A lot of people are grateful to see the backside of 2020. Collectively we can agree it has been unusually stressful at least, and cataclysmic for individuals and businesses in many cases. It’s natural, then, that we are hopeful for the year to come. But wishing doesn’t make it so. What will determine the success of 2021, or at least our attitude to it, is having the right mindset going in.
January 1 means absolutely nothing in a physical or cosmological sense. Yet it looms large every 365.25 days. We obsess about it, plan our work around it, and even use it to make momentous life changes. (Let the purging of the COVID 19 pounds commence!) It’s arbitrary (we have to start and end somewhere, right?), illogical (if you’re going to start a year in the middle of winter, it should be on the solstice, not three weeks later) and inconvenient (really, a week after Christmas?).
But that doesn’t mean marking the time is useless. In fact, it can be crucial to your success.
The date itself isn’t important. After all, if you’re Jewish, or Muslim, or Hindu, or almost anything else in this world, January first isn’t even the real start of the year. What every culture does recognize, though, is that at some point in the year we need to stop, reflect on what’s happened and gird our loins for what looms ahead.
In that spirit of reflection, here are five questions all team leaders should ask themselves. They are largely the same questions we should ask ourselves yearly anyway, but a couple have particular meaning this year. Seriously, grab a note pad and a pen and block an hour or so and begin:
How are we doing with our milestones and task completion? What’s working and what’s not?
Yes, you’re tracking your milestones and deliverables; it’s right there on your dashboard or monthly numbers. A number of companies survived the move to work from home surprisingly well. The second half of that question is important going forward. Why are you strong in some areas, less so in others? What can you do about it? Where should you be focusing your efforts? And what have you learned about the importance of some of those metrics. Are there things that didn’t get done, and that’s okay? Did you find new metrics that were better indicators of real productivity? Build those into your dashboards and ditch what didn’t add value.
Are there individuals on the team who excel? Who’s struggling? Why?
It seems easy to identify the top and bottom performers on most teams. The important thing is to identify why these differences exist. Is it attitude, skill, training? How can you leverage the strength of your top folks to help the rest? Are there ways to share knowledge, delegate tasks or create opportunities for team members to mentor each other?
Most importantly, this year will have ripple effects on team morale and employee engagement. Not only have many people become more self-reliant (which is a pretty good thing) but there may be damage to working relationships and team morale that will need conscious repair as you start to come back together. Also, if you haven’t done a mental wellness check on your folks to see how they are holding up, it’s time to do that in safe, one-on-one coaching calls.
Are the tools we’re using working as expected? What needs to change?
We are usually too busy using tools to examine how well we use them. Take a moment and ask yourself; does the way we use email, Zoom, Teams or anything else get the desired results? Do we need to upgrade our tools or our skills?
What is the best thing I did this year, and why does it matter?
If you’re like me, it’s easy for honest reflection to turn into obsessing over your faults. Turn the question on its head; what’s the best thing you did this year? Why was that so effective? How can you do more of it? How can you apply that same success to other areas of your team and your work?
What is the one thing (even though it’s probably impossible) I could do that would fundamentally change how we work?
We know you have no budget, no idea if and when you’re going back to the office, your people are mutinous and your bosses don’t know what they’re doing. Venting is great but doesn’t really help anything. If you could do one thing to make things better, what would it be? Is there some small piece of that in your control? What is one concrete step you can take in the next week to help you achieve that goal?
There’s nothing magical or scientific about these five questions. I could easily swap these for five other areas of inquiry. There are two things that really matter:
1. You take the time to actually ask yourself these questions and ponder the answers, and:
2. Your questions turn into action. Even small actions can have outsized results.
We’ve all been paddling as hard as we can to get through this year. We need to give ourselves permission to take the time out for reflection. If it takes an arbitrary date on the calendar to make that happen, so be it.