Uncertainty & the art of getting your team back on track (Part 2)
Part 1 looked at the role uncertainty can play in derailing teams, and how leadership is essential in hitting the re-set button.
I explored the idea of restating a mission in order to ensure that a team has a clear sense of direction; something that is exciting to move towards (instead of hiding in busy work and hoping things will turn out ok).
Having established an invigorating, compelling mission – what next?
This is where the nitty gritty of refocusing a team on specific goals and actions comes into play. Think of it as providing a short-medium term roadmap – simple, actionable steps that redirect attention from what people don’t know how to solve, to what they can do today.
1. Set 3 main goals to drive the restated mission forward
With the compelling purpose or mission you’ve captured people’s attention, providing a clear destination.
In the setting of 3 core goals, specific activity starts to come into play. These are measurable/realisable things that will materially contribute to the success of the mission.
These may include a turnover figure for 12 months time, or a target for average revenue per customer – perhaps a specific goal for brand awareness, engagement or product/service launches.
Let’s say your mission is “To become the go-to source of events, networking and content for global fintech entrepreneurs”, your three goals for the time period might include:
- a target for numbers of subscribers or a revenue goal
- launching and running an event in sub-saharan Africa
- testing and launch of a subscription membership product
Any chunky goal that is materially significant to the completion of your mission is worth considering.
(Clue: You’ll know when you’ve hit on the right three goals when people nod and look both relieved & a little excited at what’s coming).
2. Panic-proof (or ambivalence-proof) your plans, establish 5 actions for each of the 3 goals
When a team has been through a time of uncertainty, the casualties can include decision-making and good judgment. Look at a team in crisis and you’ll typically see self-limiting behaviours, clouded thinking, poor prioritisation, and a tendency to turn to ‘busy work’ rather than powerful action.
Re-clarify & propel people forward with 5 bite-sized, actionable tasks for each core goal.
You might ask the team to each agree their own actions, discussing and agreeing them as a group. Or, you may agree that its more important for the team to share a joint action plan. Whatever you decide, pick 5 actions for each goal that are specific and easy to move forward.
Let’s take one of the goal examples listed above: Launching an event for fintech entrepreneurs in sub-saharan Africa.
The five actions might include things like:
- Speak to x, y, z (top sponsors or speakers of a similar event) to confirm involvement
- 5 meetings with vendors sponsoring competitor events or similar events by x date
- Creation of a content marketing strategy + sourcing of a copywriter
- Marketing data analysis to assess data build/engagement needs within region
- Spend a day doing a competitor review and building 50 prime contacts
These need to be actions that a team can easily push forward. If they start becoming too broad you could end up with more fuzzy thinking.
3. Accountability buddies
To ensure that the new plan takes root, agree an accountability plan with the team.
Instead of a Manager-Employee accountability structure, consider getting each team member to identify a buddy that they’ll run accountability catch ups with. I’d aim for a weekly check in which holds each person accountable for a few critical actions.
This helps the team to keep talking and collaborating around key issues. On a weekly basis, they’ll compare goals and actions, usually finding solutions to the challenges or roadblocks each person is facing.
Tip: To rebuild energy and motivation, it’s useful to set actions that balance project essentials with activity that individuals find energising and engaging.
Set Pieces: A closing sporting analogy
Anyone that knows me well will recognise that using a sporting analogy is a bit off-brand. But it works, so bear with me.
Some of the best case studies in how to get individuals and teams to cope with uncertainty and unexpected challenges are the top sports teams.
From them we can steal the idea of Set Pieces (drilled to perfection, practiced so that they are as automatic as breathing). These habits help teams reclaim their focus after a change in circumstance, or a change in the balance of competition.
Its worth having a think about what underlying actions in your business are the most important Set Pieces. Areas to consider:
- Ways of preparing for/communicating in meetings
- Standards of accountability within the team
- How projects phases are handed over
- How problems with clients or in the team are resolved
- How to debrief, reset and move on
Uncertainty can make confident people doubt themselves and it can lead to smart people making poor judgement calls. Our job as leaders of a team or business is to help refocus the group so that they can get back to performing at a high standard.
- Restate the mission: Is it clear and compelling enough? Will it divert their attention back to the right path?
- Set 3 core goals: Do they properly tackle the mission, and do the team believe they are achievable?
- Confirm 5 actions for each goal: Are they fool-proof & easy to implement?
- Agree how the group will hold itself accountable
- Practice and the reinforce in-house set pieces until they are second nature
As ever – comments and feedback are welcome. If you’d like an informal sounding board on this or other leadership issue, please get in touch.
Finally – thank you to Sue Cheshire, Rianne Klein Geltink and many others for challenging and supporting my own thinking around this in the last year or so.