Soldiers willingly go to dangerous places like Afghanistan to make the world a better place … Why? While all of us are running from a burning building, firefighters run towards the building … Why? Life guards go into dangerous waters to help people … Why? Software teams release software products NOT meeting the needs of users … Why?
I’ve worked with many great teams, and others who never seemed to reach their full potential. When I look back on these experiences the great teams firmly had their eye on one word … “Why?”:
One of the highlights of my career was a particularly challenging project. We were to deliver over 1200 days work in 3 months. Being late was simply not an option as it would have very visible and immediate impacts. So we rallied together a group of 5 employees and 24 contractors. We worked hard, delivered on time, on budget and with the required scope. This team very clearly knew the answer to “Why?”
One of the more challenged teams I’ve worked with was not quite the same experience. They were working to implement a multi-million dollar system at this company. They were continually running over budget and late, customers were dissatisfied with the deliverables, and morale was low on the team. This team not only didn’t know the answer to “Why?” In fact, there was open questioning of the validity of the business case for the project.
People are motivated to do great things when they have autonomy, mastery and purpose (ref: Drive – Daniel Pink). Does your team have the sense of purpose required to do great things? It’s actually very easy to find out … simply ask them “do you know why we’re doing this project?”. Another powerful question I like is “What does done look like?” I’d recommend polling them independently. You might be amazed how diverse the answer will be.
If you ask the question don’t get complacent about easy answers. The answer needs to point directly to the value proposition for your customer. “To save money” isn’t a good answer. Neither is “to sell more licenses”.
In his Ted Talk Simon Sinek talks to us how great leaders inspire action. Are you able to guess what word inspires action? Simon provides some great examples of the good answers to “Why?”.