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What’s in it for you?

When starting any team, I ask a question that often shocks people in the room: What do you want to get out of this?

At first I thought the shock was strange; Surely people are looking to get something out of the work they do? They don’t just turn up to get the paycheque, do they? Turns out a lot of people do think that way; they no longer consider what they can take away from their work, only what they think their employer requires of them.

So, why do I ask this question?

For a team really to work well, you need to know everyone’s agendas. Why not be open about it? If one person sees working with the team as a means to move into a different position–vertically or laterally–that’s fine; if the rest of the team knows that, it might be possible actually to help that person get on with that goal. Conversely, if the other team members don’t know about that goal, they may view some of the promotion-minded member’s decisions as strange or counterproductive. You’ve got to communicate clearly on a lot of levels if a team is really going to reach its full potential.

Hidden agendas can be downright dangerous in a team environment; they lead to misunderstandings that can quickly descend into a conflict within the team–often, one that nobody really understands. Once this happens, you start needing external help or management to bring everything back under control. And just how do these people external to the team get things back under control? By getting all agendas out in the open and looking for ways they can be accommodated within the team.

Part of getting the most out of your work is integrating your own ambitions and goals with those of colleagues and the larger organisation. We’re sometimes encouraged to think that those things are, or should be, in perpetual conflict; the truth is that that is seldom the case, and that bringing out into the open everyone’s hopes and desires for their workplace experience can be helpful and productive. Don’t hesitate; try it the next time you head into the meeting of a new team.