When a Team starts on a piece of work they implicitly know the goal is to get the job done as efficiently as possible. There are probably other goals that are not verbalised and therefore not implicitly in the minds of the Team and this is a big problem, big enough to destroy the Team and significantly hamper getting the job done. A shared understanding of the goals of the Team helps focus decisions as each decision can be related to how it helps accomplish the goals. Without established goals decisions making can break down into a battle of wills which is extremely costly in multiple ways (this is covered in the book ‘Getting to Yes’ which I blogged about here. The goals of the Team are not just the Company goals they are also Team members personal goals like ‘I want to learn technology X’ or ‘I think the design should be Y’. These personal goals are rarely explicit bubbling along just below the surface with a building current that can derail a project.
Explicit and honest goals can help a Team focus and make decisions quickly and in a manner that feels more cohesive and transparent rather than driven by the loudest person, biggest personality or <insert sterotype here>. What follows is a proposed technique for making the goals of the Team explicit and prioritised to enable a Team to move forward efficiently with a transparent mechanism for making decisions quickly, reducing personal conflict and focusing the Team on getting the job done. After all, getting the job done is always the number one goal.
A Goal Pyramid is a hierarchy of ten (10) Goals starting with one at the top, two on the next row, three on the next and so on to form a Pyramid. It is suggested that the Goal Pyramid be kept to ten (10) goals. The first and highest priority goal is the core Business goal, “to get the job done as efficiently as possible”. If this isn’t the Goal at your Company then you should change the first and highest priority goal to that. This top goal is not a negotiable goal like the rest that make up the pyramid. To find and fill out the other goals you need the team to list all the goals they can think of and then prioritize them into the top nine (9). These top nine (9) goals will make up the rest of the pyramid from left to right, top to bottom starting on row two. The goals on row two have a higher importance than those on row three etc. A pyramid is used rather than a list or another shape as it allows the number one (1) goal to be clear while allowing the remaining goals to share in importance on each row, and have priority over those on lower rows.
The list of goals to prioritize should be succinct and clear to each team member so they know what they will be voting for to form their top nine (9). Each goal should have a title, a description and a “because when we don’t …” section which lists the impact/remifications of not focusing on the goal back to the number one (1) goal. For example, “Goal: Clean Code. Description: We should follow the principles set out in the book Clean Code. Because: When we don’t the code base becomes harder to work with slowing our ability to ‘<number 1 goal here>’”. In arranging your pyramid graphically I suggest putting the ‘Goal:’ in the Pyramid and having a legend under it to elaborate on the ‘Goal:’. However, nothing should stop you from having all this information in each pyramid segment if you wish.
A difficulty and thing to watch out for in forming the pyramid is getting the team members to be open, honest and transparent in why the goal matters. For example, a goal of “Keep Simple” looks fine until you dig deeper and draw out the fear behind this goal which might be a fear of meeting the deadline or a fear of a design that is not fully understood. ie: I want to keep the design simple because I don’t understand your proposed design. This particular example draws out a different issue, that of information sharing / knowledge transfer to understand a design more. This is an intended side effect of forming the Goal Pyramid. Encourage your team to think hard about the goals and to be as honest and fearless in presenting them to be voted upon. Wanting to use a particular tool or approach is a fine goal and it needs to be related back to the number one goal, made known and prioritised with the team. Letting the who team in on a goal means we can all work together towards multiple goals. A win-win situation.
- Goal: Simple Goal statement
- Description: A longer more informative description of the goal.
- Because: A set of reasons for the goal.
Once your Goal Pyramid is formed you can refer to it in situations where a decision is required, helping focus the discussions on the goals and to break deadlocks which can occur when Team members are in a battle of wills. A systematic analysis of how a path of action effects reaching the number one Team Goal will usually be resolved quicker than battle of wills and assist in preserving ego. For example, lets say a Team member wants to use a new and exciting piece of technology and a goal in the pyramid is “Goal: No risk. Description: Don’t take unnecessary risks. Because: When we take risks where a tried and proven path exists we jeopardize our ability to ‘<number 1 goal here>’, we can say no in a non-personal and professional manner by pointing out this ‘agreed’ team goal. Note, we don’t have to say no, we can say yes in a way that meets our goals. For example, in the same case above we might ask the team member for a plan or strategy for mitigating the risks, or offer our own like “why don’t you make a branch and work on this after hours or weekends to prove it out, taking the risk away from the team?”.
I have not yet tried a Goal Pyramid, and I plan to do so as soon as I can. I formulated it because I see a use for it in solving problems I have experienced in my career. One thing I have learnt in many years is that there are rarely if any technical problems that hamper a team delivering, rather people problems have been the root cause. I hope to use a Goal Pyramid as a tool to facilitate getting through some of these people challenges. Should you make or use a Goal Pyramid then please let me know as I would like to provide feedback here on success or failure of this approach. I will do the same.
Edit: This link was emailed to me and I think it is relevant to this post: http://blog.8thlight.com/brian-pratt/2011/10/25/simplicity-of-teamwork.html