The best teams are able to make quick decisions, understand why they’ve made them, and stick to them. But all too often, one or more of these elements is missing, a problem Patrick Lencioni calls ‘lack of commitment’ in his Five Dysfunctions of a Team. This can lead to teams being unsure of their priorities, missing windows of opportunity as they dither over decisions, and second-guessing or distrusting courses of action they do pursue.
If you recognise these issues in your own team, the good news is that there’s a lot you can do to overcome them. Here are a few tips on how to combat a lack of commitment.
Seek clarity on your short- and long-term goals
It’s hard to feel committed to a course of action when you don’t even know where you’re aiming to go. So make sure your goals are clear. Some of this may need to come from higher up – what are the company or department’s overarching mission and current priorities? But you can also define a lot of your team’s goals yourselves, encouraging each other to improve year on year.
On a day-to-day level, make sure everyone’s clear on what they need to do to hit their goals. For example, after each meeting a summary of its key points should be circulated, with assigned action items.
Set deadlines, and hold each other accountable for them
Having goals is useful, but they should have a timeframe attached. This adds that all-important clarity, and helps avoid windows of opportunity closing because of dithering and not committing to a course of action.
Setting clear, realistic deadlines also helps prevent people second-guessing their work, while breaking goals down into smaller actions makes them more attainable and creates natural points to check in. People can also raise concerns at those points, enabling the team to course correct as needed without people losing faith in and commitment to the overall course of action.
Make output the focus, not presence in the office
The COVID-19 crisis has forced many companies to switch to an all-remote working model. While this presents many challenges, it’s also highlighted the need for a focus on output, rather than simply being at your desk for a set number of hours.
This can also be an excellent way to encourage commitment, by increasing clarity around what’s required of each person and how it fits into the team’s broader goals. The show of trust – the sense of “my boss may not be able to see me, but they know I’ll deliver” – helps strengthen commitment, as well.
Don’t rely too much on consensus
Though seeking consensus might seem prudent, relying too much on it is actually one of the main causes of a lack of commitment. After all, if you wait for everyone to agree on every tiny point before making a choice, you’ll never get anything done.
Instead of prioritising consensus, simply make sure an open discussion is held, and all opinions are considered. Usually, that’s what people really need – knowing their voice has been heard makes it easier to accept a decision once it’s been made.
As Lencioni puts it, “great teams make clear and timely decisions and move forward with complete buy-in from every member of the team, even those who voted against the decision.”
Plan for worst-case scenarios
One of the reasons it can be hard to commit to a decision is a desire for certainty. It’s hard to buy into a plan if you’re worried it’ll fail – and of course, no plan is guaranteed to be successful. To mitigate this, go through potential issues in advance and decide how you could deal with them. This removes the ambiguity, and makes the problems seem more surmountable.
You’re never going to have perfect information to make a perfect choice – so just prepare as much as possible, and move on. After all, mistakes are just more information you can learn from for next time. To quote Lencioni again, “it is better to make a decision boldly and be wrong – and then change direction with equal boldness – than it is to waffle.”
Learn from mistakes, and celebrate successes
Focusing too much on failures or errors can weaken team members’ commitment to choices over time. So own up to and learn from your mistakes, of course, but don’t dwell on them. Instead, put them in the wider context of your team’s successes.
Celebrate meeting team goals and hitting deadlines, and mark larger milestones and successes. Positive feedback and a strong team spirit are always useful, and reward people for committing to a course of action and helping it turn out well.