Shared Leadership Series_3x5 Leadership

This is the 4th and final part of the Shared Leadership Series.

Patrick Lencioni states in his book, Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, that teamwork comes down to courage and persistence. Both are required to enact the things explored in this series as we build and lead effective teams; doing so is incredibly hard, often emotional, and always takes a lot of time. But teamwork remains one of the most sustainable competitive advantages that have been largely untapped in organizations. Lencioni asserts that “as difficult as teamwork is to measure and achieve, its power cannot be denied. When people come together and set aside their individual needs for the good of the whole, they can accomplish what might have looked impossible on paper.”

Through this series, we’ve addressed several important aspects of team development and performance ranging from being clear on a team’s outcomes, to psychological safety, and team cohesion and use of power. If you have not checked out the previous parts of this Shared Leadership Series, I encourage you to start with part 1 here.

Now, I want to end the series by packaging the different topics of shared leadership and team effectiveness into a singular, coherent model to help us better analyze and implement these ideas within our own teams. The GRPI Model of team development, originally offered by Richard Beckhard in 1972, is a great way to mentally organize important aspects of our teams’ development and performance.

Introducing the GRPI Model

The GRPI Model (pronounced “grippy”), shown below, breaks team development and performance down into four simple categories: Goals, Roles, Processes, and Interpersonal Relationships. It helps us diagnose the causes of team dysfunction and organize a way to address them.

GRPI Model_3x5 Leadership

Developing a team is a process; the goal for leaders of teams is to shorten the time and effort needed to achieve the three outcomes of effective teams: performance, member satisfaction, and team viability. We all know this takes considerable time and is never easy. Team development process models, like Bruce Tuckman’s stages of team development, are good at describing phases of how our teams form, but GRPI best enables us to identify a cascade of potential issues about the team and target solutions to be implemented at the right level.

In looking at how the model is organized, leaders must develop their team top-down, starting with team goals and moving down to interpersonal relationships (left-side arrow). Ambiguity at one level impacts ensuing levels below it. Often, problems at a lower level are merely symptoms of conflict or issues at a higher level. Thus, leaders must diagnose issues within the team from bottom-up, first looking at interpersonal relationships within the team, moving up to issues or ambiguity about team goals (right-side arrow).

Finally, the model is organized in a way where the influencing weight of each category decreases on team performance, with goal clarity and commitment being the most impactful on performance and interpersonal relationships having the least impact. Some research shows that goal clarity and commitment alone influences up to 80% of a team’s level of performance and effectiveness. The higher we move up the model’s pyramid, the more important that category is to team performance.

Now, let’s dive into each of the GRPI Model’s categories to better understand what they are, how leaders shape them, and how everything we’ve already explored in this Shared Leadership Series relates.

Goals

According to the U.S. Army’s definition of leadership (ADP 6-22), leaders influence others by providing purpose, direction, and motivation. Team goals provide every member with that purpose and direction. So, leaders have two critical responsibilities: to establish clear team goals and to then consistently communicate and integrate that message into everything the team does. Goals only lead to team effectiveness if they are clear across the team and members inherently commit to them.

Establish Clear Team Purpose. First, leaders must establish a clear team purpose. If leaders don’t define what is important and meaningful for the team, then anything and everything becomes important. It is these circumstances that lead teams to not be able to set priorities, making everything a priority. Hence, leaders become unnecessarily risk adverse because they don’t know what is truly important within the team; thus, they are unable or unwilling to assume risk with issues that should be lower priority. This diminishes team efficiency, hinders team effectiveness, reduces team member work capacity, increases member frustration, and ultimately destroys member motivation and commitment to the team.

Here are a couple of areas that leaders can begin to establish a clear team purpose.

  • There are a number of different frameworks to follow in establishing a team’s core, such as using vision statements, mission statements, goals, strategy and mechanisms, and/or a set of values. Really, there is no objectively right answer, but leaders need to find the approach that will best fit their team. Personally, I believe in establishing three critical components: a simple and clear purpose statement (vision) that provides the enduring “why” for a team like a North Star we strive for but will never achieve, a set of shared and clear goals that provide “how” we accomplish our purpose, and a set of agreed-on values that we will always act in accordance with no matter what (being a values-based team). I encourage you to read other team core frameworks that I offered at the end of part 3 of the series: Built to Last and The Military Leader podcast episode.
  • Test your team’s purpose with the “5 Whys Exercise.” This can quickly eliminate false perceptions of the heart of our “why” when they may actually only be addressing our team’s surface “what” or “how.” In your first attempt at succinctly describing your team’s purpose, pause and ask, why do we do this? Is there a deeper, more enduring reason on why we exist than what we described? There likely is; capture that. Then, again ask, why do we do this? Describe that even deeper purpose. As you can see, after about 3-5 rounds of this, we finally begin to capture the true essence of our team’s purpose.
  • Use the SMART goal framework to establish effective measures we can target and achieve. Further, consider using the BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) offered in Built to Last, referenced above.
  • Seek examples of popular teams or organizations that effectively leverage a purpose-goals-values (or other) framework for inspiration and to help guide your line of thinking. Some of my favorite examples include the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team, Toyota automotive, Nike, and the United States Military Academy.

