Maintaining Team Momentum
Impact-focused work and the partnerships it usually requires can inherently bring about some kind of change or inflection affecting an organization’s culture. Therefore, leaders must constantly reinforce the goals, vision, and efforts related to their objectives. Leadership across partnering teams
is complex; it requires significant effort in team design, in team member recruitment, in building and maintaining team momentum, and in anchoringsuccesses along the way. Achieving positive outcomes can take a significant amount of time—many months, years, or even longer. Because these processes can be drawn out, leaders across communities and collaborating partners must engender a sense of ownership throughout the life cycle of their efforts, especially during times of incremental progress. The following strategies outline ways to inspire team member engagement and buy-in throughout the time line of a project's implementation, and to help team leaders realize significant goals along the way:
1. Establish a clear need or sense of urgency.
In some cases, this requires leaders to issue a strong call to action, building on independent indicators that a sense of need or urgency exists and is appropriate given the circumstances. In other cases, this can be done by effectively communicating the consequences of not engaging in a project or partnership (or what will happen if one fails to achieve its goals). In either case, leaders need to address why the particular effort being proposed is essential, and consider its overall compatibility with their team’s core identities.
2. Build internal and external support.
Leaders assemble team members with sufficient resources and influence to develop and sustain the life cycle of a project or partnership. They identify advocates whose beliefs align with the effort’s goals. They also recruit champions with strong loyalties from throughout the organization, ranging from the base up to the board of directors. Leaders must garner support from key external stakeholders, which may include clients or customers, and focus on ways that support can mitigate potential obstacles for the project or partnership.
3. Communicate the new reality.
Leaders develop a communication plan that builds on team values and articulates a clear image of what is possible in terms of end goals. They provide access to relevant information and engage in open dialogue. It can be difficult to build real commitment unless teams realize what the project or partnership is intended to accomplish. Staff may need to internalize what success means to them, and how the effort’s work may or may not affect their role in the organization.
4. Clear the path for necessary change.
Leaders work with their governance team, such as a board of directors, to eliminate or modify rules or policies that would prohibit the success of the project or partnership. They work with management to procure technology and the equipment the effort needs. Similarly, organizations must dedicate space and time to focus on the project's or partnership’s efforts, sometimes through new team rituals, and must consider necessary organizational shifts to support the goals. Finally, leaders encourage an appropriate risk-taking mind-set in testing and proposing changes that benefit the effort's goals.
5. Celebrate team member accomplishments.
Leaders must plan activities around milestones to illustrate visible and practical progress made by their teams and by individual members. Leaders should work to recognize and reward those who are responsible for reaching milestones, and they can use new or existing team rituals to build shared emotional experiences. Such recognition should champion progress with public statements, appearances, and high energy. In doing so, leaders will more effectively reinforce the progress made during a project or partnership, and the shortened distance toward its new vision.
6. Anchor the team’s progress toward goals.
The progress of project or partnership development can easily be reversed, particularly when it is still new or if it challenges the previously embedded culture of an organization. Milestones must be anchored, for instance through changes in technology, updates to standard operating procedures, or improvements to organizational structure in support of the effort’s goals. Leaders should consider their team’s values and work to highlight and positivelyframe changes for team members based on those values. At times, anchoring may require tangible shifts to the organization’s human capital structure: promotions, changes in job descriptions, or new hires.
7. Create the project's or partnership’s new brand story.
Partnerships tell a story of how organizations come together to accomplish something new, including major projects. This story can be one of the mostcompelling tools a leader has to build and maintain momentum throughout the development of a new or difficult project or partnership. The story and the shared emotional experiences it reflects reinforce a team’s loyalty to the effort. It can help team members conceptualize how a shift in operations fits within the culture of the organization itself. Functionally, leaders should include team members formally and informally in the development of the narrative, and consider important brand elements, such as a dedicated logo, color schemes, and marketing for the project or partnership.
8. Align the project's or partnership’s vision with the team’s vision.
The goals of a project or partnership describe a new reality, and the brand story conveys how that reality fits with the culture, but leaders must also align the effort's mission with their team’s beliefs. Overall, both the new vision and each step throughout the project or partnership time line must support all aspects of a team’s core identities. Outcomes must lead to higher satisfaction among team members and to a new culture of success built around the overarching narrative of the effort.
Throughout the stages of project and partnership engagement, leaders recognize the need to build and nurture a team’s cross-sector identity. They do so by defining core mutual beliefs and by developing shared rituals. They also delineate common values across teams, and create shared emotional experiences by instilling a sense of achievement and pride over the quality of the collective work. Finally, leaders cultivate loyalty to the project's or partnership’s vision and to each other. When leaders are effective at doing this, all members of their organization will be positioned to share in the effort’s success.