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Teams Built on Sand

"This is the perfect place for our new affordable apartment complex," I thought. "It's big enough, easily accessible, and cheap."

Years ago, I had recently started leading an affordable housing organization. We bought land, built homes and apartments, and helped low-income families find safe, secure places to call home.

When I started, I knew almost nothing about construction. My role was to be a catalyst for organizational growth. Learning the basics about how things got built was left to on-the-job training. It was fascinating.

One of my first, and most important lessons, came when I wanted to buy a piece of vacant property for a multi-unit housing development. Turns out there was a reason it was so cheap.

The property had a number of trees and other vegetation that would have to be removed. The land was uneven and would require a significant amount of work to create a flat space for the building and shape the rest of it for appropriate drainage. In addition, there was no current access to utilities. Water, sewer, electricity, gas, and phone would all have to be connected from a fair distance away. It would likely cost tens of thousands of dollars to prepare the site before we could even begin construction.

Building a healthy, high-performing team is a lot like building a house or apartment building. Before you can get to the actual construction, you have to prepare the site. Everything else rests on this vital work, yet very few leaders take the time to do it right. But trying to build your team without investing in the preparatory work is like building a house on sand.

Possibly the most crucial part of preparation is to ask this question, "How do each of the roles on my team impact the organization?"

Employees and volunteers get really frustrated when they don't know what's expected of them. And it can be hard to stay motivated when they don't see how their work impacts the larger work of the organization. At some time everyone asks, "What's the point of what I do?"

As leaders, we can tend to simply fill gaps. We look at what needs to be done, create a job description for getting it done, fill the role, and move on. The deeper questions of "Why does this need to be done? Is this the most important thing that must be done? Is this role the best way to get it done?" And most importantly, "How does getting this done impact the vision and mission of the organization?" never get asked.

Taking a little time to "prepare the site", that is, do our homework on how each role plays a vital part in accomplishing our mission, can be the difference between engaged employees and volunteers and those that are just marking time.

If you'd like some help thinking through some of these important questions, we'd love to help. Contact us at 224.858.8843.


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