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Clarify Goals, Roles, & Relationships For Team Effectiveness

effective communication effectiveness management team organizational culture


Determining HOW to assess how effective your team or workgroup is, is an important first step! Whether you are forming a new group or are simply interested in evaluating an existing team’s current level of health and strength, the 3-legged stool model (shown below) can be a simple and useful framework to organize your efforts.


This 3-legged stool model (adapted from R. Beckhard’s model from the early ’70s) illustrates three fundamental and critical aspects of an organization to keep a finger on the pulse of — goals, roles, and relationships. Here’s why each is important:

GOALS:  A group or team must have clarity around its end result(s) or direction.

What can happen: One or more top layers of leaders may be familiar with the goals (or objectives, strategic plan, priorities) but do not share them with the rest of the organization — because they believe that the rest of the organization would not be interested in them, know what to do with them, or perhaps would be confused or distracted by them.

What to do: Share them! Talk about them, post them, carry them along to meetings, refer to them in communications  . . . make them a central artifact of your organization. Even if they’re not perfect, pretty, or may shift, get them out into the organization for ALL staff to see in their imperfect glory. Let staff grapple with, question, and perhaps even improve them! This is a definite PLUS for staff at any level.  It is innately satisfying to identify a goal and then work towards it. And conversely, it is anxiety-producing, angst-inspiring, and suspicion-generating to know that leadership probably has a set of goals but for some reason, is not sharing them.

ROLES: Role clarity is also essential to a smooth-functioning, high-performing group. Staff must know where the boundaries of their own jobs lie, what they are responsible for, accountable to, and what tasks they are to complete.

What can happen:  Lack of clarity here leads to overlaps or gaps in the work being accomplished. Frequently, staff conflicts emerge because of underlying disagreement – or simply unawareness – about role definition.

What to do:  Get comfortable, and accustomed to frequent, informal chats about role confusion and clarity. Doing so removes the fear and tension that is often so tied up in discussions around “turf” and work responsibilities. When the manager can model that it is safe (and appreciated, and worthwhile) to initiate productive conversations about roles, staff follows suit.

RELATIONSHIPS:  Building and nurturing on-going positive relationships with co-workers is also absolutely essential for performance. Neglected relationships can morph and become distorted; nurtured relationships are tended to, shaped intentionally. This means happier staff, more focused staff, and a designed (not default) culture.

What can happen: Left to chance, relationships develop haphazardly, communication is less than precise, and misunderstandings are rampant. Conflicts may develop, but even in the absence of outright conflict, not having a solid sense of one’s co-worker’s values, beliefs, opinions, and style preference certainly means the organization cannot benefit from the spark of collaboration, innovation, synergy, and group creativity.

What to do:  As is true with Roles as well, the more relationships can be discussed, the more ‘normal’ these conversations will feel. The level of anxiety surrounding them drops. The fear and distraction that so frequently saps productivity from teams in nearly all organizations, can fade. Here again, the manager can (and should) set the tone. Manager, model open, respectful, and diplomatic discussions about how to make working relationships stronger, and staff will learn the language to use, the structure for such a conversation. They’ll be improving their overall communication skills AND relationships with others in the organization (and external customers and colleagues) as well!


Don’t wait for a perfect time to have a conversation about goals, roles, or relationships. That’s like waiting for the perfect time to have a difficult conversation, take a calculated career risk, or start an exercising routine. There isn’t one. Sooner is better.

It’s never too late, and it won’t be a waste of time. Value will come from any time you allocate to bringing more clarity and fuller understanding of either the organization’s goals, staff roles, or relationships among staff, including leadership.

Try using this simple model as a way to start standing (monthly? weekly?) staff meetings . . . Say, “Where are we wobbly?” Or if you prefer, “How clear are we on our goals?” “Do our roles need any discussion, tweaking, conversation?” “Where/How can we strengthen our working relationships this week?”

Some managers pull out a picture of a stool with “Goals, Roles, Relationships” labeling the legs, toss it into the middle of the conference table, and say, “Let’s check in . . . “. Staff learn the routine quickly and can launch the discussion of which leg needs firming up and how. This routine helps to keep conversation going, helps to avert resentments, voice frustrations, and focus always on improvement and positivity.

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