...and habits that follow you: structure and clarity

Part 2 of a 4 part series.

The third item on the Google re:Work blog about the five attributes of an effective team is Structure & Clarity, team-members know where the team is going, who is responsible for what, and how those plans will be measured. The plans, roles, and goals. At this point you have dependability, you can trust your coworkers to do what they promise. What happens if the plans, roles, or goals don't matter for some reason?

  • Plans don't matter: Short-term thinking. If plans don't matter, won't worry about them. Just focus on the next sprint or release. Ignore quarterly planning completely, because it won't matter anyway. Work on what hurts the most, because it feels better that way.
  • Roles don't matter: If you don't know who is supposed to do what, you just go with whoever feels right; the org-chart isn't going to tell you. This means you develop a tables of "Person A deal with Feature B" mappings in your head. This sort of thing happens anyway for cross-team work, but if you're doing it inside your own team, maybe you have a roles problem.
  • Goals don't matter: More short-term thinking. If the quarterly goals don't matter because your team is always veering from crisis to crisis, why bother worrying about them? Just focus on what hurts right now.

Above all, you are not focusing your work on the goals of the organization, you're focusing your work to make sure your teammates consider you dependable. You will absolutely tank an organizational goal (they don't matter anyway) to help a coworker out of bad situation. If you're not helping a teammate, you're working on something to take away some of the pain of operating/maintaining/building this thing.

Stuff that matters to you, not stuff that matters to your boss and whoever they report to.

And if you don't have structure and clarity:

  • Meaning of work doesn't matter, because you're not tracking it. What meaning you find, is in keeping your teammates happy.
  • Impact of work doesn't matter because... to be frank, this metric is a manager-metric. You can feel your work has plenty of impact, just not organizational impact. But really, without those plans, roles, and goals you can't identify your impact of work well If enough to build a sense that your work has (organizational) impact.

If you're a manager or team-lead, there are a few behaviors that signal a new person has come from a place with bad structure and clarity:

  • Indifference to quarterly goals (because they haven't mattered before)
  • No participation in setting future goals (why bother, they don't matter)
  • Extensive participation in reducing problems the team is facing, but little participation around pursuing the goals of the organization.

That last one is tricky, because it's the one that makes everyone else think this person is pretty great. You know better, because you know what isn't getting worked on.

Getting this person to decompensate takes time, it always does. They're willing to work on the team-based goals, which you can definitely harness in the short term. Longer term, make sure to point out when your team meets the plans that were set a quarter ago, and keep doing that until they realize that those plans and goals actually matter here. What you're doing is pointing out how different their current environment is from their previous ones.

You can also embrace the power of your 1:1 meetings. Ask how planning was handled at previous jobs. Get the gossip on how it was (mis)handled. You'll get a lot of details you can use to nudge them into noticing we don't work like that, and achieving planned goals makes the whole team better.