What Are You Talking About?

Ever go to the grocery store for ONE THING (so of course you don’t grab the handy basket), but end up juggling an arm load of items by the time you get to the cashier? Our performance conversations often suffer from the same distraction disorder. We start to talk about one aspect of the project and we have soon spun out of control to address a dozen other factors while enraging most of those involved. “What just happened?!?” is our usual response. Don’t let past horror stories like this deter you from learning from those experience. Staying focused is a leadership discipline that must be practiced.

To make it easier for you, I’ve narrowed down the list of conversations to the most critical few to help you stay on track. Let’s get a better understanding of each of the conversations before we discuss our strategy for addressing them with your team.

Achieves Team Goals?
Performance is measured against the goals and objectives of the project and the company, so it makes sense that the conversation starts here. Don’t assume that just because the goals have been shared (or exist somewhere on the website) that everyone on the team has a common understanding of those goals and the objectives. But knowing alone is not enough. You want a team committed to accomplishing these goals. Discussing how “realistic” the goals are and sharing the anxiety related to being over committed on 3 other projects are the types of essential conversations that get to the deeper issues undermining the team’s ability to accomplish their goals (and to uncover the ideas to accomplish them all).

Utilizes Skills and Abilities?
Two critical components of performance are skills and motivations. A perceived lack of the right set of skills and abilities on the team will have a significant impact on the motivation of team members. Individuals being stretched beyond their comfort level may be necessary, but it can also undermine the confidence in themselves and with others. Meanwhile, there may be others on the team who feel their skills and abilities are not being fully utilized. A conversation about this aspect of performance may lead to some collaborative solutions that solve both issues at once.

Fulfills Team Roles and Responsibility?
“Who’s doing what” is the primary question that each person is asking at the start of the project. Clarity on this topic allows the brain to relax and focus on the work at hand. Not knowing my role AND the roles of others is an evolving conversation that must periodically be addressed because product phases and people availability are constantly in flux. Like I mentioned before, knowing is not enough. Perceptions regarding wither or not team members are fulfilling their roles (both technical and leadership) is where you’d like to evolve these conversations towards. This conversation leads to a sense of shared accountability that’s essential for operating at a team’s highest potential.

Uses Effective Team Processes?
The brain is hardwired to operate more effectively when it knows what to expect. Just like with responsibilities, clear team processes sets the expectation for what’s to come next so that individuals don’t have to spend time and energy worrying. How the planning will be done and problems will be solved are the two topics on top of the list since this is what will define their success. Some structure to these processes allows for conflicts to be focused on the WHAT and HOW conversations instead of elsewhere. Effectiveness of team meetings is a major expense for the project, so it makes sense to constantly be evaluating them from an effectiveness and efficiency perspective.

Maintains A Supportive Working Environment?
Conflict is an essential component of project life, unfortunately. How this conflict will be dealt with (publicly and privately) needs to be understood by all. These are delicate conversations that will do more to accelerate the level of trust in a team than any other on this list. When individuals feel safe to share their real thoughts and feelings then anything becomes possible. The goal of these conversations is to evolve to the point where each other are providing the positive challenge that sustains energy and enables individuals/teams to thrive.

Acknowledges Achievements?
Many company cultures focus primarily on what’s wrong. Although this is a valuable conversation, research highlights that the positivity conversation has a valuable role as well. Personal recognition for the work one has done is a primary motivation for most project professionals (No, not money). Making time to recognize personal and team accomplishments every step of the way will keep the engine stoked for the next challenge that stands in your way.

Values Open Communication?
There are a lot of opinions on a project teams. How we value the contributions of each member of the team is the underlying fabric on which the success of the project lies. This can be the most challenging conversation because it goes beyond the project and resides at a deeper level inside each of us. The quality of the information we give and receive can make all the difference in the success of your project. Invest the time and energy to establish a culture of open communication from day one is the best way to make performance a more comfortable conversation for everyone on the team.


Today’s Challenge: Share this list with a trusted colleague and share your experience in dealing with these different topics.

Don’t bet overwhelmed.  We’ll address how to start the conversations in my next blog.



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