It was a late weekend morning. I was headed south on A-1-A, returning from a solo bike run to Boynton inlet. The headwind was light, but enough to knock the speed to an even 19mph. Three hours into the ride, I was in no position to hammer the wind, yet impatient to keep the speed up.
“On your left,” was a friendly heads-up as an unknown rider with fresh legs slipped in front. I downshifted and picked up the reps to catch his wheel. I settled into the quiet space of his draft at 21mph. Seconds later, I sensed a third rider on my tail. Now we were three.
For thirty minutes, we snaked down the road, changing leads, holding 21, taking turns on the nose. I was struck with the purity of teamwork between three people who had never met before, with only three words between them, “On your left.”
A team will never gain traction without a common purpose.
This was a team with nothing, except a common purpose, executing skillful manuvers, supporting each other, communicating precisely with each other. There was no orientation, no “get to know you session,” just a purity of purpose.
When your team works together, how clear is the purpose? What is the commitment level of each team member to that purpose? You don’t need much else.
“I’ve been working with my team to get them to be more effective at time management,” Bobbie explained.
“How’s that going?” I asked.
“Kind of rough. I showed them how to use a task list, how to schedule events into a calendar, using our software. But, I haven’t really seen any improvement. They still miss deadlines and forget things.”
“Do they understand the mission of the work they do?” I wanted to know.
“Well, the company has a mission, I mean, we have a mission statement.”
“But, do they understand the mission of the work that they do? People who are clear about purpose, have little difficulty deciding what actions are necessary. Those people without a clear purpose will have to carry an organizer to plan their day.”
“Whew,” Marcy plopped into the chair behind her desk. “What a day?”
“How so?” I wanted to know.
“Lots of things going on. Good things. Everybody was busy. Lots of work on our plate,” she explained.
“Good busy, or bad busy?” I asked.
“It’s always good to have work to do,” Marcy replied.
“How do you know?” I prompted. “The just dessert for hard work is more hard work. How do you know that the increase in activity is good, or not?”
Marcy was just trying to follow the discussion.
“Look,” I said. “Most people allow the events of the day to happen to them. They judge their lives by what happens to them. To be an effective leader, you have to judge whether those events move you toward your purpose or away from your purpose. Good busy or bad busy has to do with purpose. And without a purpose, without an objective, you will have no way to judge.”
Julia was working quickly, but there were times when it seemed she was going oh, so, slow.
“Sometimes, you have to go slow so you can go fast,” she explained. As a new manager, working with a veteran crew, she had some significant hurdles to overcome. And the team had some significant changes to make. Though the volume in their department was growing, their profitability was sinking to barely break-even. This whole service line was in trouble.
“We have to make some changes and we have to make them fast. But first, I have to build a platform to make those changes.” Julia was firm in her belief about the steps she was taking.
“So, tell me about the slow part?” I asked.
“Instead of arguing about the way we do things, I have to establish discussions of purpose. I started with Ralph, then two other guys who have been around a while, then the rest of the team. All the conversations were different, but they all ended up in the same place. I got every team member to talk about a significant project and why it was important. In each conversation, I wrote the essence of the story on a 3×5 index card. Tomorrow, I am going to use that as leverage.”