How To Foster Commitment – Not Just Compliance – On Your Team

How to foster commitment – not just compliance – on your team

The dynamic shifts at this time of the yearand it’s often a great time to stop and reassess. Where’s our focus? What are our priorities? How am I leading the team?

Some leaders foster compliance: teams of people who work within well defined (yet often unspoken) boundaries.  They mind their own business. They comply with organisational systems and processes. It may be agreeable and well-intentioned – but the team is unlikely to meet its potential.

Other leaders generate commitment – commitment to organisational values, initiatives, commitment to the people who work for them and commitment to getting results.

Most organisations are run along compliance lines and the shift from fostering a compliance culture to fostering a commitment culture is difficult: Here are some ideas that can help:

1)    Give team members the space to address the current reality – what’s it like right now to be in this organisation/on this team/selling this service?  Future-focused initiatives like determining the values, coming up with big hairy audacious goals, a re-org, are compelling, exciting and full of possibility – but there can be a sense that they are not achievable.  On compliant teams, where there is no room for the “yes, but” doubts that need to be expressed, then there can be no real commitment. Teams need to sit together and address the reality of what’s happening right now – with activity, results, relationships, initiatives – without needing to sugar-coat or downplay.

2)    The leader needs to listen with curiosity. Feedback is all around. Sometimes it comes with a ‘here is feedback’ label. Sometimes it comes through silence, a miscommunication, a lost sale, an invitation that does not come, an open door that nobody walks through, a conversation with too much agreement. When we start to notice the feedback that is all around us and we can get curious (not upset) about it – then we can start to gather really useful data (feedback) and go to work on it. And, much as I hate these clichés… feedback is the breakfast of champions.

3)    The leader needs to create the space where team members can honour their own concerns, questions and “yes, buts”. People nowadays are so frightened of being labelled ‘negative’ or ‘resistant to change’ that they have started to ignore the intelligence of their own bodies and intuitions – the hesitation, the gut feel, the discomfort, the confusion. They are then running on “what should be” intelligence. Yes, we should be more productive, energetic, focused, empathetic, tough, stop smoking, eat more healthily … But there is a reason why we are not. When we cannot acknowledge our concerns, then we cannot be fully honest. And when we can’t be honest, we can’t fully engage. If a team is strong enough and can hear what team members say, then it is even possible to ‘disagree and commit’ – but when we have not been heard, we cannot commit.

4)    Stay the pace. A team that has been compliant for years will not become committed overnight. Leaders who commit to changing their style can become frustrated when they don’t get the results they want – the discomfort of silence (or argument) at meetings, the frustration of team members not taking advantage of the great opportunity that is being offered… It’s easy to go back to old ways – now armed with a great excuse “they prefer when I tell them what to do”. You’re turning an ocean liner around. It takes time. We talk too much about creating vision – we need to talk more about the challenge of sticking with it.

Does this sound negative? It’s not meant to. Being with a team as they have the experience of being able to unleash all of the real, everyday, ordinary challenges, concerns, difficulties and worries that they have been holding onto is incredibly positive. Mindsets are shifted, dots are joined, truth is spoken. The focus automatically turns to activity, goals, relationships, behaviour, innovations, risks. There is a sense of momentum and excitement because the future is being built on solid foundations – and that breeds real commitment.

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