I can't believe how often I leave a meeting thinking that someone is going to do something, only to have them leave the same meeting thinking they are doing something else, or that someone else is doing it altogether on a completely different date. Why is getting clear commitments so challenging and what can I do to fix it?
I hear your pain. So many clients I work with struggle with this most basic success criteria: lack of clarity and commitment, because when people are on a different page, it's impossible to get things done. This question builds perfectly off of the previous two discussions about Patrick Lencioni's book: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Through the use of a "leadership fable," the author uses an imaginary leadership team of a high-tech company to expose what can make teams highly dysfunctional. He goes on to present ideas on how to turn a dysfunctional team into a highly functional team by working through the following five dysfunctions:
- Lack of commitment
- Avoidance of accountability
- Inattention to results
Each of these dysfunctions builds off each other. If you don't have deep trust, you often have a team that has a fear of conflict, and does not know how to enter successfully into vigorous debate or challenge each other. Without debate or the ability to challenge each other, people don't commit in their hearts. Things get left ambiguous and you get nods, but no true buy-in and commitment.
So, you have to start by building trust and creating an atmosphere of open debate. Then you must strive for clarity.
The enemy to establishing clear commitments is ambiguity. When things are even somewhat ambiguous, you cannot get commitment. Somehow, you have to push every phone call, every hallway discussion and every meeting through to crystal clear clarity. Here are a few ways to help you get there:
Give people a chance to debate
If you can create an environment where people are free to challenge things, even if they don't "get their way" at least they have been heard. And when people are heard, you will have an easier time getting commitment. So make sure you let people voice their opinions. If they don't agree with the decision, acknowledge them for their input, but also directly ask them to get behind the decision.
But don't go for consensus
It is dangerous to seek consensus. Not everybody will agree and that needs to be okay. The key is to seek buy-in even when complete agreement is impossible. So give people time to be heard, but also invite their commitment when the decision is going in another direction.
Accept that there may not be certainty around decisions
A great team will also recognize that often decisions have to be made even when things are uncertain. This is how you move a company forward, and get a jump on the competition. A good leader will help his team understand that often decisions need to be made without certainty. If you are dysfunctional here, your team will keep delaying decisions until they have enough data to make sure they are making the "right decision"… but by then it may be too late.
Answer these four key questions to get commitment:
Always push for clarity at the end of each meeting. Make sure everyone is on the same page about what needs to be communicated, and what is confidential. And be clear on when things need to be communicated, so everyone is on the same page and rumours are kept at bay. Use these questions to get everyone on the same page before they leave the room. If you are not the one running the meeting, support the person by offering out these questions before everyone leaves the room.
- What needs to be done?
- · Who’s going to do it?
- · By when? Ensure deadlines are clear.
- · Who will hold that person accountable?
Easy? Yes. Obvious? Yes. Done? Um… not always.
Reserve 10 minutes at the end:
How good are you at managing time when you host a meeting? Or supporting the meeting facilitator to manage time? Too often we meander through meetings, with vague pauses around what needs to get done, then rush things at the end when we run out of time, never ensuring clarity before everyone races out of the room to get back to their desks, or off to the next meeting. Be sure to reserve a minimum of 10 minutes at the end of every meeting to answer the above four questions. And yes, some people in the meeting might want to keep talking about the last item on the agenda, and eat up your "clarity" time, but don't let them do it. You must make it a team habit to reserve enough time to push for clarity around next steps. Every time.
Katie Bennett is a coach, speaker and head of Double Black Diamond Coaching in Vancouver.
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