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The Recipe for a Goal-based Breakdown

Posted by on March 8th, 2013 with 0 Comments

In “Destructive Goal Pursuit: The Mt. Everest Disaster“, D. Christopher Kayes. Kayes identifies a 7-step recipe for a goal-based breakdown or disaster:

  1. The Motivation to Achieve Goals
    A goal-based disaster starts, obviously enough, with the motivation to achieve a goal.
  2. A Narrowly Defined Goal
    A simple, narrow goal is created to create focus. By definition, this simplification ignores the complexity of a multiple goal environment.
  3. Team Membership is a Means to Accomplish a Goal
    The goal is too much for one to accomplish alone, so others are enlisted. This adds complexity through group dynamics
  4. Members Become Dependent on the Team and Team Leader
    Team members lack (or lose) the skill or confidence to accomplish the goal alone.
  5. A Decrease in the Exercise of Autonomy
    The singular goal, complexity of dynamics, and dependence lead to a decrease on autonomous thinking and action.
  6. An Increase in Complexity
    The situation worsens, creating multiple goals. Team may splinter or be paralyzed by the complexity.
  7. A Breakdown in Learning
    At this point learning ceases. Everyone, including the leader, is overwhelmed.

Any one or two of these factors in isolation would not create a disaster.
And this is not, by the way, a diatribe against goals. Kayes views goals as important.

How do we overcome this recipe for disaster?

First, discourage overdependence on the leader.
Second, encourage autonomy within the team structure. All team members should be able to function autonomously if they need to.

And how can you be autonomous while still supporting the team?

Through shared beliefs. The team must agree on behaviors, expectations, and boundaries to establish trust.

You and your team might not be climbing Mt. Everest. You probably aren’t in a life or death situation.
But you probably have dealt with complex, volatile situations where team function broke down and team learning ceased.
Kayes research provides some key lessons to prevent that from happening to you and your team.

SMART as Hell Exercise:

  1. Reflect: Have you experienced any of the 7-Steps to Disaster?
  2. Identify: What caused that ‘symptom’? Could it have been avoided?
  3. Reflect: Are you leading any projects where you’re creating an over-reliance on yourself as the leader? Are you encouraging a loss of autonomy?
  4. Address: How will you prevent these risks? 

Share your comments, questions, and thoughts below.

 

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