It was a beautiful Wednesday afternoon and Claudia was irritated.
She’d just left her weekly product development meeting, and despite genuine effort, she still had no idea where her team was going. It didn’t matter how many questions she asked, or how many concrete priorities she suggested, no one on the team could definitively commit. That’s fine when you’re in the innovation stages, but the team was well past that point.
Ideas Analyzed Into Extinction and Innovators Back Off
In the meeting, every idea was analyzed into extinction. This made her and other team members hesitant to offer ideas, for fear that they’d be mulled over and over until enough time had passed that the idea was simply shelved.
Over the past nine months, Claudia noticed that the most innovative members of the product development team progressively stopped participating in the meetings. It was such a shame. She’d previously worked with two of them in a tech company, and understood how their ideas could lead the team to success. Claudia had pulled back too. She now second-guessed every thing she considered suggesting.
So what was she doing on this beautiful Wednesday afternoon after the meeting? Nothing productive. Unclear on the direction or priorities, and with dwindling confidence, she didn’t even know what she should be working on.
Opportunities Missed, Talent Lost
So Claudia decided to shoot her recruiter an email instead. Her career wasn’t going anywhere with a team who missed opportunities again and again.
Is there anything that could help Claudia’s team get back on track? Let’s start by identifying the major problem: her team has commitment issues.
This Teams Has Major Commitment Issues
According to business consultant, speaker and author Patrick Lencioni, when a team has a lack of commitment, “they lack of clarity or buy-in prevents team members from making decisions they will stick to.” And if a team can’t stick to a decision, things won’t get done in a timely manner, if they even get done at all.
Great Teams Embrace Commitment
Studies show that commitment is great for teams. Interaction Associates & Human Capital Institute Study shows high performing organizations have higher levels of commitment than low performing organizations. 67% of people surveyed in high performing organizations reported having a sense of shared commitment and responsibility, as opposed to the 43% of those surveyed in low performing organizations who reported the same.
But what do teams that avoid commitment look like versus those who that embrace it?
Teams That Embrace Commitment, and Teams That Do Not: What Do They Look Like?
Teams That Can’t Commit
- Maintain ambiguity in the team about direction and priorities
- Miss opportunities due to excessive analysis
- Inspire lack of confidence and fear of failure
- Revisit the same problems again and again
- Foster an environment of second-guessing
Teams Without Commitment Issues
- Create clarity around direction and priorities
- Align entire team around common objective
- Learn from mistakes
- Take advantage of opportunities before competitors do
- Move forward or change direction with no hesitation or guilt
Let’s take a look at a real business that suffered from lack of commitment.
Laura Ashley is a women’s apparel maker originally from Wales. After founder Laura Ashley died in 1985, her husband, Bernard, kept the apparel company on its conservative, British countryside track, despite their fashion and modes of production being outdated. “Competitors publicly dismissed the Laura Ashley style as better suited to milkmaids in the1880s than CEOs in the 1980s,” wrote Donald Sull in the Harvard Business Review. Profits lowered and continued to lower.
Bernard brought in a series of CEOs to save the business, and that’s where the lack of commitment hit them hard. None of the CEOs could commit to the company being a brand, a manufacturer, a retailer, or an integrated fashion company. This lack of commitment gave the team no direction—leaving the business on a continuing decline. They went through seven CEOs in one decade! Even that shows a lack of commitment.
If the Claudia and/or Laura Ashley story sounds familiar, you may have a commitment problem on your hands. There are things you and your team can do to overcome lack of commitment. Let’s take a look.
Tips For Overcoming Lack of Commitment
Practice Cascading Communication
Leaders and managers must communicate results to their teams, which will ensure all concerns are aired (the good AND the bad) and that everyone is on the same page. Knowing the facts, and that everyone is on the same page, makes commitment easier.
Set Deadlines and Create Worst Case Scenario Contingencies
Commit to a plan and make a back up plan in order to show that you’ve thought it through and are ready for any possible problems. Having a back up plan makes it easier for those who are second-guessing to commit.
Be Okay With Making a Decision That May Be Wrong
Fear of making the wrong decision can derail commitment to a plan of action.
Edward D. Hess, Professor of Business Administration and Batten Executive-in-Residence at the Darden Graduate School of Business, says failure is imperative to the innovation process because “from failure comes learning, iteration, adaptation, and the building of new conceptual and physical models through an iterative learning process.”
Revisiting Claudia’s Team
So if we look back at Claudia’s situation, we can see how almost every issue would be resolved if the team embraced commitment. If her team were to commit to a direction for the product development, Claudia would know what to work on, and how she could contribute to the team’s success.
If ideas weren’t overly analyzed because no one can commit to a direction, the creative on the team wouldn’t be backing off. Instead of worrying about their ideas failing from lack of team focus or endless analysis, they’d be offering a slew of ideas that could take the company to the next level.
In addition, the team would have likely finished developing the product they are currently working on, and would be on to the next big idea. Innovation is essential to the success of a company. Team leaders must do everything they can to encourage it. Part of that is commitment! Embrace it.