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Jesse Lyn Stoner

Management

Caught in Team Drift?

Consider honorable closure

Published: Monday, July 25, 2016 - 14:20

Has your team’s performance fallen off lately? Was it once exciting to be part of the team, and lately you find you’re not having fun?

Perhaps your team has succumbed to team drift. In my Harvard Business Review article, “Diagnose and Cure Team Drift,” I explain how to revitalize a formerly high-performing team that has lost its focus and capabilities.

But, before you decide to revitalize your team, there is an important question to consider.

Is it time for honorable closure?

Cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien used the term “honorable closure” to describe the practice of acknowledging transitions. According to Arrien, all societies have rituals that acknowledge major life transitions such as birth, marriage, and death. These rituals are important as they provide a conscious recognition of change and support the transition.

However, there are many transitions that we fail to acknowledge and, therefore, lose the opportunity for clarity and support. This is especially true in work-related settings, with teams, projects, committees, and other work groups.

Endings are often messy. Things end abruptly, leaving people unclear about what happens next, or the ending gets strung out over time, dying a slow, boring death. When there is no formal ending, team members begin to lose interest and interpersonal conflict breaks out.

Four questions to help know when it is time for honorable closure

1. Is the meeting over?

Although the team itself is not ending, the end of each team meeting is an important moment. What will happen after the meeting? Are people ready to follow through on commitments?

Honorable closure creates focus and clarity. It can be as simple as taking a few minutes to recap decisions, next steps, offer appreciation for what was accomplished, and to thank team members.

2. Has the original goal been met by the team?

When you don’t put formal closure on a project that has been completed, often team members will continue to meet without a clear sense of what they are doing or why.

Hold a special meeting to acknowledge and celebrate what was accomplished. If there is more work to do, identify it as a new project. Perhaps the same people will continue, but don’t assume it. Look at the project goals, the skills required, the interest of current members, and whether additional members are needed.

3. Is the purpose still relevant?

Times change, and what was once a significant issue may no longer be necessary. In that case, it’s time to either refocus your purpose or use honorable closure to call it an end.

The National Conference of Christians and Jews (NCCJ) was founded in 1927 in response to anti-Catholic sentiment being expressed during Al Smith’s run for the Democratic nomination. Over the years NCCJ members, realizing their original purpose was too limited, expanded their work to include more issues of diversity in social justice. In the 1990s they changed the name to reflect their expanded purpose to the National Conference for Community and Justice.

4. Have the members outgrown the group?

This is a common story. A support group had been meeting for years. During that time, many of the members had matured and no longer needed the kind of support originally provided by the group. However, they kept meeting because they felt that quitting would be disloyal to the other members, and they liked each other. No one questioned whether it made sense to continue the group.

Eventually the group turned into more of a social group. Because the shift was never acknowledged, the members who still wanted support were disappointed, and the members who didn’t have a desire to socialize were disgruntled. Members became annoyed with each other without realizing it was a group issue, not an interpersonal issue.

Without honorable closure, we drag out endings to the bitter end.

First published June 7, 2016, on Jesse Lyn Stoner's Blog. © 2016 Jesse Stoner

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About The Author

Jesse Lyn Stoner’s picture

Jesse Lyn Stoner

Jesse Lyn Stoner, founder of consultancy Seapoint Center, has worked with hundreds of leaders using collaborative processes to engage the entire workforce in creating their desired future. Stoner has authored several books including Full Steam Ahead! Unleash the Power of Vision (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2nd rev. ed. 2011), co-authored with Ken Blanchard. Stoner is recognized by the American Management Association as one of the Top Leaders to Watch in 2015 and by INC Magazine as one of the Top 100 Leadership Experts. Stoner has advanced degrees in psychology and family system, and a doctorate in organizational development.