It’s not just about solving problems!

A client recently took over a team at work. It wasn’t a new team. The organisation went through some restructuring, and his boss asked him to lead this restructured team.

Since this wasn’t a new team, they already have existing roles and responsibilities, along with some problems and baggage.

My client’s first action was to try and sort through the problems and figure out ways to resolve them. Several weeks later, he was still at it, and the problems don’t seem to be nearing resolution.

One thing he was trying to do was to redistribute the roles and responsibilities; uneven work-load was a major problem in the team. The reality, though, was that everyone thought their responsibilities are important, and it was difficult to prioritize and even decide who should now do what!

Have you just started leading a team?

It is tempting for new team leaders to jump into solving problems and getting things done. After all, who doesn’t want their team to perform well?

Yet by doing so, we risk making decisions that are either inconsequential or, worse, wrong!


So you’re now leading a team. What should you do next?

I had a similar experience in one of my earlier experiences as a team leader. My first actions then were to try and figure out how to solve those problems.

Two challenges showed up soon after. First, it was difficult to decide what’s most important to deal with, because everyone on the team had different opinions. Second, even if we could decide on the priorities, we had difficulties agreeing on ways to solve those problems.

I realised that we lack an agreed-upon basis for making those decisions!

Once we have gotten a team-agreed basis for making those decisions, solving those problems became easier (some of them were still difficult to resolve, but easier compared to before).


First things first

The most important thing you need to figure out, whether you’re leading a newly-formed team or an existing team, is the answer to the following two questions.

  1. Purpose: Why does your team exist?
  2. Mission: What does your team do to live out its purpose?


I’m not saying it’s not important to deal with existing problems. I’m saying you can’t really deal with them effectively until you’ve answered those two questions!

The team’s purpose and mission determine the

  • responsibilities,
  • team structure,
  • internal processes,
  • priorities,
  • expectations,
  • strategies and tactics, and
  • relationships, both internal and external.

Potentially, they could also affect the culture of the team!

Once clarified with the team, the purpose and mission became the basis for making decisions and solving problems.

“The purpose and mission are the basis for making decisions and solving problems.”


It might not be as clear as you think!

One mistake I have seen new leaders (either they are leading a team for the first time, or they have just taken over an existing team) make was to assume that everyone on the team knows and understands the purpose and mission.

One team, that I coached, had a written purpose and mission. But when I probed them on the meaning of those written texts, they discovered that everyone on the team had a different understanding! They eventually recrafted the purpose and mission statements so that they are succinct.

When I asked my client (whom I mentioned earlier) about his team’s purpose and mission, he could not articulate them clearly. I expected his team members to have the same problem too.

So my client decided to first clarify his team’s purpose and mission.


What about you?

Can you clearly articulate and explain your team’s purpose and mission?

Do your team members have the same understanding of the team’s purpose and mission?

What could you do to clarify your team’s purpose and mission?



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