• Jonno White

5 Questions to Get Your People Rowing in the Same Direction

I'm not a rower. So, if you're here to actually learn how to get your rowing team more in sync ... then, well, this might help you, too. Because a rowing team is a team after all. That's why the analogy works.

We are, of course, talking about group cohesion. So, what group are you leading or a part of? Whatever group that is—or team as you might call it—my goal here is to give you five questions to answer that will help you get your people rowing in the same direction.

Before we get into the questions, let's state the obvious. A rowing team full of people trying to row in different directions would be shambolic. Most importantly, for the analogy, they're not going to reach their destination. If they're in a race they're going to come last or never finish or maybe even injure another team by going the wrong direction.

So, where is your team going? What are your goals? My hope is that as your team starts rowing in the same direction, you'll see results like you never have before. And, as a team, you'll have wins that you never thought were possible.

Q1. When do you get together?

Seems obvious, right? For group cohesion, I believe the most important thing you can do immediately is review how often you're getting together. Ever noticed a rowing team is in the same boat? Step one—get in the same boat. Too often when people are going in different directions, the team meets less and less because of the frustration that's involved in meeting. My advice is to reverse this immediately. Get together. Start somewhere. Communicate something. Check how everyone is going. Get a pulse. Check for a pulse in some instances.

Think of meetings like practice for a rowing team. They don't just turn up at the olympics and take all of their individual training to pull off an amazing race. They've spent hours, days, weeks, months and years training together to become an effective team. If you have a record of leading or being part of terrible, painful, waste-of-time, would-rather-be-arguing-with-a-telemarketer sort of meetings, then read Patrick Lencioni's great book, Death by Meeting. And implement his meeting framework yesterday.

Q2. Why are you going?

Ever been involved in something or had a task to do and you've thought, "why am I even doing this?" Leaders, listen up. I want you to stop, take off all of your emotionally defensive armour for a moment and consider something. Is it possible ... remotely possible ... that people in your team feel that way about your team and/or organisation? Ouch. I've been there as the leader. You're on fire. You know why you're doing what you're doing. Well, you don't know why, as in you couldn't articulate it neatly. But it's running through your veins. You simply have to do what you're doing.

Unfortunately, people don't automatically catch this. Some leaders are contagious with their why. It's natural and everyone around them seems to catch the purpose of what they're doing. I'm not one of those leaders. I have to be incredibly intentional about contaminating everyone around me with my why and my organisation's why. What's the point? Let me put it this way. What are you most passionate about? In the world? Whatever that is, stop and think about how you feel about that idea, initiative or thing. As leaders, our goal should be to communicate the purpose of our endeavours so well that the people we lead experience a level of passion for what we're doing that's similar to that thing you just thought of. As you do this more and more, you'll attract people who are passionate about your purpose.

So, why do you exist? Individually and as an organisation? I know it sounds abstract and ethereal. But there is no greater driver than purpose. Whatever you can articulate, no matter how simplistic and imperfect, talk about that ... all the time ... incessantly. If you have the time and/or budget to invest in this area, then do it. Get external help articulating and communicating your why through your organisation. As the story goes, why, purpose, vision—whatever you call it—is like two labourers who were moving rocks from one spot to another. When asked what they were doing, the first labourer replied, "moving rocks." But the second labourer replied, "I'm building a castle." Why you're doing what you're doing is that powerful.

If you're reading this question and your head is dropping because you just don't know where you would start with such a big, abstract idea, then check out Lencioni's book The Advantage. He has a section dedicated to creating clarity in organisations and this is the first question of six. For a start, and a deeper understanding of how to articulate your 'why', read my blog Understanding the Six Questions.

Q3. Um ... who are you?

Ok, so you've thought about why you're doing what you're doing and you're talking about it incessantly. Now it's time to think about who you are. Not you individually, you as a team and/or an organisation. What makes you unique? Articular the core behaviours that make you unique and then go big on them. This is a massive part of group cohesion. Forget 'honesty', 'innovation' etc. We're talking about truly unique core values.

As an example, one of Clarity's core values is work/life balance. Going big on work/life balance looks like paying the cost to work less in order to prioritise other parts of life. It might mean saying no to potential work if it's going to violate that value. It means I need to extend it beyond myself and approach those I work with from the same perspective. If I need something asap but to insist on that would mean asking someone else to violate work/life balance. Then, as long as it's reasonable, I should be willing to pay the cost in order to stay true to the value of work/life balance. So, what are your values? Teams that truly know who they are and live it out unapologetically and unreservedly are incredible to behold and even better to be a part of.

Q4. Where are you going?

Once you've articulated your purpose and values, it's time to look at where you're going. What are you as a team and/or as an organisation working towards? Write a list now of the things that your team/organisation is working on. Big projects. But don't write fifty things, I want you to just write the most significant things. How many are there on your list? If you have more than five then stop. Group cohesion isn't just about knowing why you exist and who you are, it's also about being clear about where you're going.

Rowing teams in the olympics aren't trying to catch some fish, get a nice tan and create a beautifully in sync rowing pattern that spells 'Hello world' in morse code. No. Rowing teams in the olympics are trying to win a gold medal. That's the most significant thing for them and your team needs one thing to be most significant as well. Go back to your list. Patrick Lencioni has this great exercise where you have to pick one top priority that's most important. Try it on your list. If you had to pick one thing to achieve in the next few months as a team/organisation, what would it be? This is most helpful when done with your team and is once again covered in Lencioni's six questions of Clarity.

Q5. "John ... why aren't you rowing?"

Ok, here's the tough part. Have you made a start on the first four? Great! You're smashing it. Now it's time for accountability. Group cohesion isn't just about knowing why, who and where. It's about holding people to account. You know that purpose, those values and that most significant thing we just talked about? Once you've articulated and communicated those things, it's time to hold the people around you to account. If John starts rowing in a different direction—basically anything that's against your purpose, violates your values or goes in a different direction to the 'where' your team decided, then call them on it.

This is easier said than done. I know. But it's worth it. You simply won't see all the momentum that's possible and the results that you and your team are capable of until you bite the bullet and have some crucial conversations. Some will need to be one-on-one and some can be done in the group as your team grows in depth. Start with the small things rather than the big elephants in the room. Have conversations with team members about expectations in a way that resets expectations rather than potentially calling people on expectations they may not have been aware of. Once you've communicated the new expectations, call people on them at every chance. Do it in kindness, but do it. Get awkward and uncomfortable. It's part of life. As the saying goes, when it comes to culture you get what you create and what you allow.

There we have it! Five questions for you to answer to get your team rowing in the same direction. What do you think? Was it helpful? I'd love to hear from you. Drop me a line if you have any questions and if you have any stories of successes or challenges.

And go and win that gold medal!

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