As an executive team coach, one of my first jobs is to make sure a team has a clear and effective strategy for how they are going to grow and scale their business. This involves zeroing in on their ideal customer, understanding the key forces in the market, selecting a handful of attributes to differentiate around, and then determining what operational capabilities to focus on.
However, even with these key strategic questions answered perfectly, the company will fail to achieve its goals if the team can't deliver on its plans. And unfortunately, many teams struggle with following through and staying accountable to their commitments.
When I see issues of follow-through, I have the team step back and look at the habits and culture they've built around accountability. I have them focus on these strategies to raise the bar.
1. Set a compelling vision
Before we dig into the details of commitments and follow-ups, I start by making sure the team has a clear vision for success and the future state. It's extremely difficult for people to invest and take risks to achieve something that is unclear or lacks passion and desire. Without a compelling vision, you get compliance at best and sabotage at worst.
2. Define clear priorities
It's impossible to make smart, strategic decisions without a clear set of team priorities. Without them, people are left having to do their own analysis and assessments and choose what to focus on. And when members of a team focus on good, but different priorities, you create confusion and conflicts. After a while, people will stop stretching and taking smart risks and instead play it safe and avoid big goals.
Make sure you have your top priorities set and agreed to as a team. Define them in clear language and make sure everyone understands the rationale. Make sure the team is truly committed and behind what you choose and understands the tradeoffs and benefits.
3. Encourage healthy debate
One of the reasons teams don't follow through on their commitments is that there isn't adequate debate before making the decisions. I see CEOs push through on their plan only to be disappointed in the outcome and lack of delivery. This happens because concerns were not voiced and issues not addressed beforehand.
To get healthy, open debate, you need to create an environment where it's safe to disagree and voice conflicting ideas. Set good ground rules and focus on getting voices heard from each and every team member. Dedicate time and space for debate, don't rush this process. And remember, letting people be heard is important, but you don't need to make everything a vote.
4. Ask, don't tell
One of the most important ways to increase your team results is to make commitments a real choice and not force the process. If you pressure people into doing things, you're getting compliance, not true commitment. True commitment is only possible when someone has the legitimate option to say "no" to the request. If they have the option to say no, then it really is a choice. Otherwise, you're just pressuring them to accept the task, which they will resent you for afterward.
5. Give frank feedback.
Great teams hold themselves and each other accountable. This should happen upfront when people are committing to tasks: other team members would make sure the person committing to a task really has the skills, capacity, and resources to be successful. If someone on the team sees someone else sign up for something they are not likely able to deliver, they speak up and make sure the team member has what they need.
When the project is in flight, team members actively check in on each other to make sure everyone is on track. They know that their success is based on everyone else's success and the team staying on track as a whole. When they see an issue, they don't just call it out, they step in and provide help and resources to get things back on schedule.
6. Set a common standard.
Great teams have high standards that are set early in the process. When I work with teams that are struggling, I start by scaling back the scope and ambition and get a few rounds of good delivery. Once we have established a pattern and expectation of success, we can then build and expand. Trying to increase accountability by heaping on more work will only make things worse.
High-performance teams don't develop a culture of commitment and accountability by accident. It takes intention, focus, and work to build that muscle and flex it to deliver on goals. Without constant focus and discipline, the muscle will quickly atrophy and wane.