Communicate Team Purpose. After establishing the team’s purpose, leaders must consistently communicate and reinforce it within the team. Leaders’ biggest failure achieving team purpose clarity is in assuming that everyone on the team actually knows our purpose, goals, and values. We believe a single email, speech, or lecture equals long-term clarity for everyone on the team. Reality is, however, that our team members need to be reminded about our team’s larger “puzzle” and how their little “puzzle piece” today supports that bigger picture. This is the heart of communicating clarity of team purpose, goals, and values addressed in part 3 of this series. Everything we say and do as leaders within our team must be founded in and point back to our purpose. We must live and preach it every day. Leaders communicate perspective; we remind our people who we are, what we do, and why we do it is important. I encourage readers to check out part 3 of this series and the Goals In Lieu of Vision article to explore the importance of team goals and how to effectively leverage them for team clarity and improved performance.

Roles

Every member on the team fills a role (or several) to achieve our team’s purpose and goals. Our role(s) may be achieved, acquired, or assigned to us within the team. Based on the level of fit to us, our role(s) on the team can be reflections of or the basis of our identity within the team. The roles I am assigned on the team and my level of clarity of them is refined and improved over time as our team continues to work out the kinks of performance and dynamics. This process can often seem a bit emotional and dramatic, but is an important component of the team development process.

Members can fill formal and informal roles on the team. Formal roles are ones outright assigned, defining the duties to be performed like a job description. Informal roles are more inherently assumed based on members seeing a need on the team that may fit with their skills or interests; informal roles are not found in any job description or contract between leader and team member, but often fill inherent needs within the team.

For reference, some examples of roles that I’ve filled / experienced in my own life and career:

  • As an Army Stryker company commander, my vehicle had the truck commander (me), a gunner, and driver. Those were our formally assigned roles necessary to shoot, move, and communicate as a vehicle crew. But we also filled informal ones within the truck based on our dynamics: I served as the truck snack provider, brining Mountain Dew and snacks for the crew during field exercises; my gunner was an outstanding coffee maker, so he brewed French press coffee every morning in the field; etc.
  • As a graduate student a few years ago, one course placed us into project teams to serve as organizational development consultants to a “real-world” client. Our team formed, but was not provided any formal roles or processes of how to do our work (reference process section below). Our team had to develop them, determining formal roles on the team needed (team leader, content creator, client manager, etc.). We also eventually filled informal ones; personally, I assumed informal roles of pushing our team to a decision (not me making the decision, but pushing for a bias for action) and ensuring every member in the team had the opportunity to share their insights instead of being unintentionally silenced by our processes or overtaken by stronger personalities.

Regarding roles, the ultimate goal is to achieve role fit (member strongly identifies with the role and has the resident knowledge and skills to fill it) and role clarity (everyone understands who fills what formal role and the existence of informal roles, ensuring they are healthy and beneficial for the team). Leaders need to be aware of and aim to eradicate role ambiguity (unclear expectations about the behaviors to be performed by individuals who occupy certain positions in the group) and role conflict (incompatibility between two simultaneously enacted roles, either within one person or between multiple members).

Roles are impacted by our clarity of team goals as discussed above. Members need to understand how their specific roles support the overall team purpose and goals. As part of our responsibilities to communicate purpose and goals, leaders must show members how their roles on the team help accomplish those ends. This gives meaning to those roles, improving member commitment and motivation.

A number of topics covered thus far in the Shared Leadership Series contribute to assigning, fit, and enacting (in)formal roles within our teams that are important considerations:

Processes

Team processes are the clearly defined, routine ways of doing business. Processes can include team decision-making, conflict management, problem solving, communication, resource allocation, brainstorming, and even knowledge management. Such processes allow every member to know how we accomplish that particular need on the team, making it common knowledge. I assert that leaders need to take a “systems approach” to the team’s routine work by integrating the people, products, and processes necessary to accomplish a task or routine team function. Largely, team processes need to make the team effective and efficient; the process needs to ensure the task or function is accomplished within the established timeframe and standard (effective), and is done without wasting unnecessary effort, resources, or capacities on the team while doing so (efficient). The team maximizes effectiveness when their processes meet both ends: performance improves, members are more satisfied through the efficiency of the team’s work, and team’s work is more sustainable over time.

As addressed earlier in the series, members’ use of power and influence impacts team processes, which can have a positive or negative result. Ideally, members use their bases of power to create, maintain, and improve successful team processes to fulfill their roles and achieve team goals. However, members and leaders can subvert processes through their power, create a “shadow government” off to the side, and develop covert processes that counter the formal existing team ones. This is why organizational justice (part 2) and process transparency is vital. It ensures clarity across the team on how tasks are complete and decisions are made, without informal “handshakes” or favoritism driving of those.

