Ever watched (or, more painfully, been part of) a team floundering around an issue in a way that you know--and that the team knows--just isn't going to get it to an effective and efficient solution?

Maybe you've wandered into a few meetings where the self-same topic keeps appearing over and over again, without your team ever achieving the breakthrough in understanding that's needed of the underlying issue to lead to a fruitful discussion of actual solutions?

This pattern illustrates one of the key precepts in achieving predictable success: All other things being equal (i.e., you have a half-decent strategy and relatively adult individuals on your team), the primary factor in determining the degree to which you consistently achieve your organizational goals is something I've come to call "speed to clarity."

What is "speed to clarity"?

"Speed to clarity" is the lapsed controllable time between the emergence of an issue and its resolution ("controllable" because sometimes we have to wait for things to happen over which we have no control). And, all other things being equal, the faster your speed to clarity, the more likely you'll hit this year's strategic goals.

One of my client CEOs calls it "from hunch to crunch," and it works like this:

Let's say you notice that the sales of Product X are decreasing. How long is it before you know with clarity that it's happening because of a skewed commission plan; a new entry into the marketplace; cannibalization by Product C, or something else entirely?

Say the pipeline from your research and development team has stalled out. How long before you know with clarity that it's because your top engineer has lost her mojo; or because your technology platform is outdated; or because the new neon-lit, windowless offices you moved R&D into are sapping the team's creative energies; or something else?

For the viscerally managed business in the Fun stage, speed to clarity is innate--the organization typically isn't complex enough yet for problems to be that tough to work through. But when the business hits Whitewater, speed to clarity is one of the first things to suffer. And by the time the business enters Treadmill, the organization's structure is almost willfully built to hobble it.

Losing speed to clarity is one of the main causes of leadership dysfunction. When I counsel a senior leadership team and sense a high degree of frustration in one of the key leaders, there is frequently a mismatch between that individual's speed to clarity and that of the rest of the team (which works both ways--the leader can be frustrated by having either a faster or a slower speed to clarity than the others).

When I work with a team whose speed to clarity is tortoiselike--or, worse, one in which the trend is downward--there are usually one or more of three key factors at play. 

1. Overwhelmedness. Call it what you will: the post-industrial era, the social economy, the new normal--whatever term you prefer, the speed of information flow we all have to deal with now has reached levels that will swamp any leader lacking in basic productivity skills. And guess what? Your team members can't think straight if they arrive to every meeting already feeling overwhelmed.

If the currency of success for complex organizations is consistently high-quality team-based decision making (which it is), then the foundational building block that allows those decisions to be made is personal productivity. Find a system and use it.

2. Underpreparation. There's a rhythm to effective decision making, and it starts with the right preparation before your team even meets. Most teams with slow speed to clarity arrive at meetings underprepared and have acres of new information thrown at them during the meeting. Any wonder everyone gets befuddled?

Start implementing a firm principle: no new information distributed during meetings. If information hasn't been circulated for prior consideration, unless there's an absolute emergency, it doesn't get discussed. (Of course, your team has to have implemented Point One above in order to find the time to read pre-meeting material.)

3. Grinding monotony. Get the heck out of that windowless, arid conference room. Stop packing every meeting with 27 agenda items, 22 of which you never get to anyway. Call a shorts-only meeting. Hand out balloons. Do something, anything, to lift the grinding, soul-sucking monotony that most business meetings are drowning in--at least until you get your speed to clarity back.

Looking for additional ways to enhance your team's performance? Download a free chapter from the author's book The Synergist: How to Lead Your Team to Predictable Success, which provides a comprehensive model for developing yourself or someone else as an exceptional, world-class leader.