The tireless question of “What does it take for our team to be successful?” is often asked as if there was one right answer, as if success means the same for everyone. But it doesn’t. It’s easy to succumb to the “just get ‘er done” mentality that confuses immediate feedback, or progress, with productivity.
Looking for how to achieve team success is important, however it neglects the preliminary step of identifying what success looks like. Working with a purpose is great, but working too fast without stopping to determine if you’re on the right track leads to confusion and uncertainty. Sometimes you have to look rearward to move forward. A retrospective lens offers the mental space for insight to occur. What if you had never reviewed what you learned prior to taking an exam in school? Whether you actively studied or not, there was some degree of mental review that took place in your mind before putting pen to paper.
If achieving “success” (whatever that means) is on your team’s to-do list, then taking a step back to identify what success looks like -- not just to you but to everybody involved -- will save valuable time and resources later. Here are four ways to find success together:
1. Be the bad guy (or girl).
Devils advocate is an effective way to challenge currently held assumptions and expand individual thinking. Okay, it can be annoying, too, but that’s only because it’s effective. The fact is, if you’re too outspoken then you become the voice that everybody loves to hate, but say nothing and the fate of your team becomes the next subject in question. Playing devil’s advocate means going against the grain of current thinking; asking “what if” questions that challenge the likelihood of desired outcomes. Yes, playing devil's advocate can sound negative, which is why being aware of your voice tone is critical to avoid sounding like a negative naysayer.
2. Explore parallels.
Dialectical inquiry is a fancy term for exploring alternatives. Whereas the focus of devil’s advocate is on one particular subject, dialectical inquiry considers many. I remember one leader in the Navy who assigned each person a different version of the same topic to argue, with the purpose being to spur new dialogue and ideas (and no, not all military is top-down driven hierarchy, in case you were wondering). If a connection was made between arguments then we would explore why it existed and if it applied elsewhere.
3. Observe and opine.
This is when you cite facts or experiences that have worked in the past and relate them to the current situation. You’re not assigning judgment or bias but rather offering a direct observation of something that has worked in the past. Be sure to convey that offering a copy and paste solution isn't the intent here, but extracting lessons learned from the past is.
4. Just say it.
There's always good old fashioned dialogue to explore what success looks like. Call me crazy (it's happened before) but conversation works, and it doesn't have to take an accusatory tone. The one thing open dialogue builds that the above strategies don't is trust, because what you say is coming from you and not a “role.” When you establish your ground, people learn to respect you for voicing your opinion and know who to turn to for the truth. If you're worried what others think about you then ask yourself if their opinion changes who you are. Who you are (your values) determines what you do (your decisions) which determines how you perform. If personal opinion doesn’t change who you are, then it’s not important enough to worry about.
The concept of success can be misleading. Although it appears as an end state, it’s really a journey (at the risk of sounding cheesy) to explore because once you achieve one goal there’ll be another one to pursue. The bottom line is this: success means different things to different people, which is why getting on the same page is critical to finding it.