Can your team perform at a high level? Not without this one thing

If I ask you “How do you make a project happen?”, you might tell me a number of things.

You might say “I just get started and keep going until it’s done”, or “I plan it all out on paper and then break it down into parts”, or “I carry it around in my head and make progress when I can”, or “I keep track of my next actions in a system, and make sure I keep doing them”.

These are all valid answers, but they all presuppose something about you.

These answers all presuppose that you are someone who can maintain an intention for long enough to finish a project. That you have a way of remembering what you’re doing, and continuing to do it, beyond the present moment.

The critical point is carrying an intention through time, and continuing to hold it, at least insofar as you complete the actions the original intention takes.

What would you call it to carry an intention through time?

One way of describing this is: Integrity, or being complete with your word.1

How do you “be complete with your word”? You either do what you say, or you acknowledge when you don’t and clean up the mess.

In that way, you have “completed” what you said, and now it no longer carries forward with you into the future.

When we do not act with integrity, we cannot make our word generate beyond the moment. Performance deteriorates into whatever we feel like doing right now.

There is a hidden problem, called by Jensen as a “Veil of Invisibility” about Integrity, which is “Not having your word in existence when it comes time to keep your word”.

If you can’t remember what you said, and nobody else can, then there is no way to honor your word. You simply cannot be complete with it.

Being Complete With Your Word Requires Tools

Have you ever noticed a great kid excuse for why they didn’t do a chore is “Oh, I forgot”?

It’s because it’s a great excuse. You simply cannot honor your word if you don’t remember.

As you become older, you perhaps make more of an effort to remember what you said you’ll do.

But then, sometimes you still forget, because all the things you’ve said, and all the complexity of those obligations starts to become more than you can handle.

Which leads to the necessity of writing things down.

And when simply writing things down becomes unwieldy, we increasingly need tools to keep track of things we said, the dates we gave, etc, simply to be complete with our word.

The Essence of Integrity

The essential characteristic of Integrity is carrying your word forward in time so that you can honor it.

Now is the only time you can act. Any action requiring more than the barest now requires some form of integrity.

Any sizable undertaking will require tools, internal or external, to truly make it happen over time.

And that requires a commitment to being someone who honors their word.

If you are unable to make and keep commitments, you will simply be ineffective, unless someone else has made a system to manage your actions.

If you want to generate a new reality, you need to commit to doing what you say, and continuing to build on this capability.

High Performing Teams Need Integrity

For any team to perform at a high level, they need to have integrity.

Every team member needs a way of knowing what the intention is from the beginning, where they are in the process, what’s left, what the other team members are doing at a high level, and what their personal commitment is.

There needs to be a way of keeping track of the intention so that I know when I should drop my current task to assist another team member, or when I can make the request to interrupt someone because what I am doing is on the critical path and is blocking progress.

The intention and the plan must all be carried forward, and they must be carried forward in a way that truly facilitates action.

When language on a team breaks down, and people individually are not complete with their word, the whole team cannot reliably be complete with its word unless some team members commit in a special way to carrying the slack.

For a team to create a new reality, the team must honor its word, and make space for accountability.

If a team routinely does not honor its word, the use of language loses its power, and the ability of the team to create disappears.

It is only when a team’s word means something that the team can even have a meaningful discussion where they can plan.

How do you create space for accountability? How can you challenge your team to own this for themselves, so that they can create something they’re proud of?

Integrity Requires Owning The Vision

It all starts with a vision from the team. If they know what they want, they will want to hold themselves accountable to that vision. If instead, it’s happening to them, they may want to hide non-performance, as there’s “nothing in it for them”.

Ultimately, for the team to want integrity with their word, they’ll have to want the word to create the reality. That means they have to be bought into the vision.

Which means that for a team to embrace integrity, they have to embrace the vision. The team has to speak the vision themselves, and make it their own.

Until they own the vision as their own word, they are not going to want to be integrity with it.

Creating integrity, therefore, requires leadership. It requires listening for the future of the team, and building it with them.

If you want to create a high-performing team, help the team write a new future, a future they love and will fight for. And then be ready to fight for it with them, even harder than they will.

At that point, everything will start to work on your team.

  1. See “Integrity: Without it, Nothing Works” for a lot more about this. I have read it multiple times, and keep coming away with new insights. ↩︎

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