Setting Teams up for Success

by Michelle Lasley

Michelle Lasley is a mother, wife in Pacific Northwest learning to balance green dreams with budget realities.

August 22, 2013

Silly group shot. My delightfully silly familial teammates.

Silly group shot. My delightfully silly familial teammates.

She looked at me like I was crazy. I had said to her, “I would rather be in an environment that sets you up for success and not failure.”

I could imagine her unstated rebuttal:

  • there is risk inherent in everything,
  • every job requires peddling a good or service and you need clients to buy that from you,
  • every job is about relationships and navigating those waters, so why are you complaining?

Seeing the quizzical look on her face, I continued, “I’ve heard more than once lately examples of people choosing to work in different situations where the dynamics were different, and they were set up for success and not failure, and how they are much happier.” She paused and walked away.

What does that mean? What does it mean to be set up for success and not failure? I think I’ll take the latter first. This is what being set up for failure sometimes feels like…

  • Everyone seems to be out for their own gain, and there is no unification around the company’s goal.
  • You get more criticisms of thought than support, no matter that in other groups those same ideas for similar purposes would be celebrated.
  • You get more resistance to things than the go-ahead to have autonomy over a project. Maybe you need to respond to a committee for the tiniest of daily minutiae, and it holds up projects and not propels them forward.
  • You are subverted from projects you had previously been deemed in charge.
  • Colleagues seem to hide things or hold things back when communicating and not airing and getting issues dealt with.
  • Ownership of mistakes is not oft taken and more often it’s a game of passing the buck.
    (One colleague said of the other, “She doesn’t delegate well.” And, not two days later the other colleague said the same of the first!)

Maybe, too, “leadership” fails to budget for needed things, fails to understand what really goes into a job, fails to listen when presented with facts and solutions, and passes the buck onto employees who try to make a difference. “Experts” are paraded in providing advice without listening and expectations are that one should toe their line regardless if the solution is a good fit. Leadership fails to discuss issues at hand, and then wonders why the cycle repeats itself. Employees constantly feel the need to “manage up” to divert poor management choices.

So, what does a successful team look like? The best example of a successful team that I have experienced was when my food club was first starting. The energy was new, it was exciting. We were passionately organizing around a shared goal: procuring good, wholesome, local products for our families. We understood the issues, and we collectively worked to tackle them – excitedly. We were eager to be around each other, and we liked one another. Even the personalities that were more difficult to deal with (they didn’t listen, they charged ahead with their own ideas without consenting with the rest of the group, they weren’t forthcoming with  what they had done leaving others blind, they were rude, they talked down to other members, etc.) were manageable. In part, my role within this group was different. We were viewed more as peers, and I was perhaps a leader of some (I still wear the title of “President”, though I view our group as very egalitarian). Besides some ego-infighting, it wasn’t that which you might get around a paid position. This group I helped choose, and I helped build. And, together we defined and achieved success. We were quick to name barriers to success, and then we removed those barriers. We communicated, and because, again, we were unified around a common goal, egos had less impact on finding solutions. We purposely set a roadmap for success and followed it.

Daddy-monster and Levi show mommy how to successfully use crutches.

Daddy-monster and Levi show mommy how to successfully use crutches.

Another example is working with my child’s school. Part of growing up is learning to deal with stuff – grades, rules, behaving in society. Part of growing up is finding where your drummer is and marching to that drummer’s beat and not another. I believe that part of our job, as parents, is to help navigate the school system, such as, helping to pave the most successful way for both my child and the school. We remove barriers (like behavior barriers when my son is acting out) and we try to communicate with teachers and administrators to make sure both teacher and students are getting the most out of the day. We have chosen not to go back to schools where our needs to success aren’t met.

So, yes, dear colleague, I would rather be in a place where the whole generally tries to work towards success – not a never-ending spiral of missed deadlines, too much work, and delegation without thought or consideration for what might be on someone’s plate. I admire those who have been able to forge their way into teams that build themselves up for good so they can truly benefit the greater good. I wonder – what would our world look like if we could all focus on common issues and drop our egos and belief that we need to tell others how to live their lives. Would we actually achieve success as a society?


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