Crisp or Squishy?

This year will soon be over.

Yes, I know it's January and we have the whole year stretching out ahead of us, but this year - just like last year - will fly by.  We want (we need) to get a lot of stuff done this year, and we need people to work together to do it.  But there's a way of collaborating that leads to progress, and there's a way that leads to frustration.  And much of it hinges on what we say to each other.

How often have you sat in a meeting where someone said, "We'll need to talk to (Vendor A/Customer B/Partner C) about that," and everyone agreed... and then moved on?  The typical outcome from that statement is: Nothing.  The next time you met, the topic probably came up, and everyone agreed that you really needed to talk to _______.  And that happened until either the opportunity was lost or someone got crisp and said, "I'll talk to them and let you know what I find out next week when we meet."

I've invested a lot of life in cross-functional team efforts.  I sigh as I write that because they can be incredibly powerful, fast and effective... and they can be incredibly limp, slow and frustrating.  The difference is often not the caliber of talent; it's simply the team's tolerance for squishy statements.

Squishy: He hasn't responded yet.

Crisp: I checked with him yesterday.  If I don't hear back by the end of the week, I'll run him to ground and let you know by next Wednesday what's up.

 

Squishy: It's probably going to be too expensive.

Crisp: I'll find out the difference in price and shoot everyone an email so we can be thinking about whether it's feasible before our next meeting.

 

Squishy: When we get to that point, we'll have to talk to our packaging vendor.

Crisp: I'll set a reminder for myself to talk to them when we hit that milestone and let you all know what I find.

Squishiness squashes execution, even among well-meaning people.  Important opportunities lie fallow, problems go unresolved, and morale sinks.

It's a shame, because Crispness doesn't require much.  We don't have to be ruthless or edgy.  We just need to explicitly address the natural next step: "OK, it sounds important.  So who will do it... when will you do it... how will we handle it?"  And that's usually enough.  The people have the ability, the team can figure it out, and the explicit statement of responsibility, scope and timing ("I've got this...") is adequate motivation for the owner to get it done.

I'll admit that for those accustomed to Squishiness, Crispness is a little uncomfortable at first.  It brings a slight chill to the air, and we might squint in the glare of the obvious.  But it blows away that energy-sapping, humid fog of "Are we getting anywhere or just talking?"

We can't slow the year, but eleven months of crisp collaboration will find us much more satisfied with its outcome.