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How do you build a company or a team where everyone feels like they are on the same page — or at least in the same book? Whether your company or team is operating in a small-office environment downtown or divided by multiple time zones around the world, getting people to connect to a common vision, purpose, and strategies can be a big challenge. Everyone has different desires and goals in life and different cultural and professional backgrounds, and many of us were raised with independence as a virtue. How can we align people like that to common goals or at least to the similar direction?

First, you want to have a crystal-clear purpose and vision for the team. For example, we have a mission of “making the world a better, safer place.” While this sounds cheesy to some, we walk the talk. More than 80 engineers from our company showed up at the 2010 Haiti earthquake disaster despite certain physical risk at the time. As a leader, I was the first to go and stayed there the longest. This kind of craziness may not be for every company or everyone, but you need to articulate an inspirational call to action. Talk is cheap. Living it yourself is the best way.

Only by living your vision will you attract people who already align with the culture and purpose of the team. Some people will not fit and naturally leave you, but that’s ok because this is how to build a cohesive team. Leadership is not about changing people. You can’t ask a horse to climb a tree; therefore, make sure that the right people are signed up for the right journey. It’s much more fun that way.

Second, help people build trust with one another. How? By getting to know one another.

We recently had a two-day global leadership meeting in San Francisco, the location of our new office. Principals, country managers, and other key leaders representing our offices around the world flew in from as far away as Colombia, Italy, India, Nepal, and New Zealand.

Our meeting had almost zero presentations to facilitate relationship building. Instead, we held breakout sessions where small groups around tables discussed and wrestled with the challenges facing our teams. It wasn’t always easy because opinions on what the problems are and how to solve them were sometimes at odds. Yet through this process, we built and deepened relationships and somehow grew closer.

While it takes a lot of effort to gather everyone together for events like this — as well as relax and get to know one another — it’s the best way to connect people on a professional and personal level. Is it worth it? Definitely.

Only when you have people committed to the same goals and strategies will they truly be accountable to one another — not controlled by a CEO or board members, which will eventually fail. This will create decentralized decision-making in the company and get the best results, which is what every team wants, right? Inspired, competent people with common goals control their own destiny and achieve shared team results. 


H. Kit Miyamoto, Ph.D., S.E., is the CEO and a structural engineer for Miyamoto International (http://miyamotointernational.com), a California seismic safety commissioner, and president of the technical nonprofit Miyamoto Global Disaster Relief. He specializes in high-performance earthquake engineering and disaster mitigation, response, and reconstruction.

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