How to Develop Teams that Talk Less and Achieve More
Talking gives the illusion of action.
If the room goes quiet when you ask, “What are we going to do about that?”, you have a team that talks too much and achieves too little.
The illusion that talking is achievement leads to:
- Smug superiority. You look down on the people you talk about.
- Self-satisfied frustration. Leadership teams that talk more than act develop frustration toward the people they should encourage and support.
- Self-deluded stagnation. Teams that talk – but don’t act – imagine they’re getting things done.
Teams that talk focus on the responsibility of others.
Action creates personal responsibility.
Hidden value of action:
- Openness to listen and learn. People who talk too much over-estimate their knowledge.
- Momentum. You’re stuck until you act.
- Clear thinking. Guesswork happens while you sit and talk. Clarity happens when you get off the stool of do-nothing.
How teams overcome inaction:
#1. Set deadlines.
Before the discussion begins, ask, “When would you like to be doing something about this agenda item?”
Make small decisions now. Procrastination invites overthinking.
Distill big decisions into a series of small action steps.
#2. Ask for action.
Before the meeting ends, ask, “Is there any reason we can’t move forward on this now?” If the answer is, “We CAN’T move forward right now.”:
- List and rank the top reasons you can’t move forward now.
- Focus on the top three concerns.
- Assign concerns to the people around the table. “Please return to our next meeting with three possible answers to the concern you’ve been assigned.”
- Schedule your next meeting soon. “If we had to, how quickly could we act on this item?”
- Set the tone. The purpose of our next meeting is to find small ways to move forward.
Take a small step if you can’t take a giant leap.
What prevents teams from achievement?
How might leaders develop teams with a bias toward action?
Bias Toward Action (Deloitte)
Beware of “Bias Toward Action” (Govloop)
Developing a bias toward EFFECTIVE action:
Focus on the distinction between DOING something and ACHIEVING something.
Talking is often a sense of doing something
(Speaking IS acting)
But if progress is not being made, then nothing (of value) can be achieved.
The truth in what is Said lies in what is Done.
There is a reason they call it “action items.”
Someone has to call it “Done. Achieved. Next.”
And be convincing.
Perhaps the way we get to effective action is to take some reasonable action. If it won’t make things worse, try the next best thing you can think of.
The idea that someone has to call it “Done,” is powerful. It’s just talk if you can’t check it off the list. (Of course, if you put “talk” on your list, you can check that off.)
I suppose that it is who can be convincing/saying that the purpose/strategic imperative has been achieved/”done” is the leader for the next move/action.
“Reasonable” still needs a communicable “buy-in” for it to be (ultimately, believably) effective. “Reason” has a propensity toward debate, which can be endless unless measured against the strategic imperative.
Action, undertaken for its own sake, has the same propensity
(i.e. arguments about retroactive “lessons learned”).
Action for the sake of action is futility. The most basic rule for action, when we are stuck or uncertain is, will it cause harm. If the answer is NO, do the next best thing.
Well “Action speaks louder than words”! Upon looking over the reality of projects, someone needs to put them in motion/action. Once we started motion/action, someone needs to post a tentative schedule of accomplishments required to maintain the schedule. If everyone understands the schedule with their tasks needed completed in a timely fashion which requires action from everyone, we would spend less time talking! If the team can’t get on board, then someone is not communicating or understanding the message.
Granted depending on the size of the project, with multiple players, can be cumbersome and a burden to some when the push comes to shove, that’s were the schedule takes over, subject to change when something fails. “Be prepared to CYA”!
Thanks Tim! Talk about the schedule of accomplishments. 🙂 If you do that, you won’t have to talk about how things went off the rails.
An effective team is developed by sharing and caring. A leader takes the responsibility of building the right team with good communication and taking a commitment to work towards a common goal. The team deviates when an unhealthy competition emerges and differences come on the surface. A good leader senses such development and intervenes with positivity to bring back the situation under control. He has to be honest and ensure the desired conviction by sharing good examples.
Thanks Dr. Asher. Interesting that you bring up competition. It’s healthy to strive to do your best. It hurts the team when you beat others down or undermine their ability to thrive and succeed.
Success at the cost of defeating others doesn’t help the team.
This is probably one of my favorite posts of yours. This is great material. I thought I was the only one who thought this. Not to point out a specific team or employer, but I have experienced a lot of moments where I just thought to myself, “boy, we sure do a lot of talking around here.” I get that sometimes the talking comes from a fear of making the wrong decision, not wanting to be first one to make a move, or even fear of breaking protocol/stepping on toes. It’s easier to point out things people should have done, and it is easier to talk about ideas in the abstract. A successful leader may come in many forms and not always the one with the cute catch phrases or stern vocal tones. The successful leader is the doer (the one who is ready to act and get his hands dirty). For example, a construction leader doesn’t have to literally and physically put a wrench in his hand and build the structure himself. A successful construction leader, whether a supervisor, a manager, or even a worker himself, must be willing to step up and say, “OK, since we agree on that we must build this structure like this by this certain date, then you should do this, you do this, and you do this.” It’s not just about delegation either; it is the ability to stop the rhetoric and get things done. Meetings serve a purpose and are there to get everyone on the same page, but if we are only having meetings out of mere habit then we aren’t accomplishing much. The work, change, and accomplishments all happen on the front line. Ideas, direction, and vision can all come from the top, but it is in the physical application that goals are accomplished.
Thanks for the good word, Gary. “Stop the rhetoric and get things done.” …. that’s a catch phrase that works for me. 🙂
You observations about why teams talk too much are very helpful. Talking is necessary, but as you say, fear makes us talk too much.