Markus Gann/

How to Get Clarity, Accountability and Results in 5 Minutes

There’s a reason things don’t get done.


The team and I had just invested three hours wrestling with significant issues.

We defined the criteria that would make for a good decision … we had healthy debate among different opinions … we listened … we looked for alternatives … we considered consequences to the organization … we pushed hard looking for the best answers.

And finally we made a decision. Or we thought we did.

Six weeks later we were back together to discuss results.

And everyone looked at each other. Maybe you know the look – a little nervous, eyes wide, searching the room for safety in numbers. No one had followed through on what we’d decided to do.

Not one person.

After spending all that time and energy to arrive at a productive solution, nothing happened. We had wasted our time.

What happened?

Many teams and leaders have experienced this frustrating lack of follow-through after decisions are made. It can happen even with a team of high-caliber, motivated people who take their work seriously. The reason is that in arriving at a decision, you have only answered one out of four essential questions.

You have answered the “why,” as in: “Why do we want to do this?” The answers to the next three questions take a decision from being a nice idea and turning it into reality – something that gets done. The good news is that for most decisions, it only takes five minutes to answer them:

1. Who Is Doing What?

Until someone is actually doing something, nothing has changed from before you made the decision. Until then, it is just a nice idea.

Keen readers will recognize two questions here: What is being done? Who is doing it? I prefer to combine them because it forces ownership. There is no task without a specific person having responsibility for completing it.

For smaller decisions there might be only one or two answers to this question. For larger strategic initiatives you might have an entire work plan that outlines dozens of tasks and people responsible.

2. By When?

As a team, agree upon deadlines for tasks to be completed. When these deadlines are shared and publicly available, everyone is much more likely to meet them.

3. How Will We Know?

This is a critical question and the one that teams most frequently ignore.

When someone completes a task, what do they do next?

  • Do they need to pass the results to another person or group?
  • Should they update the team and let them know?
  • Will they make a presentation of their findings?
  • Do they report completion in a project management system?

The specific answers depend on the task and project. The point is accountability and efficiency. Everyone knows what they are accountable for doing, the team knows whether it’s been completed, and no one is left waiting around for information they need.

Who is doing what? By when? How will we know?

You can ask these questions whether you are the positional leader of a group or not. In fact, it’s a great way to establish yourself as a leader who gets things done – people notice when you produce clarity, accountability, and results.

If you want anything to change, it will be the most important five minutes you’ll spend.

David M. Dye is founder and president of Trailblaze Inc., a Denver-based leadership coaching, consulting and training business. His next book, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results Without Losing Your Soul, will be available in spring 2016. 

(Image via Markus Gann/