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Don't Just Rely on the JD!

I remember a time when I was leading a team and we were going through some tough times. It was a time when we all had to pull together and given that we had a vacancy and a member off on long term sick we had to ensure that as a team we had to fill our 'gaps' as best we could. The majority of the team were 'up' for supporting the team as a whole although a couple of team members were hesitant to take on extra activities. I was confronted by comments such as , "It's not my bag', 'It will affect my agreed measures' and 'It's not in my job description'. In some ways it was difficult to argue against their comments in that the company had refused to go down the route of a percentage of the team members' measurement ( and reward) being allocated to the overall achievement of team goals and as such everything was based on individual measurement. The only person being measured on the team success as a whole was myself as team leader. The disappointing thing for me, was not just the attitude of the members concerned but the fact that we had, as a team, agreed a team contract (albeit verbal) and within this we had agreed to the desired behaviours and attitudes that we should all exhibit if we were going to be successful as both individuals and as a team. Within this, we had agreed that we would support the team by taking 'up the slack' if vacancies occurred or if team members were off ill. It was turning out that the so called agreements weren't actually being adhered to by a couple of the team. In fact, one of the team, had the cheek to announce to a senior manager, only weeks before, that they thought that we 'worked really well as a team'! Lesson learned - when you are putting in place a team contract or charter, then make it formal and record it so that you can refer to it and review it on a regular basis!

The challenge with many teams is that unless there is flexibility built in so that team members can move beyond their core job description then responding to challenging situations as a team can be difficult. Team members should always be rewarded for activities they take on for the good of the team (and the business) especially when they still continue to perform in their core role. Many organisations (and managers) do not recognise this and many HR departments actively discourage moving beyond an individual's core role description. This makes the concept of the 'agile' team challenging and in my view a number of key things have to happen if true teamwork is allowed to flourish.

  1. Every member of the team should a % of their overall measurement related to the success of the team in fulfilling its goals and targets. Individual measurement is necessary but if the measurement is purely 100% on individual objectives with no element on team success then how can you get all team members to fully buy in to what the team is there to achieve overall. Individual measurement can result in unhealthy competition, with the result being a lack of sharing and analysing success, withholding of information, and an absence of shared learning and problem solving.

  2. There has to be flexibility in a team member's objectives and measures as the business year progresses. Some objectives may be added in, some taken out, and some may be adapted. This is good management. Overall reliance on a standard job description and fixed yearly objectives and measures is not conducive to a flexible, agile and responsive team.

  3. Having a verbal team contract or charter is a good start as too many teams do not even progress this far. They 'fly' straight into the 'hamster wheel of tasks and actions' and as such do not even consider their purpose and their specific aims and goals let alone have an open discussion about how best they are all going to work together. If you are going to have a team contract or charter ( and I strongly advise this!) then make it a formal document which can be referred to and reviewed regularly. It's a great way of ensuring that the team keeps their desired behaviours and attitudes on track and its also a great framework for giving feedback.

These are three key steps and there are others (as described in my PARTNERS process) but get these steps right and your team will be on the right track. Job descriptions are important to ensure that individuals have clarity and understanding as regards what they are expected to deliver but a degree of flexibility is needed, especially when the team is operating in a challenging environment and / or is operating a less than full capacity.

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