Balancing the tug of war on Task vs. Process

Is your team engaged in a tug of war between focusing on task vs. focusing on process?

Every team, board or group has to manage this tug of war. Some people tend to focus on task, i.e. “Let’s get things done!” – while some tend to focus on process, i.e. how the decision is being made, or how you’re going to implement a new program.  Sometimes people are so focused on the task (using square wheels) that they don’t notice the suggestion of using round wheels (smile).  As well, we live in a culture that’s focused on results.  If you focus too much on one side, you risk losing the support and engagement of people on the other side.  

Working with a leadership team recently, one member said he didn’t want to take on a leadership role, which surprised me, because he has wonderful leadership skills. When asked for his reasoning, he said: I disagreed with the way we selected a leader, so not putting my name in the hat was my way of protesting the process. What a loss for the team!

There are a few things to consider about this:

  1. The value of the amount of time spent on process has to exceed the cost of the time spent. You have to maintain a balance of time and process.
  2. The team, and the leader, have to discern the nature of the issue at hand – is it critical enough to warrant spending time discussing the process? If not, don’t spend much time on it. Deciding on a capital expense warrants more time clarifying the decision making process; deciding on a meeting agenda probably shouldn’t take much time.

Task AND process is a true polarity – it’s not either/or; it’s a both/and – the team needs to pay attention to both.  We want people who can focus on achieving our goals, and we also want people who are sensitive to how we make decisions.  

Your turn: 

  1. Invite your team to discuss: How can we take advantage of the different styles and approaches of team members to maximize our effectiveness and productivity?
  2. Take a mid-point check-in: Go around the group; have each person state: 
  3. One thing I have found helpful in the first half is xxx.
  4. One thing I would like different in the second half is yyy.
  5. Do not allow discussion; the point is for the team to practice evaluating their own process, and to adjust mid-course.  
  6. Team leader:  Get into the habit (if you’re not already doing this) of asking:  Is the process clear?  Are we clear on how the deliberation or the decision making is going to proceed?
  7. At the end of the discussion, ask the group:  “Is there anyone who had something they wanted to say but held back?  Would you be willing to share that now?”

The goal is to be inclusive, and to ensure buy-in to the decision and action steps.  These steps will help you build team cohesion, where people feel included and feel safe speaking up.  Let me know how it goes!


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