As you close out 2023, perhaps celebrating holidays of thanks and of giving, you know 2024 is waiting.
Looking back, we dealt with the after-effects of a pandemic, the domestic impact of wars in foreign lands, the rise of new technology that we may not quite understand, and so much more.
Looking forward, we are facing a meteoric rise in business disruption and technology-driven change, continued employee burnout and disengagement, and a greater “unknown” than leaders of this generation have ever navigated.
This is the time of year when it’s most important for teams to come together to prepare for the year ahead. After the last few years—from no annual planning off-sites, to virtual off-sites, to all flavors of hybrid off-sites, to a robust return to in-person off-sites—these important moments of collaboration and community building have taken on new meaning and become more important than ever.
Having had the privilege to help executives from across industries through this process over the last couple of months, I’ve gained insight into the 7 critical questions the most successful leaders are tackling with their teams.
- Have we taken adequate time to celebrate success?
Amid the audacious goals, intense pressures, and the busy-ness of business, most teams forget to take a moment to pause and pat each other on the back for the small wins, and it’s taking a toll. It’s important to celebrate wins, no matter how big or how small! Celebration can extend from personal recognition of an individual accomplishment to a big bash for the whole organization. According to experts, celebration stimulates feelings of inclusion, innovation, appreciation, and collaboration, which pave the way for creative thinking, calmer work environments, increased focus, and resilience to stress. Organizations are people and people are social. Celebration is one way to help people identify with the group. If the simple act of saying “thanks” has inherent power, think what you can do to create an authentic sense of accomplishment for the team so they can keep their energy over the long haul.
- Are we being honest with ourselves about what’s not working?
When we are working hard and pressed for time it can be tempting to ignore warning signs about what’s not working or avoid addressing obstacles head-on in hopes that they will go away and we can continue without disruption. But those things don’t usually go away. In fact that often get worse over time, creating greater disruption further down the road. To prevent this from happening, leaders need the courage to have candid and unfiltered conversations about what’s not working, and employees need the space to raise concerns and challenges—and help solve them. The most successful leaders are not afraid to slow down to ask the difficult questions and listen to the unpopular responses. They lean into skepticism and criticism and enlist their teams to help translate challenges into progress.
- Are we making the most of cross-functional team meetings?
In the spirit of inclusivity and agility, many leaders are finding that their cross-functional meeting attendee lists are very lengthy. Although the purpose of these meetings is to drive diversity of thought, constructive conflict, and proactive solutioning to address strategic business challenges, most rapidly turn into multiple “read-outs” during which attendees provide one-way “FYIs” about what they’re doing and leave little space for the type of debate or disagreement that could influence better outcomes. This is not only inefficient but can also be frustrating and disempowering to teams aspiring to bring diverse perspectives together to solve complex challenges. Those who have cracked the code on this do four things when it comes to cross-functional collaboration meetings: they clearly define the purpose, establish meaningful agendas, invite (only) the people who need to attend, and end with clear accountability and next steps.
- Are we taking time to strengthen our interpersonal relationships?
After a global pandemic and the “work trauma” it caused, people are burnt out. Thanks to extended periods of remote-only work coupled with numerous workforce transitions (people leaving and/or joining companies), many interpersonal work relationships have been neglected and are suffering. Trust levels are at an all-time low and many of our clients report that superficial and ineffective teamwork is at an all-time high. Leaders and employees are desperate for the time and space to connect as humans and build real relationships with each other. The teams that show up and do their best work together are the teams that feel like they matter to each other as people. And that requires time. As you set up your 2024 calendar, be sure to invest some time for your teams to reconnect as people and make it a priority to do the same for yourself. Step away from your desk and hold a few in-person discussion groups, coffee talks, or meet-and-greets. If you can, make a little time and space to get away from the work environment with your teams and have some fun. It may seem like a luxury amid the hectic pace of everyone’s schedules, but it’s a necessity if you have a big ambition for 2024. It will be a worthwhile investment in the trust and openness needed for success.
- Do we have a “true north”?
When we ask executives whether they and their teams have a true north, most say yes. However, when we ask them and their teams to articulate their true north, we often get a variety of different answers, followed by acknowledgement that perhaps they haven’t quite yet nailed it yet. This can be the cause of great confusion and inefficiency among leaders and their teams. To work together successfully—especially in an era of disruption and change—you must be working toward the same goal. It’s important, therefore, to spend at least a little time up front establishing and communicating a simple, tangible, and quantifiable “true north” that can be used to guide the team and ensure you are working together to deliver measurable, meaningful outcomes.
- Do all employees understand their roles and responsibilities?
In an age of cross-functional collaboration, role clarity has become increasingly grey. The distinction between the responsibilities and contributions of various teams is shifting and evolving, and we see many teams getting frustrated. Many leaders are finding that their teams are falling into unproductive patterns of behavior that look and feel like “turf wars” or “land grabs,” or just working around each other instead of with each other. This type of behavior can generate frustration, mistrust and inefficiency. Fortunately, this can be addressed, especially if you catch and correct it early on. Helping even the most sophisticated executive teams clarify their roles, responsibilities, and contributions to the “true north” —and coaching them on how to navigate areas of tension or conflict effectively—can be very empowering and motivating for a team to be successful and productive.
- Do team members see a clear career path for themselves?
When we ask leaders and their teams what they are most fearful of when it comes to the rapidly changing workplace, the most consistent answer we hear is “that I will become incompetent or irrelevant.” Despite the rich diversity of personalities, values, and perspectives that exist across most organizations, one thing seems to be almost universal. People want to feel useful and valuable, especially when they’re investing so much of their time and energy into their work. However, most people don’t want to say that explicitly or aren’t comfortable advocating for themselves in productive ways. If you want to really motivate and inspire action and top performance in 2024, take the time to get to know what motivates and inspires each of your team members, as well as what they are afraid of. Coach them to develop a “career vision” and help them find ways to link that career vision with your organizational vision and priorities in 2024 and beyond.
If you want to end 2023 with a bang (not a bust), think about which of these questions are most critical for you and your team to tackle together – and then go make it happen.