Define Your Team’s Mission and Purpose


Berton Lee Lamb, Ph.D.

A comment on Tip #44 from R. C. Sanders & M. Marks (2021) Improve Your Leadership Skills: 76 Tips for Getting Work Done Through Others.

The Tip: “Define your team’s mission and purpose. The clearer your mission and purpose, the easier it is for your people to get behind and support them.” 

Here is an illustration:

John was selected to lead a new team in his company. When he was assigned to the leadership position, he was told that his team would design a new production process to create a special widget that would be produced by a different unit of the company. The specifications for the widget were laid out and he was given a deadline for when production had to begin. During his hiring interview John had asked “How does this widget fit with the company’s production goals?” He was told, “You know what we do, the widget will make a big contribution.” If successful, John believed his team could receive future design assignments.

John set about assembling a competent team. The goal was to get everything ready so that the production deadline would be achieved. Each team member had specific expertise. John made sure each member felt recognized for knowledge and skill. He personally explained to each that he expected them to work creatively and cooperate with other team members to coordinate efforts. When the team was complete, he held an all-hands meeting to explain the mission and purpose of the new team. He emphasized that the widget was important to the company and underscored the urgency of hitting the deadline so production could begin. He thanked the team and directed them to start.

Sally was a team member he had known for some time. She was a go-getter always interested in producing results. Other team members seemed to trust her.  John asked to visit with Sally and she was eager to talk. What she told him was shocking. She said, “Everyone on the team is wonderful! But we don’t know why we are doing this and we can’t decide which task should begin first. Everyone wants to get started. The thing is, we are being careful to make sure we avoid doing the wrong thing and we don’t want to step on anyone’s toes.”

About a week later, John noticed that team members were huddling together. They were obviously talking about the assignment but the progress he had expected from such an assemblage of talent was not materializing.

Teams like this sometimes deliver but they very often fail. They fail despite being highly talented and having a strong desire to succeed. John was frightened and then a bit angered by what Sally shared. He knew that he had capable people in place. John did not want them to fail. He also recognized that a failure at the beginning of their assignment would reduce trust among the employees. If successful, his team could expect to be tasked with developing other production processes. But problems at the beginning might mean trust would be eroded. Failure now would preclude future assignments.

His first thought was to walk to the work area and tell them to get on with the job. Then he remembered that he wanted this team to work together and be able to tackle future assignments. He did not want to lose the expertise of the team or the potential for a very successful outcome.  He thought of a book by Larson and LaFasto (TeamWork: What Must Go Right/What Can Go Wrong). Larson and LaFasto identified nine components of successful teams:

A Clear, Elevating Goal

Results-driven Structure

Competent Team Members

Unified Commitment

Collaborative Climate

Standards of Excellence

External Support and Recognition

Principled Leadership

As John thought about these factors, he recognized that the team already possessed some of the ingredients of success. He clearly had competent team members and he could see that they had a collaborative spirit. John also knew that he had good support from the company’s senior leadership. He could call on other company leaders to reward and affirm his team. John decided he had better think more about his own skill at principled leadership. Most importantly, he recognized that he was missing a clear and elevating goal. He also understood that he had not provided a results-driven structure.

John concluded that a clear and elevating goal should be his first priority. He assembled the team and asked them how they understood the goal they were being asked to achieve. They immediately identified the deadline as important. But as they discussed this John came to understand that the team members did not seem to fully appreciate the “why” of it all or their place in the overall success of the company. John asked Sally to moderate a couple of meetings to discuss the importance of efficiently and effectively producing a high quality widget. John was not present at these meetings. After a couple of sessions, Sally asked him to join them to hear their report. The team was in agreement that a a new process was vital to help the company produce widgets in the future. By collaborating now they would have a template for the production of other innovations. They were committed to making that happen.

John used the same approach—in separate meetings—to address the structure of the team. First, he asked Sally to assume the role of coordinating the various parts of the team’s activities. John and Sally had some pretty intense discussions about what kind of team they were building.

As they talked, it became apparent that the team was not, in fact, a “production” team. Their role was to figure out a production process; it was a “creative team.” The team members were being asked to create a process that would lead to efficient, effective widget production. There were many components to this task.

Next, Sally convened the team to brainstorm the most effective and efficient way to accomplish the task they had been assigned. Once they had agreed on the creative process, she conferred with John. Then Sally assigned one person to lead each sub-team. She and John met with the sub-team leaders to determine the best personnel for each sub-team. They guaranteed each sub-team the autonomy to come up with possible solutions to achieve the sub-team’s own goals. With the sub-team leaders, they agreed on a way to present the resulting recommendations from each sub-team and decide how to best integrate the suggestions of each sub-team that would result in the creation of a production process. As they worked through this John, with Sally’s assistance, emphasized the goal to which they had all agreed.

