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7 Steps to Closure
   From High Performance Teamwork and Built on Trust training courses

The 7 Steps is one of the high performance skill sets clients learn from Learning Center.

Effective teamwork begins the instant you begin any interaction, whether in person, through the electronic media or through the design of a product some unknown party will eventually use.

A successful interaction is defined by two criteria. First, did the interaction end with closure—meaning all the relevant parties know who is going to do what when. And second, does that closure accommodate some degree of success for all involved, beginning with the customer and working back to include all parties to the interaction, regardless of differing agendas, priorities or apparent incentives.

Most organizations have a random closure culture, meaning that interactions sometimes close and sometimes do not. The culture of these organizations has grown up randomly, not designed and driven specifically to cause closure in every interaction. The result is "closure by coincidence," depending on who is interacting, the circumstances and the workloads. When closure doesn't occur, them vs. us conflicts result, especially in passionate, fast growing organizations.

A few organizations choose to drive culture, both top-down and bottom-up. This means the organization provides both the atmosphere and the skills to encourage closure in every single interaction. These organizations make it a point to model closure from the top and to instill that kind of leadership throughout the company. We'll call these exceptional companies Leadership Organizations.

Chances are your competition is a Random Organization. This creates a great opportunity for a competitive edge. While competitive edge resulting from best technology is critical, it can and eventually will be copied and bested. Competitive edge that results from great personnel is also priceless, but eventually can be stolen. When the organization adds culture to its competitive profile, the edge becomes more lasting. It is very difficult to copy the unique personality of your workforce, now cohesive around the intention of creating closure, trust and coordination among the disparate functions and locations of the organization.

1.   Clarify the problem.
Start by identifying the specific situation. List all the problems, challenges, questions, misunderstandings and non-closures and list the consequences of not getting closure. If possible, include the actual dollar cost in terms of lost time, lost productivity, missed opportunities, etc. List the personal costs to you of non-closure, including frustration, burnout, lost personal opportunity, etc. Finally, identify how - by action, inaction or both - you have been part of the problem in the non-closure situation.

Common causes for not getting to closure include:

  • Procrastination. Putting off that which looks painful or hopeless never results from being busy; it is always an issue of avoidance. Never accept "I'm too busy" as an excuse. Look deeper to see what potential pain or difficulty you are avoiding. When you look deeper and see the pain, you start to see a habit emerge. It's critical to discover for yourself the habit that underlies the avoidance behavior. It takes courage to have the fear and go through it anyway.

  • Being rigid and demanding. Some habits are not fear based. People often project an image or style they aren't aware of. In fact, the style they are projecting is an invitation to the other person to act out of fear rather than toward the vision. When you're rigid and inflexible, it invites (not causes) the other person to change the content of what they are telling you.

  • Avoiding conflict.

    2.   Vision.
    Create a vision, a word picture of the best outcomes in these relationships where you aren't getting closure. Be brief but very specific. "I want better communication" is not specific enough. Instead, it needs to be something like, "I want better communication in these areas. Better communication in these areas would lead to closure in this specific instance. I will know we have gotten closure in this specific instance because I will see such and such."

    3. Communication.
    Conduct closure communications.

    There are two kinds of communications. In prevailing communication, you want your viewpoint to prevail over the other person's. In understanding communication, you want to understand the other viewpoint, and to be understood.

    Prevailing conversations cause us to get less intelligent because each person sees things only from their own point of view. Understanding conversations make us smarter because they allow us to see enough different viewpoints that we get a real picture of what is going on. This is like the difference between changing a line in a blueprint and moving the walls after the building is constructed.

    To reach closure effectively, practice it on something that is important, current and needs resolution. Sit down and have the communication. This requires knowing how to ask questions and having good listening skills. Most questions contain assumptions that invite negative, defensive responses. "Why are you always late?" is an assumptive question. If your goal is to prevail and be right, then ask presumptive questions. If your goal is to get a closure, ask non-assumptive questions, such as, "How are we doing on our timeline?"

    4.  Consensus.
    Find the moment of attitude conversion.

    During the communication, there will come a moment when the air has cleared, when a critical mass of the parties see the potential for win/win closure. This "moment" is not subtle and not fleeting. It is clearly recognizable and only requires that you look for the moment during or after a thorough, efficient communication in step 3.

    This moment of clarity—again, when people experience the possibility of win/win—is the time to seize for action, not before and not after. Now is the time to devise strategies.

    5.  Devise Strategies.
    Make the action plan.

    The Random Organization attempts to devise strategies before Steps 1-4 have been completed, bypassing potential discomfort or conflict and inadvertently subverting the entire process. Even if closure is achieved under these circumstances, chances are the result will be win/lose or that promises made will not have real commitment. The old labor management wars show this clearly: when the company goes straight to contract "negotiations" without first establishing a win/win attitude through Steps1-4, the contract may get signed while both sides continue to store ammunition for the next battle.

    In an environment of trust, most action plans are really business proposals that account for buy-in strategies, projected resource needs, probable impact and risk/reward analysis. Even simple closure agreements are best rendered in writing.

    6.  Distribute Accountabilities.
    How to make and receive promises.

    Commitments happen every day. Some are effective and result in accountability. Some are not effective and do not result in full accountability. There is no mystery about which is which. The difference in performance is staggering-soft commitments are one of the most expensive mistakes that a team can make. A commitment is a skill that everyone needs to have, and requires a specific atmosphere and specific training. A commitment is a condition of no conditions. "I'll be here at 9:00 if the traffic is normal" is not a commitment because it has a condition. A commitment is an unconditional promise, not a guarantee, that always involves risk and some degree of unknown.

    In the Leadership Organization, senior management leads in several ways:

  • It models commitment behavior.

  • It is explicitly accountable to the rest of the organization for its commitments.

  • It provides the true gift of performance pressure balanced with acknowledgment.

  • It provides specific guidelines concerning the desired culture of closure, and works the guidelines down and back up the organization, inviting buy-in and improvement, and,

  • It provides the training required for the critical mass of the workforce to understand effective promises and how to reach closure in 100% of its interactions.

    When these elements are missing, a Random Organization results. In these organizations, the pressure resulting from growth often results in uncommunicated conditions or reservations: people saying "yes" and meaning "maybe." These false commitments result in missed accountabilities, micro-management and credibility gaps that extend directly to the customer.

    Your credibility with your customer cannot exceed your credibility with each other.

    7.   Handle Slippage.
    There are two kinds of slippage, the kind resulting from an initially soft commitment and the kind resulting from a firm commitment that ran into reality. Both must be addressed immediately. The most expensive error in dealing with marginal performance is to ignore it and hope it will improve. This contributes to an atmosphere of denial and non-closure (people responding to others' needs with "yes" but with no timeline promised).

    The best way to deal with slippage is immediately and respectfully. The non-assumptive question "What happened?" is far more effective than an initial accusation or even the question "Why?", either of which can invite defensiveness and delay progress. "What happened?" is the beginning of a problem-solving collaboration, which will create leverage and new learning - - which the Leadership Organization consistently seeks.

    Having the real status information on the table facilitates intelligent choices, which are four:

    1. End the commitment to the accountability, or this person's involvement;

    2. Change the commitment, for instance by changing the timeline or resource allocation;

    3. Re-commit to the original accountability and timeline, or;

    4. Ignore the situation and hope it will go away (Disaster Choice).

    Once choices are confirmed, the parties might render the new plan into writing, as a gesture of trust and to incorporate the new learning from this process.

    To apply these steps to a real team action plan, click here for a Closure Planning Form.

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