As leaders, we can sometimes overly focus our days on what we and our teams should accomplish. We create strategic plans and then we devise action steps that will allow us to accomplish them. Myriad “tasks” emanate downward to our teams and the work gets assigned and executed at the individual level. Or at least that’s the way it’s supposed to work.
And yet so often we hear from clients words like “But something is missing – my direct reports and colleagues just don’t seem to understand what we are trying to accomplish.”
I spoke to a client a few weeks ago who expressed frustration with the progress of his team. “They know what to do, but I can’t figure out why they aren’t getting it done.”
We spent considerable time talking about the “what” he wanted his people to do. He had repeatedly given detailed instructions to various team members, and yet the work, he felt, wasn’t fully embraced, understood, or ultimately accomplished. I queried him about what each of those words meant to him and his team.
Then I asked him, “How is it that you and your team decide to work together?” He answered, “Well, they know their jobs and I guess they should be able to get the job done.” My follow-on question: “With what tools?” The answer: “Well, we just need to communicate better.” I smiled and asked what that meant to him, and then what it meant to his team. The answer was indirect and a bit unfocused, as he stayed with the theme of communication, without providing details. The conversation continued:
I asked, “Well before you start making plans with a friend, do you call him and just tell him what it is that you are going to do today?”.
“Of course not – we chat about what we did the day before, how things are going – things like that.”
“And why do you do that?”
“Well, because we have a relationship and we don’t just assign plans to each other. We would never do that.”
“And why then would you do that with the members of your team?” I asked.
The client paused and I waited. And then I waited some more. A longer pause – Then he smiled and said,
“You know, I guess that isn’t working, is it? Maybe I should build the relationship and figure out how we all work first before I begin assignments and goals.”
“And how will you do that?” I asked.
From there, the client began talking about the various ways he could establish common ground with his team members, to effectively “meet them where they are,” using the concept of relationship as his intention and follow-on actions as his choice.
In coaching we often point out to our clients that human beings and the systems in which they work and live in are not just “tasks,” but indeed are built on relationships. In Gestalt theory, it is termed “Intimate-Strategic” or, as I like to think about it, the balance between “Relationships and Tasks.” A number of articles are helpful to understand this better, including one by Emergenetics.
So the next time you find yourself moving straight to the list of “to-do’s” and the tasks, invite yourself to think of the “How” of working together. You’ll find that the “What” flows quite nicely thereafter. It did for my client that day and it will for you!