The result was a process they could defend to company leadership which, when implemented, would work well. They had built a creative process that the team could replicate for future production models for their company


Gender Inequality

Commentary:  by Daniel Merz, Ph.D.

Gender Inequality in the Workplace

One aspect of leadership that has received attention in the last two decades is the topic of gender inequality in the workplace. Currently women comprise 50.8% of the U.S. population. One study of S and P 1500 companies discovered the following. Women comprise 45% of the positions in business and industry, yet only 27% of women hold positions in executive or senior management. Even fewer, 19% occupy seats on corporate boards and only 10% hold top management positions (Center for American Progress, 2018).

There are various causes cited for leadership inequality of women. Among the causes are the presence and effects of outdated gender stereotypes, women lacking helpful connections in the world of work, and biases and discrimination against women. Discrimination is particularly problematic for older women and women of color. Sexual harassment, hostile work environments, religion, capitalism, patriarchy, and unconscious biases also are problematic for women who want to pursue leadership positions in business and industry (Scott, 2018).

Some women continue to think that they need to display traditional male qualities in order to be accepted in a male dominated environment. It is widely recognized that leadership roles have been historically represented by masculine images. This becomes a significant factor when you examine the differences in male and female leadership practices. It may be possible to overcome the prominent role played by masculine leadership by examining the different leadership approaches between men and women. Men tend to favor what has been labeled as a command-and-control leadership style. The masculine image of a leader is viewed as being a dominant figure in the office whose primary goal is results. Men are perceived as more task oriented and directive compared to their female counterparts (Career Advancement, 2016).

But the leadership style of men tends to result in downplaying the qualities of leadership see in women. Women leaders have been found to prefer a leadership style that focuses on cooperation. The cooperative approach promotes a conversational and listening atmosphere in the office. Women leaders also more often rely on mentoring, coaching, and a participatory role in decision making (Career Advancement, 2016).

Developing an appreciation for a more cooperative approach to leadership can help reduce gender inequality in the workplace. These strategies could be coordinated and managed through the Human Resources division of a business. Topics that could be offered in a Professional Development program include addressing the use of denial, identifying the barriers and policies that are exclusionary to women, manners and behavior involved in sexual harassment, and identifying behavior that is driven by unconscious biases (King, 2020). Other gender inequality issues in leadership that could be addressed by Human Resources are creating a workplace culture that supports and encourages individual differences. This would help everyone including women. Additional topics to address include a safe procedure for identifying inappropriate or exclusionary behavior and ways in which female identities are devalued in the workplace.

If the workplace does not have a Human Resources office, gender inequality issues could be addressed and monitored by a committee for Advancement and Placement.

Sources cited:

Career Advancement University of Chicago, Aug. 2016.

King, M. (2020).  Leaders, Stop Denying the Gender Inequality in Your Organization.

 Harvard Business Review, June.

Scott, J. (2018) Persistence of Gender Inequality. Institute for Advanced Studies.

Warner, J. & Corley, D. (2017) The Women’s Leadership Gap. Center for American Progress.


Commentary: Nadine Thomsen, Psy.D.

Taken from: Improve Your Leadership: 76 Tips for Getting Work Done Through Others

Tip #14:  Build the confidence and self-esteem of others.  People give their best when they know they are appreciated for doing meaningful work.

Healthy self-esteem is the degree to which, consciously or unconsciously, you like and believe in yourself and feel confident to deal with life’s challenges.  Confidence and competence are closely related.  Outstanding leaders know this and will do all they can to boost the self-esteem and confidence of their team members, which ultimately leads to higher workplace morale and better employee retention.

Leaders need to assess the confidence level of each individual employee.   This will require good listening skills.  Understanding that every worker has a different history and therefore has different requirements for building self-esteem is vital for effective leadership.  By initially building on the strengths that they already possess, and providing them with challenging but attainable goals, workers will more likely feel confident to take on new, less familiar tasks. 

 Employees with high self-esteem tend to be more autonomous and creative. Although a leader cannot personally build the self-esteem of a worker, effective managers will look for ways to create conditions that encourage and support the contributions of their direct reports.  Communicating belief in employees’ abilities is strategic to increasing the confidence and self-esteem of workers in any setting.

The manner in which constructive feedback is given is central to confidence-building.  Empty, general compliments are not likely to enhance either confidence or productivity.  Feedback needs to be specific to the task, which tells the employee that you as a leader actually are aware of, and appreciate, his or her personal contributions.   Citing specific examples of good work as well as areas for improvement accomplish this best.  Effort, as well as outcome, should be clearly acknowledged.

