Carbon monoxide monitors are required in nearly every state in the U.S. Largely because carbon monoxide isn’t something you can see. It’s something you detect when things have progressed too far. When you’re feeling dizzy, weak, experiencing headaches, or even violently throwing up. When the symptoms plague you, it’s then and only then you’ll stop to wonder, “Wait…what could this be? Is it…?”

Lack of clarity among teams is kind of like carbon monoxide. We don’t see it visibly at the onset. But if you are astute enough, you can see, hear, and feel the symptoms of it all too painfully. You just might also be feeling dizzy from the whirlwind of tasks, weak from the exorbitant amount of hours you’ve been working each week, and experiencing headaches from the constant crises you are managing what feels like every hour.

Convinced yet?

Allowing a lack of clarity to exist in our team space is a silent killer. Or perhaps not so silent if you’re willing to listen for it.

But what inhibits clarity? Surely, if we understood the direct impact lack of clarity created, we’d be strong opponents of it in the workplace. Right?

You’d think so. But the key inhibitors of clarity are all too common companions in the workplace.

I’ll respond while I’m in the next meeting.
I have a pile of deadlines that are all “super urgent.”

We’ve all heard those statements, or worse, we’ve made them ourselves. Each points to the royal prioritization of quantity over quality. Sure, these things all matter, but equally important is the clarity with which you proceed from task to task.

I learned this keenly when the team I was a part of was starting up an agency and we went from 0 jobs to 100+ jobs in what felt like no time flat. Suddenly, we had to not only get jobs in the market but we had to ensure our standard of excellence accompanied each. Honestly, I failed early in that season to set my team up for success. I wore the badge of “we’re so busy” and “this is most effective” to pardon my shorthand strategic direction. But that didn’t help me or the team in the long run. I was quickly confronted with the ramifications of throwing the ball too early to a teammate without properly equipping them to know their role, my expectations, and the vision for the project. This created a lot of downstream work that ultimately, I didn’t have time for. I didn’t have time for:

  • Adding more definition to a brief
  • Many impromptu Zoom meetings to “get on the same page”
  • Reworking things at stages when there wasn’t time for rework
  • Stressing schedules to deliver on time due to all the extra back and forth

One week I finally stepped back. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I started tracking the time in my days to see where I was absorbed, and then validating if that was in accordance with my highest and best use. SPOILER: It wasn’t aligned at all. A whopping 70% of my time (and stress) was coming from catching the after effects of poorly executed beginnings.

In a world where busyness will continue to be the norm, how do we rise above and create cultures of clarity that help everyone on the team win?

It boils down to two things:

  1. Ask Better Questions
  2. Use a Framework for Clarity

Ask Better Questions
Questions are so important. Asking the right questions is like striking gold.

So what are the “right” questions to ask? Questions that illuminate the grey areas. Generally, questions that do the following help pull a team together onto the same page:

  • Pull forward context (what is driving the initiative/project/etc.)?
  • Dispel ambiguity
  • Keep the end goal in mind

Sometimes, we don’t get to these questions right out of the gate. Sometimes, these questions take iterations.

I’ve often found our first question isn’t the real question we’re trying to get answered. Sheepishly, we pose an introductory question to test the waters so that we don’t look silly or worse, dumb. We then believe, “if I have this answer then I’ll figure out the other question that’s behind that.”

This is where we expose ourselves to the vulnerability of confusion, delays, and misguided efforts. In fast-paced industries like ours, we don’t have time for these.

But the truth is, refining our question-asking approach not only sharpens our minds, but conveys to our colleagues the depth in which we are wrestling through things to gain a CLEAR understanding. And that’s the gold we’re after as teams. Be on the same page, at the same time, chasing the same goal, making the best use of everyone’s time.

Getting there is possible, but it will require you to become comfortable with asking questions and then learning to refine how you ask questions that get you (and the team) further, faster.

Use a Framework for Clarity
Being in the direct marketing space for so much of my career has shaped me. Responsible for 200+ campaigns a year, strategic briefs are a bedrock of how I communicate with direct and supporting teams. And as laughable as it is, they’ve become a consistent framework of thinking that I’ve employed to provide clarity to the teams I lead.

Elements of a strong framework for clarity include:

  • The Goal: What is the bottomline goal? (Lead with this. You can tell me a process all day long, but it won’t stick until I understand what it’s intended to do and why that matters.)
  • Expectations: How is each key player expected to contribute and engage?
  • Timelines: When is this project/initiative/etc. going to take place?
  • Audience: Who is the key beneficiary of your project/initiative/etc.?
  • Key Performance Indicators: How will you measure success?
  • Resource: What’s available to help the team succeed? (Your time? Training?)

Put in the Time
Creating greater clarity within our teams isn’t rocket science. It does cost you on the front end, but it pays out on the back end. As long as you are willing to be a student of how you ask and leverage questions, as well as mindfully adhere to a framework of clarity, you can infuse this efficiency multiplier into your daily work and leadership.

As it is with all things worth doing, this will cost you something. For many, clarity is the upfront cost they aren’t willing to pay. Largely because we struggle to quantify the value it brings to our work, our lives, and our relationships. As a leader, we must prioritize, nay, champion, the value of clarity in our role with our teams. Exemplifying a value for clarity is not only kind, like Brene Brown says, but empowering. When we take the extra time required to set up everyone for success by providing a clear vision for the future, project, etc., we equip them with the resources they need to maximize the value their role contributes to the whole.

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