A few months ago, I asked my daughters to read a few chapters from the manuscript of my new book. One piece of feedback I received was about a section in the Introduction, where I defined some key terms. My daughter Kristin liked that these definitions created a shared understanding of what the key terms mean in the context of the narrative. That way, people who may be inclined to assign their own meaning to those terms would default to this section of the Introduction. It assures that everyone is speaking the same language. (Both Kristin and Taylor offered their corrections and improvements as well, for which I am grateful).
Recently, I read a piece about groups and teams on the AbleSim blog. They defined groups and teams quite differently than I did in my book. My point here is not to dispute their definitions, so much as express gratitude that they included them. As you’ll see, had they not done so, one can only imagine how easily I may have misinterpreted or dismissed their conclusions based on my personal relationship with these terms. I’d like you to consider the following example from the perspective of how you see groups and teams, and also how a lack of alignment on such terms (and many others we share in our daily lives) can sow the seeds of misunderstanding and miscommunication.
Groups and Teams
Here are my definitions for groups and teams:
“Groups convene to help their members achieve their individual goals. Many of the groups covered in this book are CEO or Key Executive peer/mastermind groups.
“Teams work together toward achieving a collective goal or creating a shared work product. Such teams may involve a business team working to develop an innovative product or a sports team that seeks to win a world title.”
On the AbleSim post on Groups and Teams, they were defined this way:
“A group is a collection of individuals with no common goal, individual objectives, who don’t trust each other and therefore keep information to themselves. They are the ‘Forming’ team.
Imagine a group of people entering an elevator. All with the objectives of different floors, and no need to make chit-chat with the people they do not know in the elevator car.
“A team is a collection of individuals with a common purpose and shared and agreed objectives. These people trust each other and therefore share information between the team to help each other achieve the common objective. Imagine that the elevator breaks down between floors. All of a sudden, these people have a common objective and a need to communicate and share resources to achieve that objective. Escape!”
I see groups and teams as fully formed – as different, not as one less than the other. Not only that, I see how groups can work as teams, and teams can work as groups. For example, a group of students may collaborate with the understanding that everyone learns better when they learn together. Yet, the objective is to achieve an individual high grade. That same group of students may be asked to work on a project where they are responsible for creating one work product, and they are all graded on what they produce together. In this instance, they work as a team. The same holds for team members who typically spend their time working toward a collective goal. They can also collaborate quite effectively when it comes to helping each other become better individual contributors to the team.
If you embrace the definition of a group as a “team in training” of sorts, then everything in the AbleSim post makes perfect sense. Use my interpretation, however, and it makes you question everything about all the content that follows.
Why Defining Terms Matters
Based on what definitions resonate with you (and your group or team), pick one or the other, or better still, come up with your own interpretations. All that matters is you’re speaking the same language. The interesting question is how many times during the course of a day do we throw out terms in a conversation, email, or proposal that we assume are interpreted as intended based on our understanding without confirming the same level of alignment from our audience. This is where communication is simple but not easy. It’s also why it’s essential to engage the assistance of others who will ask us the questions we have all too often stopped asking ourselves.
As the CEO (or any leader for that matter), the receipt of information to your audience as intended is 100% your responsibility. You can always blame your audience for not getting it; it’s just not what real leaders do. Just like a track coach once told me when I failed to successfully pass the baton to the anchor leg in a relay race, “Never let go of the baton until you are sure the recipient has it in his grasp.” Defining the terms to your group or team members (however you do so) will help you achieve that.
Written by Leo Bottary. Here’s what you’ve missed?
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