In the midst of the 2013 holiday season, a wonderfully heartwarming video made the rounds at Forum. The video documented the story of WestJet, a Canadian airline that made a flight full of passengers’ Christmas wish list dreams come true. How did this happen? Prior to departure, passengers conveyed their request to a Santa kiosk set up in the origin airport, only to be surprised when their gifts came down the baggage claim (along with their luggage) at their point of destination. Little did those 200+ passengers know that behind the scenes, 175 West Jet employees were working diligently to fulfill their video requests.
As someone who has planned and managed large scale projects and events, I’m acutely aware of what it takes to pull together an event of that magnitude. What could have been a nightmare of coordination and execution was instead a seamless implementation of warmth and goodwill. It’s clear that WestJet mastered three major components essential for group effectiveness:
A clear, unifying vision is the glue that binds a group together regardless of size, purpose or duration. When a clear vision is lacking, it’s like being in a boat where everyone is rowing in a different direction. The end result is a boat that just travels in circles, getting nowhere.
A strong vision, however, provides a clear compass by which a team can navigate and ultimately lays the foundation for group cohesion. The appropriate choices become clear and the team moves together in congruence rather than cross purposes. In the case of WestJet, that unifying vision bound the team together in a common value (doing good for others) and provided both inspiration and motivation. This effective team culture is an important attribute that can help teams overcome the challenges that can be inherent within large, complex projects.
Group structure ensures the right people are on the team in the right roles in terms of the appropriate skills, knowledge and abilities necessary to get the job done. Each team member has a clearly defined role laid out by their leader and a set of responsibilities that harmoniously blend together for smooth and seamless project execution. An effective group structure allowed the WestJet team to move in concert to ultimately deliver those wished-for presents in the destination airport. Teams that lack group structure often suffer from duplicative effort, inefficiency and an inability to deliver results on time or budget.
Effective group processes provide the ground rules for the team in the areas of communication, decision making, problem solving and conflict management. Without clear and effective group processes, the airline employees could have easily become caught in cycle of unproductive conflict, poor decisions and ineffective choices. Instead, the WestJet team worked together cohesively to get those presents bought, wrapped and delivered to their destination.
Next time you need your team to execute a initiative seamlessly, think about the WestJet elves and the hallmarks of high performing teams: a unifying vision, clear group structure and group processes. Your team may not create the experience of a lifetime for 200+ families at Christmas, but it could improve your bottom line.
Think about a time when you were on highly effective team. To what do you attribute your team’s effectiveness?