There is No Them

Lessons on leadership from the world of game development

Three Guidelines That Will Make Your Team Better

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Every people manager or leader is concerned with helping their team members be more successful. Regardless of what kind of work you are in, or how experienced your team is, there are thee simple guidelines that when used together can help every employee be more successful. Adopting what the guidelines proscribe, for yourself and your team, will improve your overall productivity and your team’s happiness.

On a regular basis (weekly/monthly):

  1. Say what you are going to do.
  2. Do it.
  3. Hold yourself accountable to everyone (whether you got it done or not).

Lets explore each of these a bit to understand them better. Then we will dive deeper into them, and show how the guidelines are effective on multiple levels.

Say what you are going to do.

Being asked to articulate what you plan to do is a pretty fair request. Generally speaking most people have a good handle on what they are doing, so formally communicating it has very little cost. For the few folks that might not already have a plan about what they are going to do this first guideline makes it explicitly clear that its their responsibility to own this, and not something that is going to be done for them.

How much freedom someone has to determine what they do are going to is up to the organization. This guideline works even if the tasks are very tactical in nature, because the larger issues of direction are dictated to the team.

Do it.

Having communicated what you are going to do the next obvious thing is to actually do it, or at least make a responsible effort to do it. Sometimes we don’t get as much done as we hoped, or we didn’t account for some dependency. This part of the guideline is about taking appropriate and reasonable actions towards getting it done.

Hold yourself accountable to everyone (whether you got it done or not).

Sometimes we actually do what we say we are going to do, in which case this part of the guideline is about making sure the right people know about it. We cannot assume the right people will know, somehow, if we don’t tell them. Good work that gets done without the right people knowing is not very productive work.

Sometimes, for whatever reason, we can’t get done the thing we said we would do. In this case the guideline tells us its best for folks to hear it from us first, then later some other way. Inevitably people will find out, and I believe it’s better to own the message (when its good and when its bad) then to hope no one notices. Being known as someone who owns their victories and their shortcomings goes a long way towards ensuring you are respected and valued.

Taking a Closer Look

For these reasons alone this set of guidelines makes sense. But, these guidelines are effective on more than just the surface level. Buried in them are the fundamental principles that I, and others, believe are the primary motivators for why people excel in their jobs. Lets look at them again.

Say what you are going to do.

Having the responsibility of communicating what you are going to do implies that you have a say in what you are going to do. The guideline doesn’t say ‘tell people what your boss told you to do’. Having a say in what you are doing in you job, even a little bit, turns out to be a strong motivator (having more say being more motivating, but some say is better than no say). This Autonomy, to decide what you do in your job, or how you do it, is one of the three motivators of success that Daniel Pink describes in his book “Drive” (check out for more information).

Do it.

More than just staying busy, humans like to do things well. The satisfaction of a job well done is a real thing; there is something about how our brain is wired that rewards us when we do a good job. Pink labels this motivator as Mastery, and his book describes a number of good arguments about how humans seek opportunities for mastery. Owning the responsibility to do what you say you are going to do brings it to a very personal level, and just happens to set up numerous opportunities for Mastery.

Hold yourself accountable to everyone (whether you got it done or not).

Telling people what you did, or didn’t do, presumes that the work you are doing actually matters. And in cases where the work actually doesn’t matter (busy work), the feedback from telling everyone about it goes a long way towards correcting the process used to choose the work, resulting in the work ‘mattering’ in the future. As you may have guessed by now, this part of the guideline delivers Pink’s third primary motivator, Purpose. Purpose is doing work that matters, or doing work for a reason bigger than ourselves. Holding yourself accountable, whether successful or not, goes a long way towards ensuring that the work you do has Purpose.

This set of guidelines turns out to serve multiple purposes, all of them beneficial. Individuals following the guidelines will benefit, and the organizations they are in will benefit. Doing these three things well, across your enterprise, will improve your organizations success, and your team’s morale.

Side note: long before I had read Pink’s book I believed in these guidelines. But I don’t think I really understood why these guidelines were so effective until Pink beautifully articulated the three primary motivators of Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. That the motivators he discusses happen to be ‘inside’ these guidelines is something I find fascinating to this day.


Written by joshuahoward

March 15, 2011 at 5:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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