Today I would like to share some thoughts related to teamwork, cross-functional collaboration and accountability. Being in a small or big organization, all of us have at some point faced situations in which it was difficult to see the impact of the team or individuals to the overall business results. And that can give rise to frustrations or disappointment – especially when the team is manned by talented and high qualified people. Last month I was participating in a leadership training and a colleague told us the famous anecdote of when John F. Kennedy, then President of United States, was visiting NASA headquarters for the first time, in 1961. While touring the facility, he introduced himself to a janitor who was mopping the floor and then asked him what he did at NASA. The janitor replied, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.” Whether the dialogue actually evolved this way or not, I honestly don’t know but I really like this story. To me, it shows how passion, a vision, and commitment on all levels of organization/or process can lead to a big and greater common goal. Besides that, it is an impressive off of the cuff statement, don’t you think? And it can only happen when the person has the ability to understand the big picture and the impact of his contribution – big or small – to the overall strategy. He didn’t have the sexiest title, the top skills, neither the same challenges like NASA engineers and scientists. Nevertheless, he was committed putting a man on the moon – being his task big or small, he clearly understood his contribution to the overall purpose and saw himself as a valuable asset to something very big and beyond of what he was entrusted to do. He was not just a janitor but one of the NASA Space Team member – what undoubtedly made him proud of! In my book, this is a very important mind-set to have regardless of which level one belongs to or task one has been entrusted off – being a leader or individual contributor. I appreciate that sometimes it is difficult to see our (individual effort) contribution towards company’s strategy – especially if working for a big organization. But it is critical to understand the big picture and how through teamwork and commitment outstanding things can be achieved. It is like being a small gear of a big engine. If one piece is faulty, an engine may not operate on its optimal performance or not even operate at all! In teams, sometimes contribution is not so expressive or visible to everyone, but if not working well and not in complete sync with other parts/peers/teams, the outcome will certainly fall short and not meet the overall purpose or potential of the strategy or project. As a whole, it is important to have the attitude of this janitor and also see yourself (or team) as an important part of the overall strategy – your task being big or small. If you are caught in a situation in which, at a prima facie, you feel that your scope/task may seem meaningless and not clear how much the effort will influence positive impact to the business, following these steps may help change that – your perception or the scope as whole (not necessarily in this order): Step up! – If assigned to a task that may seem unimportant, make the decision to make it bigger then it is! Learn about your business priorities – Align with management on what does success mean, on critical aspects of the business and focus on short and long term key deliverables. Measure performance – Create metrics with established criteria to track results and performance of the team/yourself. Having SMART objectives in line with organization priorities is a great start. Raise your hand for cross-functional work – Working in unison with peers and understanding how different teams can support each other to the overall benefit of the business / higher impact to the bottom line is paramount. Overall, whatever you commit yourself to do, do it with passion and devotion! It doesn’t matter how important the task is. If you understand why same is being executed and it is in line with the business strategy, take ownership of the task and put forth a full effort – do it with passion and deliver to the top of your capabilities. Like Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s once said “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love’. Do this way and the impact of you as a gearing part of a big engine will be visible – leaders take notes of it!
What can a leader do to improve their gearing as part of the bigger organisational engine?