Planning the Direction of Your Team

On a trip to a specific destination, a driver can look for certain landmarks to be sure of taking the correct road. A team also has “landmarks” to evaluate whether or not it is on the path to excellence. Several components determine the success of a winning team. These elements include decision making, creative problem solving, collaboration, and facilitative leadership.

Decision making

1. Standards for making decisions. Decisions are always made with reference to certain standards or values. The organizational counterpart to a leader’s strong self-image is a well-defined organizational plan of action that serves as a blueprint for decisions. Identification of priorities among the various organizational goals provides an index to their relative importance to the organization.

2. Responsibility. Determining who will make a particular decision is another important consideration. Even the most effective leaders must repeatedly judge whether to make a decision themselves, refer it to someone else, or delegate it. As a general rule, decisions should be made at the lowest organizational level consistent with quality. Appropriate delegation of decision making to team members strengthens them, enhances the quality of decisions, prevents morale problems, and maximizes your time effectiveness.

3. Personal accountability. Although you delegate authority and assign responsibility for a decision, you are still personally accountable to the organization for the outcome. Good judgment in the type of decisions you delegate makes it unlikely that such action will be necessary very often. In the event that you are ever forced to reverse or modify a decision, be sure to explain fully to everyone involved. Do all you can to help team members make wise decisions. The more competent they become in making decisions, the bigger contribution they make to the achievement of organizational goals.

Creative problem solving

Like decision making, problem solving may involve a relatively insignificant item, or it may concern a serious issue with the possibility of a major impact on the entire organization. The larger and more important the problem, the more time and detail that go into each step of the problem-solving process. For minor problems, several of the steps may be accomplished mentally in only a few seconds. But the process always includes these steps:

1. Crystallize the goal. Many problems are caused simply because the goal is not clearly understood by all team members. Take time to review the purpose of the team and its primary goals.

2. Define the problem. It is vitally important to discover the nature of the real problem when something is obviously wrong. Sometimes the visible element is merely a symptom. Define the problem clearly in terms of one or more organizational or personal goals.

3. List criteria for selecting a solution. Establish guidelines for evaluating possible solutions and making decisions by referring to specific organizational goals and priorities. This involves determining the rules by which the most workable solution will be selected and the standards the solution must meet. The criteria might include impact on product quality, cost limits, personnel changes, the leader’s time allotment, or a target date for choosing a solution to be implemented.

4. Collect information. Asking open-ended questions and listening carefully to the answers are generally the best ways to gather information. Ask others how they would solve the problem and why they would take that approach. Attempt to see the problem or tentative solution through the eyes of others.

5. Develop possible solutions. Examine all of the data collected and record all possible solutions suggested by the data. List as many possible solutions as you or the group can generate by brainstorming.

6. Analyze possible solutions. Allow time for ideas to “incubate.” Work on other problems and come back to the original one with new ideas. In one instance, think primarily in terms of profit. Another time, think in terms of team member development or other objectives. Analyze all assumptions to be sure you are not accepting artificial limitations. When you accept traditional assumptions about what can be done, you limit the ability to find creative solutions. Alter assumptions about what can be accomplished and you open your mind to new possibilities for solving specific problems and for meaningful personal development.

7. Make the decision. When as much information as possible has been gathered and considered, assume the responsibility for making a decision, or for leading team members to choose the best possible solution.

8. Implement the solution and follow up. Since the process is problem solving rather than just decision making, a plan for implementation must be developed to carry the job through to completion. Assign responsibility for each action step. Set up a schedule and follow it to make sure the problem is being solved. Make appropriate adjustments along the way to ensure successful problem solving.


Many teams who were perceived as underdogs have won championships because they focused on the team goal rather than their own individual goals. The key to collaboration is the ability of team members to work interdependently. Of course, all team members are different from one another. In fact, some teams are purposely designed to maximize the differences among team members. These differences can often lead to friction, tension, and conflict. Conflicts are forks in the road to high performance. How conflicts are handled will determine whether a team stagnates or moves to an even higher level of results. When conflict happens, use the following steps to help team members overcome the conflict: • Identify the real conflict and the specific team members involved. • Communicate with each other. This means each team member has a chance to talk about his or her thoughts and feelings and is also willing to listen to other team members. • Handle the conflict head on and out in the open. This means each team member must be willing to deal with and discuss difficult issues. • Get team members thinking about potential solutions. Don’t judge ideas at this point, just get as many ideas out on the table as possible. • To resolve most conflicts, get team members to make at least a small compromise on the various issues. Negotiate a solution that is acceptable to everyone. • Make a commitment. Each team member must commit to the negotiated compromise solution. This means they will give 100 percent effort to make the solution work. • Follow up to be sure all team members are fully cooperating and putting forth their best effort to make the solution succeed.

Facilitative leadership

Today, the team leader is really the caretaker of the team. This means the leader is responsible for helping, supporting, and facilitating the process of team building, teamwork, and team performance. A facilitative leader understands that the solutions to problems, the information to make decisions, and the creativity to innovate is to be found in team members. Facilitative leaders see their role as bringing out the best talents and abilities of each team member and blending the different strengths of each person into a harmonious whole. The goal is not to make everyone perform the same, but rather to use each person’s unique abilities to achieve the best possible performance. The best team leaders develop team members to perform at a high level even without the leader guiding them.

Leadership Management® Institute
Reprinted with permission


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