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. New ideas start out hot and are forgotten. There’s a simple reason why and a really easy fix.

The standard course of action for implementing new ideas is straightforward enough.

  1. Organize the team, committee or board.
  2. Share ideas and report on progress
  3. Accept feedback
  4. Break up the team to complete their individual tasks.

Those fortunate enough 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. Although they will still chip away at their tasks, this is the real death of the project. As time drags on, waiting begets impatience and finally, team members lose interest. The longer the project lies still, the less likely anyone, including the leader will dare disrupt its stagnant surface.

I see this most often from high-growth teams that made early success with a truly unique product. After number plateau however, they hit a glass ceiling when it comes time to introduce new innovations or ideas. Many CEOs simply assume their team has lost interest and hope is lost. But that’s not true. The problem is simply that leadership assumes the same mechanism that started the company will sustain it.

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. These questions are 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 right, specifying hyper-specific goals will set your team to think tangibly about measurable efforts, 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, your team will adjust their daily regimens around their goals instead of fires (fired that happen because they weren’t focused on their goals in the first place.) Every email, phone call, meeting, and task in their day will suddenly stick out like a sore thumb if it doesn’t align with their goals and any communication or requests that doesn’t fit their current goal-set turns into a new potential goal. There is no in between. If something can’t be included in a current or future goal. It must be tabled. This action is especially helpful when colleagues need interdepartmental help.

When someone reaches into your department for help on a project or “feedback” team members will 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 brochure, image, or design requests from sales staff seeking customized materials for every individual client meeting, but that all changed.

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.

This also makes quick fixes or band-aid solutions impossible. All staff find out quickly, that any requests will be looked at under the microscope and they must be ready to 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 are a great start, but utterly useless if not achieved. A ballet recital for your child and your mortgage payment get done, because they all happen on a schedule.

But ongoing projects at work don’t get the same attention. Specific dates to face the music don’t often exist in team environments. I hear your objection already. “My team isn’t made up of children, I just tell them to get stuff done ASAP!” But because ASAP doesn’t come with a deadline, this “act fast” approach is likely to take longer than if you would have simply said one week, defining the specific date. While ASAP to you may be one hour, for a colleague it may be weeks or months. Deadlines also force your team into failure.

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 utterly clueless how to get teams to accomplish goals. This is another reason why specific deadlines are important. Every project from every leader must fail or succeed, and assigning a date makes this a reality. Missing a deadline IS failure.

When failure and success become real, the opportunity for every other executive in your team to learn dramatically increases. Ongoing projects that used to fade 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 leaders 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, in many cases is 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 this 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 just you being nice and instilling trust. It’s 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 for assistance, simultaneously holding them accountable. Anyone operating in a vacuum is prone to error, so we want to normalize asking for help.

Asking how you can help is a subtle 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, but because they didn’t ask responsibility sits 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

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 you continually encourage your team and hold them accountable to their own goals — and that’s the theme behind all three questions and truly how to get teams to accomplish goals.

Accountability is the theme of these three questions. It’s my belief teams who continue to struggle with accomplishing goals, simply don’t want to be held accountable. If you do want to accomplish goals, however, and see the value in this accountability, there’s one more thing. It’s important to know your team and you will fail, but that’s strategic.

Teams will miss deadlines and fail spectacularly, but that’s by design. As stated earlier, those 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. Why did this fail & why did this succeed are equally powerful.

Keeping your team on fire is as simple as repeating the exact same trivia trifecta as often as necessary: every day, week, month, year. These questions convert the annoying micro-managing “are you done yet” conversations into a moment of encouragement 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? Click the contact menu below to hire me if you want to get started.

This article originally appeared in Quartz on November 28, 2018. You can read the original here.

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