Every group and team operates in a specific context. The situation faced by a U.S. Navy SEAL team in Afghanistan is different from that faced by a team drilling for gas in North Dakota. Context is interesting because (a) it is very complicated and (b) existing research is not very helpful in telling us how context affects team success. Yet, contextual factors critically impact the success or failure of a team. The extent to which leaders can control situational factors affecting their teams and groups varies greatly. Some situational factors can be directly influenced, others can be influenced only indirectly, and many cannot be controlled at all. Because contextual factors have a profound impact on group dynamics, getting team member alignment on these factors is a critical responsibility for leaders. All too often team members have different assumptions about customers, suppliers, or competitors. Their well-intended, but misaligned, actions can inadvertently destroy team morale and sub-optimize team efficiency and effectiveness.
One noteworthy aspect of team context is the implicit nature of team member assumptions—team members rarely if ever articulate their assumptions about key stakeholders. In order to make the implicit more explicit, team members should work together to identify the key constituencies that affect the team. These entities might include key customers, competitors, other teams, regulatory agencies, vendors, the parent organization, etc. Team members should then discuss and agree on the top three to five assumptions they have for each constituency. Gaining alignment on team context makes it much easier to determine the purpose and key goals for the team; reviewing team assumptions about key constituencies can also help new members get integrated into the team more quickly.
By Gordon Curphy
Curphy Consulting Corporation
Guest blogger and co-author of The Rocket Model