There was a sudden silence. Nobody really knew what to say. Gina stared at her notepad and took a swallow of cold coffee. She felt frustrated again, but probably no more so than anyone else in the room. She looked up.
"Isn't this meeting just one more merry-go-round ride?"
Jaws, as usual, had been silent all morning. It was a nickname he was proud of, because it acknowledged that he spoke little, and that when he spoke, he always said something important. This was one of those moments.
"I'm not surprised we can't agree on how to do it," he said. "We never really agreed on what we were trying to do."
More silence, as everyone took that in.
Too often, we get ahead of ourselves — we start working on the how before we really agree on the what. Sometimes we do this because "how" issues are simpler, and sometimes we think we agree on the "what" before we actually do.
Whatever the reason for this inverted approach to problem solving, it helps to have a clear fix on the goal. Here are some ways to remember to first agree on the needle before you debate about how to thread it.
If you don't know where you're going…
- …you can't tell when you've arrived.
- …your latest failure might be a good thing — or bad — but you can't tell.
- If you don't know
where you're going,
you can't tell
when you've arrived…and if you don't know where you are, you could be in more trouble than you think.
- …it could be worse — you could think you know, and be wrong.
- …the size of the crowd that's following you might be a comfort, but you still don't know where you're going.
- …pretending otherwise fools only those who don't know where they're going either.
- …some of the people who disagree with each other about where you're going are probably right. But which ones?
- …you probably also don't know why you're going there.
- …it doesn't matter whether or not you're faster than the competition.
- …cutting the cost of getting there could be a waste of money.
- …there's no point arguing about the best way to get there.
- …there's no point arguing about the best way to argue about the best way to get there.
- …you might be headed away from where you ought to be.
- …asking for directions won't do much good.
- …going faster might be a bad idea.
- …going slower might be even worse.
- …following other people who seem to know where they're going won't get you there.
- …you might already be there.
Love the work but not the job? Bad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? This ebook looks at what we can do to get more out of life at work. It helps you get moving again! Read Go For It! Sometimes It's Easier If You Run, filled with tips and techniques for putting zing into your work life. Order Now!
For more on achieving and inspiring goals, see "Corrales Mentales," Point Lookout for July 4, 2001; "Commitment Makes It Easier," Point Lookout for October 16, 2002; "Beyond WIIFM," Point Lookout for August 13, 2003; "Your Wishing Wand," Point Lookout for October 8, 2003; "Give It Your All," Point Lookout for May 19, 2004; "Workplace Myths: Motivating People," Point Lookout for July 19, 2006; "Astonishing Successes," Point Lookout for January 31, 2007, and "Achieving Goals: Inspiring Passion and Action," Point Lookout for February 14, 2007.
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Encourage Truth Telling
- Getting to the truth can be a difficult task for managers. People sometimes withhold, spin, or slant
reports, especially when the implications are uncomfortable or threatening. A culture that supports
truth telling can be an organization's most valuable asset.
- The Good, the Bad, and the Complicated
- In fiction and movies, the world is often simple. There's a protagonist, a goal, and a series of obstacles.
The protagonists and goals are good, and the obstacles are bad. Real life is more complicated.
- Management Debt: I
- Management debt, like technical debt, arises when we choose paths — usually the lowest-cost paths
— that lead to recurring costs that are typically higher than alternatives. Why do we take on
management debt? How can we pay it down?
- The Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: II
- Anecdotes are powerful tools of persuasion, but with that power comes a risk that we might become persuaded
of false positions. Here is Part II of a set of examples illustrating some hazards of anecdotes.
- A Pain Scale for Meetings
- Most meetings could be shorter, less frequent, and more productive than they are. Part of the problem
is that we don't realize how much we do to get in our own way. If we track the incidents of dysfunctional
activity, we can use the data to spot trends and take corrective action.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 22: Red Flags: I
- When we finally admit to ourselves that a collaborative effort is in serious trouble, we sometimes recall that we had noticed several "red flags" early enough to take action. Toxic conflict and voluntary turnover are two examples. Available here and by RSS on July 22.
- And on July 29: Red Flags: II
- When we find clear evidence of serious problems in a project or other collaboration, we sometimes realize that we had overlooked several "red flags" that had foretold trouble. In this Part II of our review of red flags, we consider communication patterns that are useful indicators of future problems. Available here and by RSS on July 29.
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