Three ways to look at perfection

Mar 22 2012 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

We often like to think of ourselves as perfectionists. And even if we're not, it's very difficult to say that out loud. Who wants to be thought of as someone with low standards? But does everyone on your team have the same idea of what "perfect" is? Turns out there are (at least) three ways of defining what perfect is.

The answer is more than semantic. It impacts how people work together, how they hold each other accountable and helps decode behavior in a way that can have long-term impact.

In his book Lead by Greatness- How Character Can Power Your Success, author David Lapin breaks it down. While he's talking about culture in the larger sense, it applies at work too:

Seeking the perfection of objects and systems.
These people are obsessed with making things work. Equipment, processes and systems should work with zero defects, 100 percent effectiveness and on time. (I'm generalizing, but for our purposes, think your stereotypical engineering type).

These folks tend to focus on function and task. Getting it right is paramount, and if someone's feelings get hurt in the process, well that's just unfortunate. "Good enough" isn't, and it jolly well shouldn't be.

Seeking perfection in ideology.
Folks who subscribe to this world view tend to be passionately committed to a philosophy (it can be social, religious, scientific or just "the way we do things around here". I've met many people who are so into their company's mythology that anything new is automatically suspect, if not outright heretical. These folks tend to be very unrelenting in their quest for orthodoxy and getting everyone on the same page.

Seeking perfection in relationships.
There are many people who believe that harmony and team unity are the most important thing. There are no "right answers", just those that people can agree on or not. They tend to focus on compromise and collaboration rather than on getting the absolute best answer.

So, let's say one team member is most concerned about keeping peace on the team. They might ask someone to tone down their criticism of another team member, or ask them to "go along to get along". This isn't a bad thing, but to someone who is and ideologue, it comes across as weak-willed and unprincipled. The technical perfectionist might interpret that as a lack of standards or concern for the quality of the product.

Sometimes these interpretations are kept to ourselves, but they color how we work together and how we assess the work of our teammates. Is someone's quality low because they don't care about standards, or do they need training and coaching? Is someone asking you to tone down your negativity because it's damaging the team, or do they just lack the moral fiber to stand up for themselves (and you)?

As a team, you should discuss exactly what "perfect" means and why. If you aren't sure where strong criticism comes from, make sure you examine what people are saying and explicitly seek clarity, instead of taking a guess at it. Often we assume that people look at the world the same way we do, and it just as often bites us somewhere delicate and best left un-bitten.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

Wayne Turmel has been writing about how to communicate effectively in remote and virtual environments for more than 20 years. In 2016, he merged with The Kevin Eikenberry Group, to create The Remote Leadership Institute, and now serves as Master Trainer and Coach to the Kevin Eikenberry Group. Wayne is also is the author of more than 15 books, including The Long-Distance Teammate and The Long-Distance Team.