In this 7th installment of our 12-part series on the characteristics of breakthrough performance, we examine the importance of completing the past.

Why would high-performing teams spend time dwelling on past mistakes?

Reflecting on your most recent annual meeting, you likely recall that some time was spent reviewing the prior year’s performance, and much time was spent rolling out the upcoming year’s goals. Most businesses (and individuals) see the past as something to quickly put aside so that they can focus on executing the next set of results.

If only we could act sooner, swifter, with more focus or intention, the thinking goes, and then we’d be more likely to accomplish our goals by virtue of their actions, most organizations place a premium on sharing goals and discount learning from past efforts.

The difficulty in changing course

Leaders of groups that embody breakthrough performance understand that the key to success is mastering change and being in an organization that can change itself.

The traditional process of working and completing a project, beginning a new one without a process to capture lessons learned, and get the active feedback from people ‘on the ground’ means that mistakes are surely to be repeated and management’s disconnect with the perspectives of those executing the work remain unaddressed. At best, lessons will be captured inside of the ‘tribal knowledge’ that does not have a place to formally document best practices.

It also means people will not have an opportunity to share their perspective about what worked and what didn’t work as it pertains to their own needs. Much of the time the people that make up the bulk of an organization’s workforce make great effort to adapt themselves to the needs, culture, and processes of the organization. Affording people the space to contribute to how their organization operates, going forward builds true commitment…and is the source of many great ideas, similar in many ways to How Honda Innovates.

What can people do differently?

Completing the past, a critical element of breakthrough performance, entails partnering with people to create a new way of working informed by past successes, mistakes, and by giving people the chance to share about their experience.

The moment a team completes a project is the best time to complete the past. The act itself is not a science. Consider the following as pillars of a completion session:

  • What worked and what didn’t about our last project?
  • What did we accomplish and what did we not accomplish?
  • What practices could we institutionalize going forward?

The intent is not simply to document mistakes; it is to document how to move forward as a group in a way that captures the best elements of past efforts and makes changes necessary to address mistakes.

Creating a future

Completing the past is ultimately about creating a future in which people can be enrolled; one in which issues are addressed and their perspective is heard. That is the true essence of breakthrough performance.


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