When a worker lacks confidence, even minor mistakes confirm his belief in his inadequacy.  In order for employees to feel confident enough to take reasonable risks, the work environment must feel safe.  If a leader has communicated that it is human to make mistakes, and mistakes are, in fact, essential to learning, workers will feel more willing to accept a new challenge when the opportunity arises.  Without the promise of a learning curve employees may opt out of taking on new roles or projects due to fear of failure, thus decreasing their chances for future promotions or increases in salary.  This additionally leads to lost opportunities for increasing self-esteem.  Let your workers know that you respect their opinions.  Encourage them to speak up and share their ideas both with you and in team meetings.  This will only happen in a safe, respectful environment. 

A truly effective leader wants her workers to be as effective as possible, and is not threatened by their success.  In order for that to happen a leader must possess a healthy sense of self.  Leaders with low self-esteem and confidence will most likely tend to micro-manage their direct reports and may even consciously or unconsciously undermine the credit that workers may be due.  Step #1 for supporting the ongoing success of workers therefore, is to make sure that your own confidence is secure. 

A Mystery: Intent vs. Impact

When workplace conflict arises, most often someone or several people have been impacted in a negative way.

What do you think of when you get impacted in a way that feels awful?  Here are some reported reactions.

  • “I feel stunned!”
  • ” I feel very angry!”
  • “I think this is so unfair!”
  • “I want to get even!”
  • “I feel helpless to do anything about this!”

    The above reports describe reactivity – a natural response to an unwanted impact.

    What is so interesting is when participants in a conflict situation are interviewed, we find they are amazed that they had a negative impact on anyone.

    Most people believe they are well intentioned, and are extremely surprised when they find out they have had such a negative impact on someone else.

    So, what do you do when conflict occurs and you are the person in charge?  Try asking people what their intentions were prior to the conflict becoming apparent.  What we often discover is they did not have a clue when it came to thinking about how their actions or words might impact another person or even a group.

    In working to resolve conflicts it is a good to give participants an idea of how their behavior has impacted someone else.  A question about their intent brings out the positives in the situation.

    When people become aware that even though they had positive intentions, their behavior or words impacted the other person in a negative way, they are in a position to clarify, apologize, and then seek out a compromise.

    Employees really do prefer an environment where they can be heard, understood, and treated fairly as the adults they are.

    So, the mystery of intent vs. impact doesn’t have to remain a mystery when careful inquiry can resolve misunderstandings.

    Setting Expectations

    The complaint “why can’t they just work it out!” is heard in many a manager’s office.  Larry was almost grinding his teeth when he was asking for help with two of his employees.  “I’ve told each of them, just get over it! And, get back to work!”

    “Yet every other day, one of them shows up in my office either complaining or crying about how rude the other person has been.  I’m ready to fire them, but they really know what they are doing and it would take a long time to bring someone new up to speed.  I’d like to see them succeed and put this conflict behind them.  What do you recommend?”

    I am frequently faced with these kinds of questions as part of my practice.  As always, I started by asking a few questions.  The first question was “what are your expectations of these two employees”?  His answer was, “Why I expect them to grow up and deal with each other in a respectful way!”  My final question: Have you told them what you expect?

    The answer of course was no.  Rather than expecting  our employees to read our minds about what we want from them, it is important to first be clear about what our expectations are.  It is then up to us to communicate our expectations to our employees – verbally and in writing.

    The question for every manager then is, what do you expect?  Remember that all employees need structure, feedback, accountability, and support.  How can you provide them with these things?  Your clarity about what you expect of them in term of work performance and behavior in the workplace can go a long way to help your employees to “work it out” among themselves.  When you communicate that you expect them to be responsible for solving problems when they occur, you are literally helping them to grow and develop professionally.

    When you’ve been clear about what and how you expect your employees to behave, then what comes next is to reiterate your expectations and if need be, coach them to work out their conflicts with each other.  You are steering them towards each other rather than a way from each other.  As you help them to work it out, you are reinforcing your expectations that they can and will resolve conflicts.

    By directly providing them structure, feedback, accountability, and support, you are making constructive use of conflicts when they occur.  This is a way of creating a culture of engagement.

    P.S.   When work at home is more the norm it is probably even more important to make sure that employees know what they are supposed to do and how they are supposed to work together.  Video communication via Zoom, or Free Conference can be a good way for employees to develop a mutual understanding of goals and processes.  They can give each other feedback and help each other structure their work.

    Here’s wishing success to all of you.  Stay engaged!

    A Team Leader’s Guide to Feedback

    As a team leader it is important, even essential that part of your role is to make sure that feedback occurs.


    Consider that feedback is simply information.  When there is an outcome to be achieved, and the target is not met 100%, then information about what went into missing the desired outcome is critical to ongoing performance.

    In it’s best form, feedback is an exchange of information.  The leadership is responsible for initiating the collection of feedback, and that is best accomplished through the skill of posing the right questions and listening closely to the responses the leader recieves.

