Teammates who fear criticism or punishment are unlikely to serve up anything risky or innovative. Without a sense of safety, changes are avoided rather than embraced. Growth is stymied when in a protective mode.
  • Resilience and adaptability are the antidotes to adversity and setback. Managing their disappointments and failures is much easier if the team is anchored to something dependable during the turbulence. A reliable platform of norms, goals, and role-clarity support healing and rebooting after a crash.

New teams have advantages that existing teams no longer enjoy. They get to choose the strength and structure of their foundation. Existing teams often need to backtrack and repair infrastructure when insufficient attention was paid to rules, roles, and boundaries on the front end. When a team achieves clarity on their values, goals, direction, and culture norms from the outset, a platform is created that supports collaboration, growth, and change. Have it your way!

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.