Recently I was helping a team who has been struggling for a while. They seem to lack focus, direction, priorities and worse yet I believe they feel a little out of control. In other words, they’re trying to be everything to everyone. Which doesn’t seem to be working for them!  (not really surprising)

To paint a picture this is one team working inside a very large program. Their objective is to own things with a cross program impact. It might be a business decision needing facilitating, architectural decision, design direction, etc.  The people they interact with each day are generally the other project teams. Very little in their mandate requires them to interact directly with the final end-users of the product.

To help them with improving their situation I recently conducted a retrospective. I walked through a series of four questions, with the first one being “Who’s your customer?”. The team listed 5-6 different groups and only once things were starting to dry up did they throw in the end users. I’m not sure the order has any relevance, but the key for me is the end user almost seemed to be an after thought … RED FLAGS!

I’ve heard Mary Poppendieck tell a story a couple times now. I’ll spare you the details of the story (because I’ll likely get them wrong anyways) but this company builds a video conferencing solution. In this company every single person is focused on the end user. Mary tells us how everyone she and Tom talked with started off by saying “everything we do here makes it easier for people to communicate”. In other words, every single person regardless of what their job title reads is very clear their job is to help  deliver value to their ‘real’ customers.

So back to my team. What is clear to me is the team lacks a clear sense of purpose and cannot see how they’re contributing to delivering value to the end user. This example has become clear evidence for me on the importance of aligning your purpose with the ‘real’ customer. Without this it’s difficult to take good actions, make good decisions and have passion about what you’re delivering. I’m certainly going to explore this more with the team and continue to coach them. The really cool thing is it was suggested we should develop a team manifesto (I love it!).  I’ll  update this story at a later date once we’ve made some progress.

What about your team? Are you/they aligned with a sense of purpose clearly aligned with your ‘real’ customer? Do you/they know who their ‘real’ customer is?  If you’re struggling like my team perhaps it’s time to pause and check on this important alignment! Be careful about the trap of denial … you’ll know you’re there if you hear “oh yeah … well of course they’re important too”.

Building Great Teams

Building Great Teams

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