Have you ever been tasked to lead a cross-functional project at work? You may have encountered multiple stakeholders–all believing that their viewpoint is the most valuable–competing to have their own needs met instead of collaborating to make progress. My business partner and wife, Janice Fraser, and I have seen this play out countless times in our experience guiding companies through transformative processes and projects.
Over the last 20 years, we’ve worked with both early- and growth-stage startups, Fortune 100 mega-corps, government agencies, and even the White House. Not only do they experience the same problems, but the same tools and techniques work to solve them. We’ve seen teams struggle with having (sometimes wildly) differing understandings of the problems they’re facing, misalignment on goals, team structures that impede decision-making, and far too onerous decision thresholds.
These observations led us to write the book, Farther, Faster, and Far Less Drama, outlining the Four Leadership Motions™ we’ve been using for years with our teams to enable them to get over these hurdles and make extraordinary progress every day. I use these motions in my daily work at VMware Tanzu Labs, partnering with organizations to enable their teams to accelerate the delivery of modern apps.
Leadership Motion 1: Orient honestly
To Orient Honestly is to get real with where you are now and where you are going, including the ugly bits that make this moment challenging. It’s important to assess and capture the current situation. Doing this before anything else allows you to understand the complexities of any situation so you can make informed choices as you move forward. After all, you can’t know where to go if you don’t know where you are right now.
At Tanzu Labs, Orienting Honestly looks like continuous, iterative, data-driven discovery. We’re constantly running health checks on our operations so we can understand the current landscape. Whether we’re working on new software that we’re building from scratch or a modernization effort, our team members are in communication with both users and clients on a weekly basis, learning and adjusting as they absorb new feedback.
Valuing Outcomes means placing more value on what you want to achieve than on the activities you have planned. Instead of creating outputs, you measure your progress toward shared outcomes and continuously strive to improve how you work as a team.
We do this in a number of ways on our teams, but you can start by working with each team to produce an outcome-oriented roadmap instead of a laundry list of output-focused milestones. This helps everyone release any lingering attachment to “deliverables” and direct their efforts toward goals and results. When we’re building brand new software, our roadmaps don’t even include a fixed scope of feature delivery. Instead, we collectively decide what needs to be accomplished and set about accomplishing it in varied and creative ways. This gives designers, developers, and engineers free rein to use their imaginations.
Leadership Motion 3: Leverage the brains
In order to “Leverage the Brains,” you must involve the right people and ensure they can participate fully and equally. This is trickier than it sounds since plenty of people mistakenly believe they should give input on all decisions.
We keep that tendency in check by building balanced teams. A product manager, a designer, and some engineers will all be dedicated to a single project, and they’ll all sit together and collaborate every day. This highly collaborative work method Leverages the Brains by centralizing all the knowledge and decision-making power within the team. Engineers never have to guess about design questions because their designers are right there, eager to jump in and help.
Labs employees also Leverage the Brains through pair programming: Two engineers sit together with one CPU and talk through the code as they are writing it. With two talented minds working in tandem on the same task, the resulting code comes out cleaner and more robust.
Leadership Motion 4: Make durable decisions
Making Durable Decisions means focusing on making a decision that all can live with rather than going it alone, aiming for perfection, or striving for consensus. This requires scoping the decision appropriately, and making sure that stakeholders understand the nature of the decision and believe in the path forward.
VMware Tanzu Labs teams accomplish this by using the previous three Leadership Motions™as they progress through a project. By Orienting Honestly before doing anything else, focusing on outcomes as planning begins and work starts, and Leveraging the Brains throughout, we are equipped to make decisions that actually stick.
When new clients visit Tanzu Labs, they’re shocked by the speed with which we deploy software. It feels like magic; too quick and too seamless to be real. But what we’re doing isn’t just possible for us, it’s possible for them. Their own internal teams can replicate the fast, innovative results they see our people delivering, and the Four Leadership Motions are the first step.
The Four Leadership Motions can be incredibly helpful in any context, at work or at home, with your team or family. They don’t just drive results among software developers, they help people make extraordinary progress wherever they lead. They go farther, faster, and with far less drama.
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