Just looking at an Army small unit, like a platoon or company, we can see the need for numerous systems / processes on a daily basis and how power and organizational justice impacts them: training management, property accountability, maintenance management, unit tasking control, physical training planning and execution, and so on. Focusing on training management alone, that system requires numerous people (commander to give guidance, XO to resource training and manage the unit calendar, platoon leaders to plan training events, etc.), products (unit calendars, battle rhythm, and task tracker), and processes (training meetings, resource meetings, operations orders, Troop Leading Procedures). Thus, we can see how expansive and important processes are to team effectiveness.

In the Leader Development Handbook, I addressed the importance of team processes and how they affect leader development within our teams. It offered a way to look at team tasks and processes, categorizing them as urgent versus important. I encourage readers to explore that post to further understand the power of processes on team effectiveness and leader development.

Interpersonal Relationships

Finally, interpersonal relationships outline how members interact with and treat one another on the team. This is so important, because how I am treated on the team impacts my procedural justice; that leads to my satisfaction on the team and willingness to commit long-term, which are two of the three critical outcomes of effective teams. The relationships within our team are affected by the roles we are assigned or fill, as well as how we fill them and leverage our bases of power. They also contribute to the social cohesion on the team and define the level of psychological safety our members experience.

Further, positive interpersonal relationships lead to establishing strong trust across the team, enable open and transparent communication, facilitate healthy conflict management and resolution, and improve the quality of feedback given among members. I bet we’ve all seen the negative impacts when there are dysfunctional interpersonal relationships within our team, which leads to unhealthy conflict, drama, gossip, and loss of trust and confidence. Poor relationships, though they seem rather insignificant to team performance, can stymie team efficiency and effectiveness over time.

Leaders have many important responsibilities to foster good interpersonal relationships within the team. There are several small things we can start doing now to do that:

  • Similar to team goals, ensure clarity of the team’s values across all members. Our team values permeate across everything we do and that starts with how we treat one another. If a team member is not treating another person well, you can easily tie their behavior to a failure to align to a particular team value, which is violating the essential core of who we are.
  • Deliberately embed habits of appreciation, admiration, and gratitude into your team.
  • Make feedback about sharing “truth in love.” When giving feedback, I must share the “truth” to help others understand where they can improve or to better understand the impact they are having; we get better when we know that truth. But I share that out of a wellspring of love – love for the other person and love for the team because I want both to get better.
  • Keep commitments and wholly fulfill your roles. When we don’t, it violates trust within the team.
  • Clarify expectations and make sure people understand one another when they issue or receive them.
  • Role model integrity for the team. To build that essential trust, demonstrate integrity by keeping promises, meeting expectations, and showing respect no matter what.
  • Own mistakes and failures. Such vulnerability encourages psychological safety and improves organizational justice. As a leader, if you change your mind, be sincere and explain it to the team.

There is so much more leaders need to learn about the importance of interpersonal relationships beyond these few paragraphs. I’ve spent years reading and trying to learn how to better build healthy relationships within teams. Below are a few book titles that have significantly influenced my knowledge and care about how we treat people on our teams:

Final Notes on the Model

Remember, we develop our team top-down, starting with establishing and clarifying team goals and moving all the way down to developing healthy interpersonal relationships. However, as we look to diagnose our team’s effectiveness and efficiency, or if we are aiming to target issues within the team, we do so bottom-up. We start by looking at the interpersonal relationships to see if how we treat one another is creating issues. If, through our investigations, we find that drama between team members is due to process inefficiencies, then we’ve moved our diagnosis up a category. Based on the context, this can continue to elevate to role conflict or ambiguity, or a major concern about team goals or the lack of clarity around them. Leaders can do so much good for their teams by using the GRPI model to address concerns or diagnose the reasons for limited results along any of the three outcomes of effective teams.

Also, remember that the GRPI model is a snapshot of our team at a single time. It does not describe the process of team development and the stages teams progress through as they form and perform. But this simple model, as I hope you can see, is very helpful in targeting key issues within team development and performance.

Concluding the Shared Leadership Series

While team development is a messy process and topic, I hope this series offered a little clarity on a number of important aspects of effective teams. Effective 21st century leadership requires a “shared leadership” approach, where leaders leverage and operate within teams (and teams of teams) to accomplish a mission and tasks. Effective teams are defined by three outcomes: their performance and results, the level of member satisfaction on the team, and team viability. Teams should not be defined by performance alone. This requires members to commit to the team – who we are, and what we do. This further requires clarity around team goals, member roles filled, the processes of the team’s work, and how we treat one another within the team.

Best of luck as you strive to lead and develop your teams! Thanks for your continued time and support. Lead well.


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