We live in a VUCA world – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Our VUCA world is one of the contributing factors to our need for greater leadership skills in the workplace. And while leaders must be approachable, show individualized attention for their followers and address the welfare of the group, they also must ensure that the group attains its goals.
The leader’s concentration on goal attainment is what academics call “Initiating Structure”, the ability to focus the team by clearly articulating goals, defining team roles, developing structure and procedures, scheduling work to be done and monitoring work progress and quality. In a VUCA world, initiating structure provides the framework for teams to operate. Without this framework, VUCA wreaks havoc.
While this sounds rather boring, projects without initiating structure rarely go well. Recently I was part of a working group that was identified as a pilot project to implement a new approach to curriculum design. Because the team lacked an agreed upon process, we ended up wasting a lot of time, and experienced a lot of confusion. This lack of process also alienated a fair number of the team members. While initiating structure isn’t quite as sexy as many other leadership activities, it is probably the most fundamental to the attainment of group goals.
Yesterday, a former colleague of mine, Graham Robertson, a 20 year Consumer Package Goods (CPG) marketer, and now marketing genius at Beloved Brands, came to my Brand Management class. Graham shared with my students the real world expectations of entry level marketing staff at a CPG organization. Many of those expectations are based on initiating structure. If you can’t organize, execute and evaluate a task, all the charisma and vision in the world won’t make you a good leader. We tend to dismiss initiating structure in conversations about leadership, possibly because it isn’t exciting or fun or motivating. But in the end, leadership is about setting and attaining group goals.
So the next time you are assigned to lead a group, consider the initiating structure. What is the group process and how are you going to communicate that process? How are you going to engage the group to develop and manage the process? How are you going to communicate group goals? Spending time early in your group process to develop structure will increase the likelihood of your team attaining their goals.
Source: Johns, G. & Saks, A. (2011). Organizational Behaviour: Understanding and Managing Life at Work. 8th Ed. Toronto: Pearson Prentice Hall.