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Unified Commitment

A unified commitment to address a particular issue or problem is another important characteristic of high performing teams. Larson and LaFasto (1989) observe that this characteristic is the most difficult of the eight to explain and describe; to be understood fully, it must be experienced directly by team members. There are, however, a number of factors that strongly suggest the presence of a unified commitment. Teams that include members who respond in the affirmative to the following questions probably possess a unified commitment.

A unified commitment might manifest itself as team members’ willingness to do whatever needs to be done to ensure that the team succeeds in its work. Contributing to the larger team’s accomplishments becomes every person’s primary focus; as a result, members often stop saying “it’s not my job,” or “it was my turn last week,” when difficult work must be done. Other individuals who have been members of teams that have achieved unified commitment describe an intense identification between their colleagues and the emergence over time of an “all for one and one for all” mentality.

When a unified commitment is present, team members may also experience a loss of self. That is, in the context of the collaborative, they are no longer focused on personal or agency performance. Instead, the team’s efforts and its outcomes become a priority for everyone involved. This is common with many successful sports teams, where members believe and have operationalized the old cliché that “there is no I in team.” It does not matter how individual players perform, but rather, whether the team wins.

A unified commitment can also be characterized by a belief among team members that they are a part of something special and that they are sharing something that is very important with other people. As such, a unified commitment can evoke strong emotions among those involved, as well as an unusual sense of connectedness among individuals from different agencies and disciplines.

There are a great many ways to describe unified commitment, but it is highly experiential and, as a result, it is very challenging for teams to create unified commitment. Larson and LaFasto indicate in their research that consistent and substantive involvement in the work of a team is critical in the development and maintenance of it; there is a direct and very positive relationship between involvement and commitment. The more involved someone is in something, the more committed he or she is likely to feel. The inverse is also true. The more a team allows its members to remain uninvolved or only marginally involved, the more likely members are to be passive observers of the team’s activities and the less committed they will be.

At the outset of their collaborative work, team members must be willing to be broadly inclusive. All those involved must be provided with opportunities to voice their concerns, ask questions, and contribute actively in the development of the structure, and articulation of the shared values, vision, mission, goals of the team. Those who are not fully committed to the work of the team may attempt to use the team as a vehicle to pursue their own or their agency’s goals. If collaborative team and individual member goals are not compatible, the team’s performance can be disrupted and other members’ confidence and commitment to the team’s work can be compromised.

Team member involvement does not cease with the articulation of shared values, vision, mission, and goals. Instead, as the team’s work plan is developed and specific next steps are identified, every team member must be involved in a meaningful and very active way.

Developing a Mission Statement

As a result of your efforts to develop a statement of shared core values and a vision of the future, there is emerging among the members of your team a strong sense of commitment to your collaborative undertaking. The focus of this exercise is the development of a clear, time–specific mission and specific goals for your group that support your values and vision.

Identifying problems that keep you and your colleagues from moving in the direction of your vision is a critical undertaking for a team and will be the focus of this exercise. If your team can clearly articulate these problems, then you can begin to work on solutions to these problems. Sometimes, the problem or set of problems that teams are supposed to work on have already been established by the person or entity that created the team. Often though, a team is only given a topic to work on, such as “reducing overcrowding,” or “improving communication” or “enhancing offender management” or “facilitating offender reentry.” Issues such as these focus the work of teams, but they do not tell teams about the nature of the specific problems associated with them. Until teams understand the problems that are impeding progress on the topic, they will not know how best to utilize their time and energy.

Unfortunately, it is common for teams to employ quick–reflex methods to solve significant problems, thereby failing to recognize and understand the nature and extent of the problems. For instance, when an issue arises concerning a criminal justice agency staff’s failure to accomplish a particular task, there is often someone who quickly suggests that the staff needs more training. This assumes that people do not know what to do, that if they knew what to do, they would do the right thing, and that training will teach them the right thing to do in a given situation. Of course, there may be many reasons why people do not do what their supervisors want them to do, such as disagreement with the tasks required, lack of adequate staff to do the work, a belief that the task is unnecessary, a lack of clarity about how to respond to a particular issue, or a lack of guidance in policy. As such, teams must first spend time analyzing the nature and cause of the problem before they leap to and begin to implement solutions.

A team’s desire to resolve all matters of concern quickly often leads them to focus on the most visible problems. These are often called surface issues, because they are easy to see. However, the forces or concerns that create or drive these surface issues are what teams should be striving to understand and resolve. For instance, an employee may often be late for work. We can respond to this surface issue by disciplining the employee in some manner. This might correct the problem, or it might not. If we want to be more thorough in determining the most appropriate way to respond, we would need to invest some time trying to determine why the employee comes late to work. There might be time–oriented problems, such as having to wait until the child care center opens, or transportation difficulties; or there might be motivational problems, such as not liking the work or having problems with co–workers; or many other possibilities. The good manager – and the effective collaborative team – always wants to know what drives the problem or causes the problem to occur. This always provides them with a much better chance of resolving it effectively and managing it appropriately in the future.

Effective teams must, therefore, be willing to invest significant time identifying the problems that are keeping them from advancing in the direction of their vision. The identification of these problems (and the development of a time–specific mission statement based upon them) will help teams to determine exactly what they need to spend their time and energy addressing.

A mission statement should help your team to understand what it is going to accomplish. It should provide a clear, short–term destination for your team. In other words, you should be able to know if you have accomplished your mission. A mission statement should also help your team focus on a particular set of issues, and it should convey information about what your team believes and what your team members value.

In order to complete your mission, there are critical goals that must be achieved. These might include the collection and review of pertinent data, the mapping of your system in order to identify gaps or needs, or having the right individuals or agency representatives on your team. A critical goal is one that, if not accomplished, will prevent your team from satisfactorily completing its mission. The identification of critical goals will further focus the particular work that will be undertaken by your team. Often, critical goals are assigned to particular members of your team or to sub–committees to accomplish.

Once your team has identified its mission and the critical goals that must be accomplished, you will see the need to perform a variety of specific tasks or objectives. Achieving these objectives will aid you in reaching or completing your goals. A collectively developed mission statement with goals and objectives is also something around which team members can be unified. Everyone is clear about what the mission is, and they are highly committing to it.

The following are two examples of mission statements:

The first mission statement does not provide sufficient clarity. Based on this statement, team members would not know if their mission has been accomplished. The second example is more useful because it clearly describes the team’s future work. By December of next year, there will be no doubt about whether or not the team accomplished its mission. Based on this time–specific mission statement, it is possible for a team to develop clear goals that can be used to achieve the mission and, ultimately, help the team to move towards its vision or preferred future.

A team’s mission statement is different than its vision statement. A vision is a broad or global aspiration, likely only achievable in the long–term and by many separate efforts. A mission statement addresses the piece of the vision on which a team is working and describes how a team will begin to work toward its vision.

Click here for an exercise that will assist your team in developing a mission.