Understanding Your Team’s “Why”

In Blog by Train Lead WinLeave a Comment

Bookings, revenue, and profit targets are standard metrics that every company deals with. However, when leading a team these are often the most uninspiring aspects of any meeting or business update. How often are you presenting your team information that you feel is highly interesting and exciting (last month’s financial results for instance), yet when you look out at your team, you are faced with nothing but empty stares? Many times a major opportunity to connect is missed because two basic factors are not understood: “What are we trying to do?” and “Why would the team want to do it?”

At an executive level, defining the “What” should be easy. Delivering exceptional quality and value to your customers. Building a scalable business that projects the image of stability and excellence. And last but not least, delivering shareholder or parent company value.

The reality with most businesses is that the magic takes place within the multiple “teams” that make up the company. The effectiveness of the these teams generally determines the success and productivity of the business. Often these teams fail to define their “What”, and when they do it seems to, once again, fall on deaf ears.

Discovering and understanding the team’s ​Why​ is something totally different, and finding the answer to this question is the key to taking the team and each team member to another level. What is your team’s ​Why​? And for those of you in a leadership position, what is the ​Why ​of those under your influence??

For example –

Jan is a mid-level accounting manager who has worked at the company for 7 years. She leads a small team of 5 who handles the company’s accounts receivables and accounts payables. She does her job with purpose and consistently achieves the groups KPI targets. However, in order to accomplish this, she is personally having to “step in and do it herself” at certain times. At first it wasn’t a big deal, but now it feels like if she isn’t staying late and working on Saturday, her department won’t meet expectations. She has met with her team more than once to get them to “pull their own weight” and has even made changes within the team, looking for more production and consistency. Even with the meetings, strong language, and personnel changes, Jan still finds herself feeling like she is running in quicksand.

Another example –

Steve is an 18 year employee and a production supervisor at a publicly traded HVAC factory. He is highly skilled at understanding the entire process of how to build, diagnose, and repair the company’s full line of HVAC products. He leads a shop of 15 technicians with varying backgrounds, levels of education, and experience. The business demands are extremely seasonal, and the company has taken a proactive and aggressive position on available working hours and production expectations to meet profit expectations. Steve is being pushed hard to manage his group differently than he has in the past. Steve has passed the message repeatedly to his technician team, but the problem doesn’t seem to go away. The company missed its profit targets and is publicly blaming overtime costs as the culprit. Now Steve finds himself in hot water with senior management and his job is in jeopardy. Steve asks himself how it all came to this and wonders what he could have done differently.

The question both Jan and Steve need to answer goes much deeper than numbers. In order to create more efficiency and buy-in within their departments, both must get to the bottom of the most important aspect of human productivity. What is the meaning behind what we do on a daily basis? What is our purpose?? What is our ​Why???​ Let’s take a look at how it applies in a totally different world with very similar expectations and issues – the world of athletics.

Our basketball team has one specific goal every season – to Max Out. So we automatically know “What” we want to accomplish. The other “What’s” fall seamlessly underneath the Max Out umbrella:

  • –  win every drill every day in practice
  • –  win every possession of every game
  • –  win a district championship
  • –  win a berth to the Final Four
  • –  win a state championship

The key aspect of this is making sure the players on the team understand ​Why​ this needs to be our approach. ​Why​ do we need to focus on trying to win EVERY drill EVERY day in practice? Why ​do we need to try to win EVERY possession of EVERY game when we know it’s not a remote possibility?? ​Why ​does winning matter??? Most importantly, ​Why​ do we choose to play/coach this game on/with this team during this time in our lives????

Every player and coach in our program will have differently worded answers to each of these questions. Some of the principles may sound similar, some may be on completely opposite ends of the spectrum. However, and as crazy as this sounds, it is completely irrelevant what the answers are from each individual ​as long as each answer leads each individual to doing their very best, therefore allowing the team to reach its potential.​ And if the answers to that question from certain individuals is not conducive to creating a successful environment for themselves and ultimately the team, it is my job as the person in charge to get to the bottom of Why​ that is the case, what makes them tick, what their TRUE passions are (not the ones they think I want to hear), and how to HELP them redirect their answers in a more productive manner. In other words, it’s my job to HELP them create a new and improved ​Why​ without making them feel forced to appease what I want in any way, shape, or form.

For example, I almost always have at least one senior in our program who has stuck it out for 4 grueling years while hardly stepping on the floor in their first 2-3 seasons. Each of these young men answered their ​Why​ with something that made them realize the importance of finishing as opposed to quitting – and please keep in mind that each of these young men strongly considered quitting at some point in their career, something we will get to momentarily. Whether it was one player going from not being able to stay on the floor against our rivals as a junior to making three 3 point shots in overtime against that same program as a senior, leading us to a come from behind victory; or another becoming the glue to our team that made the state finals for the first time in over a decade; or yet another – a young man who stayed because of the example set by the aforementioned individuals – changing the course of the state finals as a senior with his energy and effort in helping lead us to a state championship the following year, the ​Why​ is always more important than the ​What.

While each young man’s ​Why​ was different, there was a very significant similarity. At one point or another in each of their playing careers, I had to meet with each of them and listen to ​Why they were considering quitting – two of them before their senior seasons!!! The reason? Each of them lost sight of their ​Why​ along the way, or even worse, questioned whether or not their Why​ was significant enough to put all the necessary work in to be successful. After finding out the reasons for these thoughts, WE (not me – a theme of our program) were able to come to the conclusion that their ​Why ​was indeed worth the “What” (all the work). Without these meetings, our program would have lost some very significant contributors, and these young men would have missed out on a life experience that each claims has benefitted them greatly.

So for all the Jan’s and Steve’s out there, time to go meet with your team members – ​one by one if necessary​. Time to HELP them understand ​Why​ their ​Why MATTERS!!!​ And Jan and Steve, don’t forget about your ​Why​ because by strengthening it, you’ll clarify your purpose with regards to moving yourself (and therefore the organization) forward. Remember, purpose leads to passion, and passion leads to productive authenticity, and productive authenticity is what separates you and your team from everyone else. PEOPLE FOLLOW PASSION.


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