How to Make Certain Your Team Doesn’t Flatline Before the Finish Line

post by Craig Ross:

When teams lose the heart, focus and energy they need to
succeed, it isn’t pretty.

Imagine you’re running a meeting with two cross-functional teammates:
Chen is participating via video and Ava is sitting at the table across from
you. As the meeting nears its end, you suddenly think to yourself: “I’m not
sure my teammates are committed to our plan. They don’t seem focused, nor are
they making our work a priority.”

Your heart quickens. You are aware of the consequences if
the team doesn’t execute the plan.

If you’ve ever been in this situation, you’re not alone.
We’ve observed many of leaders at all levels who recognize this numbing moment:
The point where the avalanche of competing priorities buries the team, causing
team members to lose focus, commitment, and thus begin to flatline.

This doesn’t have to happen to your team. You can quickly
elevate your team’s attention to what matters most and mobilize hearts and
minds forward to the finish line.

First, what do many people do in the scenario described
above when they sense a lack of engagement in teammates? With the best of
intentions, they ask, “So, what do you think? We’re ready to go then, right?”
To which Chen nods his head. (Or was that an interruption in the video feed?) And
Ava lifts her eyes up from her smartphone and replies, “Sure.”

“Good then,” the well-intentioned leader nervously says.
“Let me know if you need my help with anything. And let’s check progress next
week. Okay?”

Chen, however, has already signed off; the screen is black.
Ava smiles as she picks up her laptop, then puts her phone to her ear and
begins a different conversation as she walks out the door. And the numbing gives
way to flatlining; one more objective is heaped on top of countless others.

To save a team from flatlining, we as leaders must not do
what is normal, and must instead do what’s natural. Normal is to get deep into
the details by asking standard, boilerplate questions. You likely recognize
these inquiries:

What has to be done?

How will we get there?

Who will do what?

When and how will we measure progress?

(Oh, and what’s for lunch?)

These questions are essential for great execution. And, they’re
normal: Everyone is asking them everywhere. And that’s the point. Meeting after
meeting, day after day, with functional plans conflicting with the objectives
of other teams…few can sustain the repetitive, low-conscious thinking being
required of them. And this doesn’t even include adding the stress in the lives
of each teammate outside the workplace. Kids, spouses we’d like to see at least
once in a while, aging parents—it is no mystery why people go numb. There
should be little question why in the normal meeting people tune out and the
team flatlines.

To solve this, leaders can and must go beyond the boilerplate
execution questions by making inquiries that research shows naturally make
people think about what matters most.

We’ve found something consistent in the 39 countries we’ve
worked in: People want to think at higher levels. They want to be inspired.
They want to break free from the mundane. And while people recognize the
following five categories of questions that mobilize hearts and minds, they
also agree that they’re not asking them enough. Not even close.

Consider the meeting with Chen and Ava. Imagine what would
have happened when the leader of that meeting would have accomplished by asking
questions like these.

Classes of Questions that Trigger Hearts and Minds


·     “Quick guys, before we leave let me ask you:
How is delivering on our plan entirely aligned with our purpose as a team?”

“How does delivering excellence on our plan
communicate to the rest of the organization that we’re delivering on our


·  “What do you see our customer doing differently
or better because of our ability to deliver successfully on this project?”

“What will we be thinking and doing more of as
a team as we demonstrate that we are successful?”


“We’ve all got a lot on our plates. Is
delivering on this project a high priority to you? And if so, why?”

·    “We all know the external rewards for
delivering this project successfully. What I’d like to know: What intrinsically
motivates you to give your best now?”


·    “How will we know we’re functioning as one team
as we move forward?”

“What will we agree to do if we discover we’re
behind schedule or challenged in our responsibility?”


“What ultimately is it that we’re trying to
achieve as a team even beyond hitting our numbers?”

·    “What is our objective as it relates to how
we’ll function as a team while we deliver on the business imperative?”

These five classes of questions make people think in ways
they often don’t get to during a typical day. This means that using these
questions isn’t normal. But if what’s normal is seeing too many teams flatline
due to the pressure of endless and competing priorities, why keep doing the
same thing? By asking these types of questions, you mobilize hearts and minds,
which causes a higher level of consciousness among the team. This is how you
make sure your team crosses the finish line: mobilize hearts and minds.



is CEO of
Verus Global and
co-author of
Do Big
Things: The Simple Steps Teams Can Take to Mobilize Hearts and Minds, and Make
an Epic Impact
. For 20 years Craig has partnered with C-suite
executives and leadership teams across numerous industries in global
organizations, such as P&G, Alcon, Oceaneering, Cigna, Nestle, Universal,
Ford, and other Fortune 100 companies. Combining a passion for uniting people
and a conviction that organizations achieve extraordinary things through teams,
Craig delivers practical and real-world expertise to those he serves. With his
high-energy and dynamic approach, he equips client-partners with the how to shift their thinking and
actions to drive greater outcomes and activate their greatness.