The word “team” gets tossed about with startling abandon. I’ve heard upper level managers refer to a division or department as a “team.” (An even more egregious error occurs when the same group is referred to as a “family.” But I digress.) What is a team really? In my last posting, I asserted six conditions for “team-ness.” They are a good jumping off point for more blog posts, so I intend to work my way through the list. ( Click here for the complete list. )

The first condition: Shared Goals for results/outcomes/deliverables

I’m going to state it as bald fact, or maybe it’s one of those glimpses of the blindingly obvious. A team is just not a team if all the members aren’t working to move in the same direction or achieve the same outcome. People need purpose and a team of people needs a purpose in common. The dictionary defines a team as “two or more horses in harness pulling together.” Woe to them if they are pulling in different directions. (Yes, yes, I know there’s also the sports team definition “on the same side”, but we’re talking about workplaces here.)

People in the same company, sitting together or apart, to perform different work with differing purposes may be co-workers or associates or comrades-in-arms. They may even work within a collegial atmosphere. They are not teammates. They do not form a team, merely a work group or an aggregation. Or maybe a conference.

How does the team determine the Shared Goal?

Chartering the work launches a team where a group of co-workers existed before. Chartering a time-bounded project team, or an on-going work team, clarifies the desired common outcome, along with defining other common understandings and agreements about the work. After Chartering, those assigned to the work can get on with it, instead of spending time on thrashing around figuring it out on their own. People with incomplete information have a habit of filling in the blanks, often with wildly incorrect assumptions. Chartering gets a team started off headed in the same direction with shared goals to achieve.

(More on Chartering here. Scroll down for the downloadable pdf. )

What does a Shared Goal look like?

An effective team goal is SMART. The goal describes a Specific outcome as clearly defined, and unambiguous as possible. We know when we’ve reached the goal because it is Measureable. Our metrics tell us when we’ve arrived at success. We will arrive because the goal is Achievable. We have the skills, knowledge and resources to accomplish it. The goal is Relevant to the larger mission of the organization. It’s also Timely and can be accomplished reasonably in the intended timeframe.

By the way, if any of my gentle readers have experience of a functional, high performing team that does not have a Shared Goal, I’d relish learning the story.