Gentle Pressure, Relentlessly Applied: Four Commensurate Measures
Agreement on Approach: Openly communicate with the team to ensure everyone agrees on the manner and means of your approach to gain commitment.
Metrics for Assurance: Use metrics to track the efforts and performance of the team in order to validate your feedback, effect change, and improve.
Training & Coaching: Harness your role as a leader to train your team with new skillsets and coach them through the refinement of existing ones, guaranteeing they know how to do the work well.
Culture of Accountability: Foster a culture of accountability by setting expectations and following up in order to cultivate an environment that demands and breeds results.
When it comes to shaping your team, step one is always, always the same: gain agreement on approach.
The foundation of every great team is based on consensus both on the intention and goal of the group, as well as the actions and steps required by every team member to achieve it. Unfortunately, many leaders make the mistake of overlooking this initial and all-important phase of team-building. When you fail to firmly establish agreement on approach across your team, you essentially forsake your team before you even begin.
It’s that famed pitfall, assumption, that usually inhibits managers and coaches from securing buy-in. When you build your team, it’s likely (though not necessary—a conversation for another day) that you hire from a pool of candidates already experienced in your community, culture, or business. Because of their experience in your field, you’re likely to assume they understand your approach and intention, and that they’re inherently on board with your vision and ideas.
That assumption can prove fatal. How often have you heard employees refute your suggestions with the rebuttal, “Well, that’s not how we did it at my last job.” Probably more often than you’d like to admit. Rather than assume their previous training was sufficient or even correct, it’s important to amalgamate them to your unique approach in order to cultivate buy-in and passion. Preclude those common arguments by categorically presenting your own approach to every employee, every time.
Another dangerous assumption is to presume your team already knows why you do what you do. To you, it may seem like common sense, but unless you explicitly express your approach and why it matters, you’re allowing for a host of misinterpretations or rebuttals. It’s important to remember that we are all individuals, and that it’s simply human nature to forge our own path. Your team members will do things the way they want to do them unless you offer both guidance and justification for your approach.
So how do you do that? First of all, it’s integral that you present your what’s and why’s plainly and consistently. Define your approach, stick to it, and be communicative to the point of redundancy in how you present it to your team.
Second, cultivate an open dialogue with your team. Though you’re the leader and therefore have the final say on your approach and intentions, your team members still offer valid insight and their opinions matter. Hosting an open conversation about your approach may expose some flaws or areas for improvement, plus it cultivates an environment of trust in which your team members feel comfortable, and therefore willing to acquiesce.
Third, provide space for one-on-one conversations in a safe environment. Though you should have an open dialogue with your entire team about the strategies and procedures of your business, offering one-on-one discussions furthers those benefits and encourages everyone to voice their opinions and express their concerns, which in turn provides space for you to respond to their arguments and justify your approach.
As you establish agreement on approach across your team, keep in mind that this agreement is two-fold: your team members need to not only agree on the intention and goal of the approach, they need to agree on their role within that approach. For example, I may agree that taking the trash out every day is a great idea, but unless I agree that that plan necessitates I take out the trash every Tuesday, the entire plan breaks down. Communicate openly with your team about both the micro and macro steps in your approach in order to cultivate true and effective buy-in.
When it comes to agreement on approach, we like use the metaphor of enrollment (and no, not just because of our penchant for university-themed programs). “Enrollment” implies a host of heartening benefits; when you enroll in college, you’re not just signing up for classes, you’re volunteering to become part of a team: putting on team colors, showing up for games, investing in the organization both monetarily and symbolically, representing the school outside of its grounds—and doing all those things as a proud member of the team. Your employees should feel the same way, and it’s your responsibility as their leader to cultivate that sense of camaraderie, pride, and agreement on approach.