Master the three clarities
Confused teams have a hard time achieving their goals. They get distracted by low priority work. They duplicate effort. They notice too late that things fell through the cracks (since nobody knew they were responsible), so deadlines slip, or quality suffers.
Endless emails and chat threads are symptoms of a larger issue: the lack of systematic clarity that enables us to focus on our actual work instead of getting bogged down in reassessing what needs to get done.
- clarity of purpose
- clarity of plan
- clarity of responsibility
Here's why each is important and some concrete steps to achieve them.
❓ Clarity of purpose: start with why
Everyone in your team/project must share a common purpose, a clear understanding of why they are doing whatever they are working on in the first place.
For one, this is practical. Teammates will have to make judgment calls, and the team's purpose provides the context in which to do so effectively.
Clarity of purpose is even more important for motivation, both individual and collective. A team that understands and believes in a common goal is a team that can persevere through difficult challenges.
If you are leading a team, one of the most important things you can do is help your colleagues understand how your team is critical to the project's success, and how individual work contributes to the team's success.
You can start by defining your team's mission statement. But once you have done so, the work to maintain clarity continues indefinitely. Every team meeting, document, project kick-off is an opportunity to repeat the mission and explain how the work is in service of your team's mission.
You will know you have achieved clarity of purpose when everyone on your team can answer these two questions:
- "If we are wildly successful, how will the world be different?" and
- "How is the work you are doing now directly contributing to that success?"
There is no point in moving quickly if we are not all going in the same direction or if the destination isn't worth it.
✅ Clarity of plan: aligning on the "how"
With clarity of purpose, the team knows the destination. With clarity of plan, the team knows how to get there. The plan defines the current best understanding of how best to achieve the mission.
It typically has multiple layers, each getting more detailed until you have connected your overall mission to actionable steps. The appropriate layers will depend on your team's size and scope. If you are leading a whole company or division, your layers might look like this:
- Mission: your team's ambitious goal, your raison d’être. Everyone on the team should know this by heart. For Agilytic, let's repeat it once more: Agilytic's mission is to help organizations reach their goals through the smarter use of data.
- Strategy: a brief high-level approach we are taking to achieve our mission. We regularly refer to it during our team meetings. You should boil this down to five bullet points or less. Ideally, everyone on the team should be familiar with the high-level strategy.
- Objectives: medium-term (e.g., one year) goals. They are ideally measurable. We set a couple of top-level objectives for the company each year. They revolve around customer satisfaction, team size, employee satisfaction, revenue growth, and margin.
- Key results: shorter-term (e.g., quarterly) goals. Key results must be measurable. It is possible to have multiple key results, combining towards one objective. For example, revenue and occupancy ratio are key results that are important and easy to measure.
- Projects: missions (e.g., two weeks to one year) undertaken to achieve the key result. This includes all our client-facing projects, but they also include R&D, recruitment or marketing.
- Tasks: individual steps that one needs to take to execute the project. It is not necessary to enumerate Every. Single. Task. at the beginning of each project. But it is worth writing down what is known or assumed: it forces you to get on one page and think through what is required (we recommend using ClickUp as an actionable “brain dump”).
The above is best done as a collaborative process, and nothing is set in stone. Hopefully, changes to strategy are infrequent, but changes in the set of tasks can change every day as we learn new things about what work is needed.
We use ClickUp to dynamically track a plan within the team. We strongly encourage you to become proficient with it so that everyone can share a single, accurate source of truth for our projects.
👤 Clarity of responsibility: the "who" in charge
A team has clarity of responsibility when they know what exact role they have in executing the plan.
At the most basic level, this requires each part of the plan (from individual tasks to high-level objectives) to have an owner or a directly responsible individual.
When no one is responsible for something, it doesn't get done. When two or more people share responsibility for the same task or objective, it may still not get done, or it may lead to people stepping on each other's' toes.
Clarity of responsibility also entails clear definitions of roles. We maintain a list of all the different domains of expertise and areas of responsibility (AoRs) in the company, who owns them, and precisely what each entail. We have areas of responsibility for everything from various client-facing projects to "Security" to "Sales & Marketing."
There may be whole teams involved in each of these, but there is one responsible individual. For each AoR, we should clearly describe the exact responsibilities and decision-making rights associated with the role. Hence, there is no ambiguity around who's responsible for what.
Stay vigilant, and iterate
As "problem solvers," it is our responsibility to spot where we lack clarity and then work to fix it, one problem at a time.
There will inevitably be situations where colleagues are confused about how their work fits in with an overall strategy. The only way to help is to get back to our values, proactively ask questions (”Is everything clear?”) and solicit questions.
What seems evident to you might not be for your colleague or your client. Ensure you make the most of meetings, documents, or tools to achieve complete clarity and reach the desired outcome.
The more complex projects get, the more clarity becomes critical: it improves a team's ability to execute, change directions confidently, and overall satisfaction. Colleagues have more confidence that they are doing the most important work and understand why it matters.
At the same time, don't get addicted to clarity. It’s important you remain comfortable with ambiguity, as it is part of the discovery and problem-solving process.
Freely adapted from Asana’s excellent How High-Performing Teams Lead with 3 Types of Clarity