Drive Hard for Results? Ask These 3 Questions When Your Team Comes Up Short

You’ve been recognized for your drive for results, for your ability to set goals for yourself and your team, and for your consistent delivery on high expectations. Your management, your peers, and your team frequently cite this drive for results as a strength. But sometimes, when driving for results is a particularly strong characteristic, stakeholders may also identify it as an area for development – an example of strength in excess.

You have seen and heard that your personal drive for results can motivate and challenge some team members to achieve aggressive goals. On the other hand, it may trigger stress for some, especially when expectations are not met. These team members may unfairly feel they let you and others down. They may become defensive in debriefing with you the missed deadline or target. They may miss the learning opportunity for problem-solving that will enable them to elevate their performance in the future.
While these “post-mortem” meetings with a member of your team or the entire team may be intended to get to root cause, to push harder, and to challenge more, the questions that you as the leader ask may make all the difference in outcomes. When falling short leads you to ask “why” as in:

“Why didn’t you accomplish goal?”
“Why did it take so long?”
“Why didn’t you do x?”
and so forth

You may find out the immediate reason for the failure. However, you may lose a degree of team member development and engagement for the longer term.

When results fall short of your aggressive expectations, try asking these three questions instead:

What do you believe went well?
Even in missing a deliverable, the actions or behaviors a team member takes toward the goal that were clearly positive are worth acknowledging. These should be noted, recognized, and captured for leveraging in future situations. Asking this question immediately removes the tendency for the conversation with your team member to take a defensive turn.

What did you learn that will enable a better outcome going forward?
This question helps a team member focus on discerning not only what happened in the immediate situation, but more importantly, what can be done about the issues or obstacles to remove or mitigate them going forward. When a team member can clearly articulate this learning, he or she will most likely take appropriate accountability for their role in addressing in the future.


Removing barriers and/or supporting your team member with coaching will go a long way to building engagement and performance for the longer term. And, most likely the results you are driven to achieve.