We all have to-do lists, tasks that have been assigned to us. The list is always longer than we have time to complete and the list keeps growing. The tasks that get done, however, are the ones we commit to. And the tasks we commit to usually begin in a very different way than someone adding a new task to our list. Commitment requires a real agreement by the performer to get it done on time. How a team performs depends on how well team members create and keep their agreements. So how do we distinguish between assignments and commitments?
The smallest element of work is not a task; it’s a conversation. Commitments can be easily distinguished from assignments by looking at the quality of the conversation going on between the requester and the performer.
The flow of the commitment conversation starts with a request, then the two parties make an explicit two-way agreement, the performer delivers on the agreement, and the requester closes the loop by saying if they got what they expected. Nothing hard to understand here, but this is NOT how most people actually work. More often, one can observe sloppy requests and slippery deliveries. Tasks are assigned with no explicit feedback and acceptance by the performer that they will get it done by a certain time, deliveries are slid in more or less as expected, and there is no acceptance by the requester expressing satisfaction or not.
If you’re interested in improving your team’s execution, and at the same time improving task ownership and accountability, start paying attention to the conversations between requesters and performers.