There is a correlation between team alignment and the ambition to use lean practices consistently. In the rush to initiate and complete project work it’s common to skip past the important work of aligning the team around a common vision that supports everybody’s personal and professional development goals. As many have observed, lean projects need to “go slow to go fast.” One of the most effective ways to align a team for any mission, whether it’s consistent lean practices, consistent and clear communication, fruitful collaboration, or whatever is important to the team, is to intentionally develop a baseline of trust.
This trust is known within the current team and through the addition of any new team members. A key way to establish a foundation of trust is through a shared discovery process, described below, that promotes both professional and personal development for those on the team. There are two practices included in this process. The first paves the way for the second practice to be as constructive as possible. Both practices are very intentional to cultivate alignment and go hand in hand.
You Are Unique
Team alignment begins with people understanding what core strengths people bring to the team. Core strengths are different from professional strengths. You are unique! You, your strengths and gifts, have the power to contribute to the world around you in a way that not only brings you joy but in collaboration with others’ gifts and strengths creates something even more powerful benefiting others. We all have core strengths, or gifts, that we naturally can bring to our families, friends, colleagues, and communities. Too often these strengths remain dormant, conditioned out of us by times in the past when these strengths were discouraged. This discouragement may have been well intended, considered benign, or out of hostility. It doesn’t matter. In certain situations, we have on an unconscious level learned to not express these strengths robbing us and others of a more complete outcome.
An example is the core strength of innate curiosity. Some people are especially curious about the world around them. If this curiosity is discouraged, by a parent wishing to not be interrupted, or a manager who does not feel the question posed is their report’s business, a person learns that curiosity is not valued by others. They stop asking questions. Asking questions is not safe.
A key to successful collaboration is to make it safe for people to express and use their core strengths. A challenge is that many people have learned to hide their strengths, even from themselves. We all must rediscover these strengths and gifts, and team conversations about these gifts provide value to the team’s work. As Peter Block writes in Community: The Structure of Belonging, “The focus on gifts confronts people with their essential core, that which has the potential to make the difference and change lives for good.”
Teams benefit from a shared exploration of core strengths, in both facilitated and structured sessions and in informal conversations. When exploring core gifts, be aware that people have more than one. Most people can identify three to four core strengths, and it is a blend of these gifts that makes each of us unique.
People seek to make a difference in the lives of other people. These other people can be as close as family members or unknown members of some community. When the difference we make impacts others positively it makes us feel good. Professionally, this impact also communicates that we are creating value.
It is both motivating and gratifying to reflect on this value as a project team by collaboratively developing a Meaningful Impact Statement. This statement is simply a few sentences or phrases that articulate how your work makes a beneficial difference for other people and why that is personally meaningful to each of the people that helped craft it.
Project teams start by generating ideas about the purpose of their project, how they work together, and who benefits from their work. The answers to each of those areas may appear obvious, however a focused brainstorming of ideas often uncovers important insights into these questions.
As a project team considers ideas to be included in a Meaningful Impact Statement, be mindful that the statement needs to be aspirational. Watch out for functional ideas, such as delivering a project on budget. The budget is very important and one of the team’s responsibilities, and yet being on budget isn’t going to enthuse a lot of people. Changing the lives of the people your project helps in a positive way is exciting.
Here are some examples of Meaningful Impact Statements.
“Because we are entrusted with the work, we MUST create a cohesive environment that will inspire, provide guidance, and empower the great team.”
“This team is making our contribution to a healthier, safer world for today and tomorrow by building a high-quality facility to produce a life-saving product. Together we are making the impossible possible, improving the quality of life for our loved ones.”
“This Courthouse project shall serve the People and the Court in the administration of justice with integrity and excellence. This team will modernize the building infrastructure to improve the safety and efficiency of Court operations.”
“As a united and compassionate team, we create a beacon of hope and healing that is welcoming, safe, and adaptable for all, remembering that our true north is the children.”
Each of these statements are aspirations for the work people are performing. They address what the work is in ideal terms, identifying themselves and the people who benefit from their work. The statements address why the work is personally important to the people that crafted these statements. Each of these statements underwent several iterations before people were satisfied. Expect to rewrite your team’s statement four to eight times before you have words that resonate with you.
Alignment around an aspirational purpose can provide powerful motivation for the rigor required by lean design and construction practices. There is one very important caution. It is vitally important to frequently – daily – review your team’s Meaningful Impact Statement and connect it to your individual and group commitments to specific actions that support lean practices and continuous improvement. Team alignment is a daily practice that integrates personal strengths and purpose with action.