If your team has twenty or thirty items on its “to do” list, we have one word of advice for you: don’t. Don’t scramble to try to get everything done at once. That is a surefire recipe for increased stress, wasted energy, and missed goals. High-performing teams recognize that to go fast, they have to go slow. Time is finite and resources are finite – therefore, team members need to clarify and understand their priorities and focus their efforts on those tasks.
Clarifying priorities is tough. People resist because of the tyranny of the urgent. They push back because “everything is important.” We understand that some matters are urgent. We understand that everything may be, in fact, important. Prioritization does not mean that important tasks are ignored. It simply means that matters are addressed in their order of importance.
Clarifying and understanding priorities enables teams to zero in on a few near-term goals instead of scattering their attention across dozens of competing objectives. Consequently, those select priorities get done. Then, the team is free to concentrate on the next few items – and get them done. Teams that take the time and make the effort to set their priorities find that they can get everything done by not trying to do everything at once.
Having worked with hundreds of corporate teams, we affirm from firsthand experience the power that teams experience and exhibit when they work together to consider an array of goals, arm wrestle with one another over which ones matter most right now, and boil those down to just a few priorities. These teams have made a distinct choice about what to work on and what to not work on. That choice carries with it tremendous freedom to pour energy into the selected priorities.
High-performing teams not only clarify what their priorities are – they also define what those priorities look like. The most common method of doing so is to make the priorities SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timebound. Establishing these details ensures that the entire team is clear about what is expected and when they have been successful.
Having said all this, it is important to remember that team priorities are not set in stone. Priorities are a reflection of your best thinking at the time they were established. You have to be willing to let go of a priority if internal or external factors require you to pivot as a team. Failing to discard priorities that are no longer relevant means that you will be channeling time, money, and resources away from the opportunities that should become your new priorities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made this truth abundantly clear to companies across the globe. In a crisis, priorities frequently shift. For instance, one of our clients sold items manufactured overseas. They lost 95% of their revenue basically overnight due to the coronavirus. However, they did not go under as a business because they were able to pivot their priorities rapidly to focus on importing personal protective equipment (PPE) instead of their usual product lines. Their overall revenue for the year will probably be higher than originally anticipated because they were able to clarify their priorities based on how the market environment changed.
It can be hard to let go of a priority – especially if your team has worked hard in the first place to set that priority. But priorities are there to serve your business. High-performing teams know this, and therefore they know that clarifying and understanding priorities is not an action to be checked off on an annual basis at a strategic planning session. It is a best practice that is leveraged throughout the year to keep focused on success amid a sea of change.