How To Get Teams To Accomplish Goals

When the whiteboard is full of ideas and post-it notes become a structural element of your meeting room, leaders routinely struggle with how to get teams to accomplish goals. It’s not for a lack of desire however, it’s because many leaders lack the framework. There’s a really simple framework, and once you as a leader understand it, it will superpower your team.

The traditional process

New ideas often start hot but are quickly forgotten, meaning the money and time your company spent on the meeting to begin with, was a complete waste. The standard course of action for implementing new ideas is straightforward enough: organize the team, share ideas, accept feedback, break up the team to complete their individual tasks. But post-meeting, the tasks die.

Those fortunate to have open calendars are quick to gain ground, but others who are not so fortunate are quickly overtaken by the undertow of their departmental disorganization—it’s a harsh truth. Although they may still chip away at their tasks, the project is effectively dead. As time drags on, team members lose interest. The longer the project sits still, the less likely anyone will disrupt the stagnant surface.

I see this most often from high-growth teams that made early success with a truly unique product. They hit a glass ceiling when it comes time to introduce new innovations or ideas. Many CEOs simply assume their team has lost interest, or that they’re impossible to motivate, but that’s not true. The problem is simply that leadership assumes the same mechanism that started the company will sustain it. It’s not true. You need a new framework.

Three magic questions to accomplish your team’s goals.

Like a Tour De France athlete refusing to use a multi-speed bike, you simply need a better mechanism to make all that high-speed peddling worthwhile and that mechanism is in the form of three magic questions. Asking these questions is how to get teams to accomplish goals.

1: What are your goals?

Defining specific goals seems like an obvious step—it’s almost painful to write—but you probably aren’t doing it correctly. When done correctly, holding a team leader to specific goals will focus the team, push them to think in terms of measurability, keep others apprised of how the initiative fits into the organization’s wider strategy, and prepare team members to assist each other.

When you focus on this question, the team will adjust their daily regimens around goals instead of fires (fires that happen because they weren’t focused on their goals in the first place.) Every email, phone call, meeting, and task that may consume their day will suddenly stick out like a sore thumb if it doesn’t align with their goals. Any requests of their time that don’t fit the current goals are turned into future goals, or tabled. This action is especially helpful when colleagues need interdepartmental help.

Furthermore, getting teams to prioritize around goals, automatically helps cross-department communication. If someone needs help on a project, staff learns to ask “what goal can I help you accomplish?” This strategy completely changed one business with which I consulted. Their chief of design was constantly bogged down with reactionary collateral requester from sales. The sales staff was constantly requesting custom brochures and marketing images for every individual client meeting, consuming precious time. But it changed when he started asking about the goal behind every request.

When he began framing all requests within the context of goals, the frequency of requests slowed down considerably, and he was better able to anticipate and answer the true needs of the sales department. The marketing department was less stressed, and sales felt listened to and supported because they weren’t getting the brush off. Instead, they got more focused time and prioritization.

This also makes wasteful requests almost impossible. Staff find out quickly that any requests will be looked at under the microscope and align all requests with company goals. This thought bouncing around in their mind by itself will cut down on a lot of waste.

2: When will you achieve your goals?

Goals get your teams and leaders on the same page, but they’re worthless if there’s no real deadline. Your mortgage or rent payment is paid only because they have deadlines. Deadlines bring goals into the realm of reality.

Specific dates to face the music don’t often exist in team environments, instead, leaders just want it done “soon.” While it’s true we all want tasks done ASAP, you’re more likely to get fast results by attaching a specific time. THe problem with “ASAP” is that everyone has a different idea of what it means. For me, ASAP is usually about 24-48 hours. For others, ASAP is one to two weeks, maybe even a month or more. If you want quick action, you’re better assigning a time. Deadlines also force your team into failure.

The added benefit of assigning specific deadlines is twofold. You and your team or team leaders have a mutual understanding of what can be achieved within a time frame, and you also have the opportunity to debrief if things take longer. This is valuable.

Ongoing projects offer no moment in time to actually debrief, breathe and learn. They just drag on, and things don’t change until there is a glaring problem, leaving leaders clueless on how to get teams to accomplish goals. When every project from every leader fails or succeeds, and assigning a date makes this a reality. Missing a deadline IS failure, but that’s ok.

When failure and success become real, the opportunity for every other executive in your team to learn dramatically increases. Ongoing projects that bleed from one month to the next deprive you and your team of failure. Failure is an opportunity to learn, but failure is impossible to confront of no date is tied to a team leader’s goals. And if there is no tangible failure — all time spent was a complete loss.

Deadlines ensure all goals ending in success or failure are learning opportunities, effective in growing the organization. Failure is fuel, and in many cases, it’s far more powerful than if the project would have been successful. Why did it fail/succeed? How could the project have gone better? How will we improve next time? These questions can be key in your next breakthrough, but assigning deadlines is only the second step as you determine how to get teams to accomplish goals.

3: What can I do to help?

This question isn’t solely about a leader’s kindness and instilling trust. As a leader, asking how you can help sets the one and is the final piece as you discover how to get teams to accomplish goals. What it really does is communicate that your team is expected to ask you, and each other for assistance. It also holds your teams and leadership accountable. Anyone operating in a vacuum is prone to error, so you want to normalize asking for help.

Asking how you can help is a reminder you trust them to accomplish what they commit to, but it also removes excuses. Leaders can’t blame circumstance, budget, or time after you’ve asked this question. If those things were issues, they had the opportunity to ask for help. If they don’t ask, the responsibility sits solely with them. This also motivates you too.

If you don’t want people using excuses, asking this question also holds you responsible, to ensure their needs are addressed when they do ask for assistance. If you don’t, then they do have an excuse.

How To Get Teams To Accomplish Goals

Lastly, do not forget to write down the goals and refer to these questions often. If you’d like to track them in project management software, that’s a great step, but it’s important to continually encourage your team and hold them accountable to their own goals — this is the central theme behind all three questions and how to get teams to accomplish goals.

It’s my belief teams who struggle with accomplishing goals don’t want to be held accountable, and they don’t want the responsibility. Obviously, no matter how focused, your team and you will fail when you hold people accountable to big goals and deadlines, but that’s by design.

As stated earlier, failure moments are critical debrief opportunities and set the expectation that no goal will disappear. Failure and success become objective metrics and teaching opportunities, whereas before failure was an amorphous void that couldn’t be measured or discussed. Failure and Success are BOTH teaching opportunities. The question “why did this fail” or “why did this succeed?” are equally powerful.

Keeping your team on fire is as simple as repeating these questions as often as necessary: every day, week, month, and year. These questions convert the annoying micro-managing “are you done yet” conversations into a moment of encouragement, creativity, and support. They turn nagging into responsibility, and, most of all, they turn excuses into action.

So, I have three final questions: What are you going to implement? When will you get that done? And what can I do to help?

Updated August 25th, 2021. This article originally appeared in Quartz on November 28, 2018. You can read the original here.

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