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June 23, 2015

Wanna Join a Team?

Bruce Murray

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Justin Rosenstein, the co-founder of collaboration software company Asana, wondered, "Why do some teams march in unison and achieve big dreams, while others waste time, get stressed and lose steam? I've found that the answer is clarity." His first requirement is clarity of purpose.

Abundant literature and research confirms the immediate need for clarity of purpose once the team is in place, but what about the day before? When I'm asked to join a team, I tweak the question and seek clarity of motivation.

Senior executives asked me to lead a team with a purpose that would clearly achieve efficiency and higher profits. I was flattered that they wanted me to lead. Then, as I pondered the paths to get us there, each one involved changes that the rank-and-file would find justifiably objectionable. In short, management wanted the change but not the blame, so they decided to create a team that would do their dirty work for them.

Other team ideas came from colleagues. The ideas had merit but I sensed the true motivation was for the personal gain of a promotion or payback against a rival. Everyone who initiates an idea considers the rewards that might come, but could I trust this person to allow the team to develop on its own, or would his ego corrupt the process at every turn?

I was sure to thank them all for the offers, but always asked for time to consider. As I weighed the consequences for me individually, I also considered the organization's culture. Frei and Morriss remind us that, "… culture guides discretionary behavior and it picks up where the employee handbook leaves off." Would the existing culture keep the team on an ethically viable path? Teamwork often modifies an organization's culture. Could my decision have a deleterious effect on my co-workers and the entire culture?

I joined most but I'm glad that I also declined a couple of offers.

Naturally, we all react with pride and gratitude when offered the influential roles that teamwork provides, especially when the project appears fun and creative. We want to jump up and say, "Yes!" Hold off and be realistic: do you have the time to do justice to both the team and the duties of your main role? If you cannot get enough support in your job to allow you time for the team, don't decline the offer just yet. See if there is a less-than-fulltime role with the team… just recognize that these things have a way of always increasing in scope. Make sure that your manager, clients and those most dear to your personal life are okay with knowing that you will be stretched to your limit.

Team participation is usually fun and invigorating, and leads to exciting opportunities, but, before you accept the offer, there are couple things to clarify. (Remember how important clarity is?) They want you! They know that they're asking you to go above and beyond the call of duty. You have the leverage now, so clarify what you want in exchange for your contribution.

Almost anything is on the table – but don't ask for money or promotion… yet. Save that for when the team's work is done and they know that you are worth it. Money aside, we are most motivated by the three factors outlined by Daniel Pink in his book Drive – autonomy, mastery of new skills, and the passion of making the world a better place.

When you are invited onto the team, the door to autonomy is wide open. Now is the time to ask for additional resources and independence to reconfigure your job's responsibilities, tasks, schedule, etc. You were undoubtedly asked to join the team for your existing skills, but it's an excellent time to align yourself with people who have mastery of additional skills that you seek. The passion will come automatically as you propel the team to accomplish its mission.

Team work is exhilarating and serves as a path to greater accomplishment. Just take care of these few things before you agree to take on the extra work.

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