    The best way to accomplish this exchange is to initiate debriefing projects.  Examples of questions might be seen in this scenario between a leader (L) and a team member (TM).

    L: How close did we come to reaching our target goal?

    TM: We missed it by a significant margin.

    L: As you think about our next round, what do you think could move us closer to our target?

    TM: I think we could start earlier and get a jump start on the project.

    L: Anything else?

    TM: Yeah, I think I need to check the metrics ahead of time – and that would help us get close to the target. 

    L: Great, so checking the metrics ahead of time and getting started earlier.  Let’s check in to debrief once this next round is finished and see where we stand.  I have confidence that the changes you just outlined will produce good results.

    TM: Ok, I’ll talk with you then.

    Debriefing projects is one powerful dway to collect information and use that feeback to move forward and set goals.  You can accomplish the same information sharing/goal setting conversations one on one or in a team meeting format.  Try it out – see what you can learn.

    Creating Conversations As A Way Towards Improving Performance Through Feedback

    As a leader of a team, it is important, even essential that part of your role is to make sure that feedback occurs. Why?

    Consider that feedback is simply information. When there is an outcome to be achieved,and the gravy is not met 100%, then information about what went into missing the desired outcome, information or feedback is critical to ongoing performance.

    In it’s best form, feedback is an exchange of information. The leadership is responsible for initiating the collection of feedback. That is best accomplished by creating a conversation. In doing so, remember to listen carefully be the responses to your skilfully posed questions. Your questions should facilitate the disclosure of information rather than ellicit defensiveness.

    One really creative way to create feedback conversations is to initiate debriefing meetings following a project. Debriefing meetings can be with the whole team of in one on one conversations.

    Examples of facilitative questions might be see in the following scenario with a team member.

    Leader: How close did we come be reaching out target goal?

    Team member: we missed it by a significant margin. I’d say about two percentage points.

    L: As you think about our next round, what do you think could move us closer to our target?

    TM:I think getting started earlier and getting a jump start on the project would help.

    L: Anything else?

    TM: Yeah, I think I need to check the metrics head of high-end that would help us get closer to the target this time.

    L: Great, so checking the metrics ahead of time and getting started earlier. Let’s check in to debrief once this next round is finished and see where we stand.

    TM: Ok I’ll take with th then.

    Debriefing projects is one powerful way of creating conversation and collecting information. You can then use that feedback to move forward.

    Try it out-see what you can learn.

    The Illusion of Control

    Susan was known as a control freak. It seemed that the more control she sought to exert, the worse the situation became. In her department people just couldn’t seem to perform. Yet every time she tried to correct them and chastised them for not making their numbers, and further behind they seem to go.

    Not only were they not succeeding and making their quota, but they also began quarreling and bickering in amongst themselves. When Susan dove in, trying to solve the problems, the employees would blame each other for the shortfalls.

    Finally in desperation Susan sought out her mentor, Linda. Linda was a veteran and had served many successful years in the industry. “What more can I do,” Susan asked. “Actually, Linda replied, “you could try doing less.” “Let up on them –try trusting that they know what to do and will have the capacity to solve their own problems.”

    Linda said, “Susan, you can’t control people. You have to lead them.” The more you try to control the less control you will have. Control is one part of the definition of management. One dictionary’s definition describes management as organizing and controlling. But here we are talking about a certain amount of control over processes more than people. When it comes to conflict in the workplace managers really don’t have a lot of control.

    You cannot control or prevent conflict from occurring in the workplace. So what is the manager’s role in regard to conflict in the workplace? The manager literally has two options when it comes to dealing with conflict and workplace. One option is to simply contain the conflict. This is another way of practicing avoidance.

    Continue Reading »

    Preventing and Responding to Conflicts in the Workplace

    To: Small Business Owners:

    No matter how careful you are when hiring, workplace conflicts are likely to occur.  Such conflicts, if unresolved, can cause damage to any enterprise.

    So, what is the small business owner to do?  Avoid conflict?  Smooth over disputes?  Or, prepare for conflict and know what to do when and if conflict happens.  Being prepared is both proactive and productive.

    Here are 5 ways to prepare for, and even prevent damaging conflict from occurring.  In all these steps it is critical to be respectful, courteous, and above all, clear.

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    Conflict Management: Agreements and Consequences

    In the conflict resolution process, once you have completed the problem solving process, it is now time to lay out the agreements.

    But what good are agreements if there is no way to see to it that they are upheld?  Typically we think about the agreements first and then look to the consequences.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard managers fret about what to do when the people in the conflict do not keep their word.

    I suspect that part of the problem is that consequences were never discussed in the first place.  Let’s eavesdrop on a conversation between a manager and an employee who has been involved in a conflict that has resulted in an agreement that has subsequently not been honored.

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