The first three challenges for the year focused on identifying our strengths, tracing how personal history shapes our sense of self and values, and how to use these insights to clarify what we do, who we do it for, and how to leverage our personal networks of power.
The next three challenges revolve around leading and working with a team. While there are countless resources out there, it can all feel a little overwhelming. Where do you even start? How do you manage the delicate balance between leading and managing, macro-visions and micro-tasks, or present operations and future visions?
This particular challenge distills some of the hardest questions into three areas of focus: looking to the future, preparing yourself and your team for it, and making the most of the present moment – and offers three resources designed to help you in each area. As always, links are at the end of the post.
Part 1: Creating and communicating a shared vision
Your compass comes first – in other words, you need to know what future you’re working towards before you take the first step. If that Future feels too set in stone or too weighty to consider sans panic, remember that you can always recalculate, just like your GPS device – in fact, you should.
It will help to look back on the notes you made over the last month on your purpose, people, and unique power. What stands out? What is it about the present that makes you dissatisfied or troubled, what are you trying to change for a better future, with whom are you doing it, and how?
Now, the critical question: if this vision is at the heart of organisation (or project), can your team articulate it in the same way as you do? In other words, are you on the same page? More importantly, how do you get on the same page?
I’ve found that the DIY Toolkit’s Theory of Change worksheet is a super little resource for framing a dialogue around shared vision. It logically maps out the key aspects of your work in a way that can be discussed collaboratively, and kept somewhere prominent as a quick reminder.
Have a look here, and work through it with your team. It takes some time to do well, but it’s just one thing and it’s totally do-able. If you wanted, you could ask each team member to fill it in separately, and then have a discussion about how your collective answers diverge, and if there are ways to knit these varied responses into a logical and cohesive single statement.
As the DIY Toolkit instructions point out, it also serves as a good tool for checking in on all your projects, if you have a number of them running simultaneously, to see if they are aligned with each other and the greater vision.
Part 2: Making yourself redundant
Leaders have to have one foot pointing toward the future while the other is still planted in the present. You have to make plans, but also tick off today’s to-do list. The art of this delicate balance is about creating a plan to make yourself redundant.
The idea of making yourself redundant – i.e. empowering your team to do the things you used to do, freeing you to tackle the newer/harder/more interesting/more [x] things – is not new. I’m not sure where I first read or heard of it, but the moment it really stuck was during a (wonderfully illuminating) conversation with Azam Bakeer Markar.
The logic behind this is that if you’re the only one with the fabulously unique skill set or expertise, there is no way you can scale. So you have to share – what you know, how you do it, and means for success – with other people so they can serve and enable others too, just as you did.
Delving into why this is a frightening idea for many is its own post, and I’ll be looking at that in later months. For now, I will simply say that if you want to be stuck doing the same thing forever (i.e. if you don’t want to innovate) then, yes, not sharing is the way to go.
For everyone else who has ever wanted to create an idea and let someone else run with it so they can get back to creating more new ideas, or who wish they had a hundred clones so that they could 10ox their impact, or who see how brilliant their team is and just want to amp up that brilliance…what’s the way forward? What’s a really great way to make yourself redundant?
For this, I recommend Michael Bungay Stanier’s The Coaching Habit. The book reminds me of a really great design thinking session (more on this in a couple of months) in that it is really a guide to building the habit of asking better questions – not coming up with better answers. The book is pretty easy to get through (although harder to put in practice, given how much we like to tell people what we think the answer should be), and it suggests that any good coaching session consist of the following questions:
- The Kickstart Question: “What’s on your mind?”
- The AWE Question: “And what else?”
- The Focus Question: “What’s the real challenge here for you?”
- The Foundation Question: “What do you want?”
- The Lazy Question: “How can I help?”
- The Strategic Question: “If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?”
- The Learning Question: “What was most useful for you?”
A good coach gives the ‘coached’ time and space to frame their own questions and come up with their own answers, because that’s how magic happens…which is why I didn’t recommend resources for creating the best handbook ever, so that they can do exactly what you did in your role. Figuring out transitions – who will be doing more or less of what – is an organic and surprising process. It’s not about merely passing the buck from one bot to another.
Part 3: Facilitating actionable meetings
Working in teams is hard. Getting from the beginning to the end of a project without wanting to shake your collaborators is hard. Coming up with great ideas…and then executing them, is hard, hard, HARD.
I’m of the opinion that one huge culprit is The Team Meeting. Not the ones that are quick check-ins to get everyone up to speed, but the ones that try to elicit ideas and get the ball moving while everyone is sitting down and often feeling a little slow – for some, that’s early morning, while for others it’s post-lunch.
Everyone’s varying energy levels – and confidence about speaking in a group – is admittedly one major challenge. Another is that “coming up with lots of ideas” and “whittling them down” are two separate tasks that we often mash together into one activity. The radical-ideas-with-potential often go unsaid, especially by those with less confidence in their ideas.
For this last, present-focused work, I recommend Alison Coward’s Great Teams. She goes over five key areas: starting with your own mindset, building your team, starting the project, generating great ideas, and getting work done. I found out about her work through the Queen’s Young Leaders Award, and found her advice to be extremely practicable.
Great Teams is a great handbook, because it walks the reader through alternatives to the tired old team meeting for coming up with ideas and executing them, while making sure you’re listening to your whole team. I highly recommend it!
…and that’s all for this (extremely meaty) challenge.
Thoughts? I’ve distilled it down to what I believe the threefold role of a team leader should be, but perhaps you would disagree. If so, I’d love to hear what you consider most important, and what resources you turn to most often.
I wrote this post because these are the areas I want to stretch my muscles the most in. I often work alone, so it’s important to schedule time for communicating with others. I also tend to accumulate a lot of resources for my work, and wonder if by immediately sharing them with my team I’m really overwhelming them rather than supporting them on their own path. Finally, we work from different locations, and it is extra important to keep up the momentum as we move from a great idea to a great completed project. This isn’t something to ‘fix’ in a month, but rather something to keep in my sights for always.
Rabbit holes and further reading