Are We on the Same Team?

Shared team goals and organizational effectiveness

In a recent workshop, the following discussion occurred in response to my setup that highly functional teams actively work to achieve shared goals.


Curator (referencing her marketing counterpart): Can’t we have different goals?
Me: Not if you are on the same team.
Curator: But our goals differ …
Me: And so you are on different teams. What needs to be worked out are your overarching shared goals. Under those you might have subgoals but they need to be in support of the larger shared goal. Otherwise you are probably working at cross purposes and inadvertently undermining each other’s efforts.

This conversation exposed a work dynamic with substantial consequences for organizational effectiveness.

In order for curatorial and marketing to be on the same team, institutional priorities have to be set that coordinate the efforts of these two functional units of organizational operations even though these two groups do not think or behave the same way. These two units must come to see themselves as being on the same team and also need to see the benefits of sharing goals. They must clearly understand how their work is complementary and, if properly coordinated, will make everyone’s work more effective and enhance the capacity for the organization to deliver on its mission.

Highly functioning teams

Patrick Lencioni‘s model for a highly functioning team is a good model even for organization-wide teamwork. Look at your organization and all its functional units or unit leaders and ask these 5 questions:

Is there trust among all units? The hallmark of trust is admitting failure or inadequacy in front of the other units, or asking for help from them. It’s also about cultivating professional empathy and respect among different units.

Is there constructive conflict among all units? Do rigorous debates occur to work through difficult issues? Are there regular forums for this to occur?

Are decisions fully committed to once they have been made? Assertive discussion and argument over a decision makes clear what the decision will mean and opens the space for commitment to that decision rather than passive resistance or acquiescence.

Are all the units on the team holding each other accountable for results? When goals are not met, is there a probing and honest discussion of why and what could be done differently to improve outcomes? Are results being measured so that this discussion can be grounded in a shared understanding of data?

Are all unit goals carefully aligned with broader institutional goals? This assumes that institutional goals are clear and understood by all units.

Shared goals

In another client case, the institutional mission is clear and we have cultivated a habit of interdepartmental goal setting. All departments are asked to be at the table.

The curator’s willingness to work through to an effective marketing-focused description of her curatorial work showed her commitment to shared organizational goals.

In a recent work session, they were honing in on a description for an upcoming exhibition. The session was being facilitated by the head of marketing and the communications team felt they were getting what they needed, but then the chief curator chimed in saying, “This version is accurate as to our [curatorial] intent, but how can we make it more engaging for the public?” She and everyone else in that room are on the same team. The chief curator’s willingness to work through to an effective marketing-focused description of her curatorial work was not seen as a surrender of curatorial authority or autonomy in deference to the needs of marketing. Instead, it was evidence of her commitment to shared organizational goals and a recognition that each unit represented around that table had an important contribution to make.

Here, marketing and curatorial are doing the hard work of actively collaborating to ensure that each unit is taking full responsibility to see that the broader organizational team wins. This level of collaboration did not happen overnight. And their teamwork is far from perfect, but there is no one asking if they can have their own uncoordinated goal.


Photo by Caleb Dow

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We are kind, thorough and ready when you are. You just need to ask.