The number one problem I encounter within teams can be summed up in a single word: misalignment.
Typically, it’s misalignment around expectations, and conflicting definitions of the word excellence. Excellence is a slippery concept, because it can mean so many different things depending on your perspective. When your team fails to have a common understanding of what excellence is, people are often (unwittingly) working toward different ends. This creates tension (the bad kind), waste (because people are spinning their wheels), and angst (because people are paranoid about whether their work is on the mark).
To do great collaborative work, you need to define the edges clearly. This means establishing from the outset how you will know you’ve succeeded (excellence) and how you will know if you’ve failed.
I tend to propose a three-fold measure of excellence for creative teams:
1. Did we create a quality end product that solved the problem? This is, of course, what we usually think of with regard to excellence, and it’s important. If your work isn’t quality, then sooner or later you will run out of chances to prove yourself. The question to ask is “are we proud to put our name on this?” (Or, “am I proud to put my name on this?”) If the answer is “yes”, then well-done. However, that’s only the first part of my definition of excellence.
2. Did it honor the people involved? It’s one thing to provide a quality end product, but if you destroy the trust and respect of your peers and client in the process, then you can hardly call the results excellent. I believe that an excellent result must also involve an excellent process, and one that honors the people who were involved in the work. This doesn’t mean that everyone got their way, or that no one’s feelings were hurt. That’s going to happen. However, did you do your best to ensure that the work was done openly, in the context of trust and respect, and without taking advantage of team members? Was the process excellent as well?
3. Did it honor the mission? Finally, it’s entirely possible to create something that looks brilliant to the outside world, but that violates the very core of what you stand for as an individual or team. In order for something to be truly excellent, I believe that it also has to honor the overall mission of the organization. It has to support your foundational why. If you undercut this, then you are a few short steps from losing all credibility.
I’d challenge you to ask these three questions when you are evaluating any piece of work, especially in a team environment. By filtering everything you do through them, you will illuminate the places where excellence is being compromised in the short-run, and stem the encroachment of frustration and apathy.
Be aware, and be excellent in your work.
Last modified: December 1, 2022