Those first few steps towards action…those first movements beyond the whiteboard and into practice are some of the most difficult steps for many teams and organizations. Some groups naturally revel in the endless debate, while others hunker down behind the status quo, hoping not to have to extend themselves into that risky no-fly zone called change.
The best leaders understand the gravitational pull of the status quo. They also understand the finesse it takes to turn talk into action.
7 Ideas for Leading Your Team Off the Whiteboard into Action:
1. Set the stage for action by creating a Charter for your initiative. Borrowing from the time-tested, battle-hardened techniques used in project management, create a clear charter for your initiative. This offers context for the importance of the initiative…it highlights the expected outcomes and importantly, a good charter offers an explanation of the accountability of the participants for an outcome. It of course, also clarifies stakeholders…those with a vested interest in the initiative. Add a sponsor if the initiative is important enough, and use the charter and sponsor to keep the team moving forward.
2. Move forward as if you are leading a series of sprints, not asking the team to run a marathon. Help your team bite off digestible challenges in shorter working sessions. Keep the agenda narrow enough to allow for discussion focus, capture good ideas and actions, and invite the team to help define the next step. Reconnect in your next sprint session within a month…and ideally no further out than 3 weeks.
3. Mix things up by inviting outside viewpoints into the meetings. Nothing energizes a group quite like adding outside expertise to support education and idea discussion around a key initiative. Inviting outside participants fights against the tendency of groups to become insular, and it infuses new context and creativity into the discussions.
4. Create the right balance of homework and sub-team activities. This is an interesting balancing act for many team leaders. Our tendency is to create an explosion and expansion of activities, when the right thing to do is help the team identify the few focal points that will move things forward. Facilitate a prioritization process that ensures focus on the issues and actions needed to promote learning and step-by-step advancement of an initiative.
5. Recruit extended talent. Encourage team members to draw upon their own respective group members and other constituents for help. Just because a team is responsible for a topic doesn’t mean they are required to personally fingerprint every task. Bring in the subject matter and task experts as needed to accelerate progress and resolve bandwidth problems.
6. Similar to number 4, be careful on the number of major initiatives you introduce to an organization or to your team at any one point in time. The distance between great achievement is a thin, razor sharp, bloody line. Staying on the right side of that line for you team requires you to be well attuned to the stresses, strains and capacity for more of your team members.
7. Cultivate a culture of experimentation. The more complex the issue, the more likely it is to get stalled in debate. Encourage small-steps, reinforce results, reward learning, forget about punishing mistakes, and keep shepherding more and more ideas into experiments. Done right, the group will become self-driving over time.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
For many organizations and teams, rethinking the approach to pursuing group initiatives can pay huge dividends. It’s natural for people to talk and not commit, and it’s a human issue that we tend to prefer the status quo versus an unknown new vector. If the initiative is important enough to require a group to assemble, “projectize” it, and know that your role as a leader is to help those great discussion topics move from the whiteboard into the world of actions and experimentation.
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