Five things you can do to take better actions with your colleagues

Better Still blog Take Better Actions image

Five things you can do to take better actions with your colleagues

Better Still blog Take Better Actions image

A lot happens when you initiate activities at work. You can improve the quality of collaborative actions by eliciting everyone’s best contributions, clarifying goals, driving performance effectively and respectfully, and incorporating real-time learning as work is underway. In addition, you can use “speech acts” to address breakdowns that may occur between people when promises are broken.

You and your colleagues have made a business decision. Next, you’ve coordinated tasks and assignments that prepare you to bring the decision to life. Now you’re ready to take action.

Make your actions better and smarter ones, so you can say:

  • We’re orienting our work to the optimal goals and outcomes.
  • People are engaged and energized as they do the work.
  • We are communicating effectively as work is underway.
  • We are helping each other as needed.
  • We are learning, adjusting, and making things better as we go.
  • People want to work together again and again.

With the right intention and support activities, this is all possible.

It’s easier if you’ve already engaged in the helpful preparations described in prior posts, where:

With this groundwork laid, you’re in a strong position to advance smart actions together. Let’s examine five things you and your colleagues can do to sustain excellent work as you collaborate on tasks:


Resolve to take courageous and constructive action

“What is my authentic contribution to achieve the best outcome?” “What must I summon in myself to contribute my best?” “What risks am I willing to take to achieve this goal?”

These are among a series of questions every team member can ask themselves, so that individually and collectively you do more than complete tasks. In summoning courageous and constructive action across the team, you elevate commitment so you each contribute energy, competence, and character on behalf of the greater good.


Clarify and agree to appropriate goals

Depending on the situation, the actions you take together will emphasize execution, experimentation, or a combination of both. If you’ve done similar work before and share common competence to be successful, you’ll emphasize execution, and set goals and success measures to match.

However, if your course of action takes you into new territory, and/or you lack collective competence to succeed in all aspects of the action on the first try, you’re experimenting. That calls for very different goals and success measures.

Confer with your colleagues to establish the optimal objectives and measurements to support the work before you.


Set up mechanisms to drive performance effectively and respectfully

To advance collaborative action, you’ll need everyone to complete tasks successfully and on time. If you’ve already assigned tasks to call on people’s strengths and give them opportunities to learn and grow (see You’ve made a decision. Before you take action, do these three things to help you coordinate tasks effectively and efficiently), then you are now set up to encourage colleagues as work is underway.

The best performance occurs willingly and enthusiastically, with each performer drawing on authentic sources of motivation that propel them, even when circumstances are challenging. Support your colleagues to tap into their own motivation and to use their assets while they’re doing their tasks. Encourage them to ask for help as needed.


Strengthen actions through real-time learning

As you and your colleagues pursue tasks, boost performance and outcomes by integrating real-time learning to introduce small-scale improvements, or even significant enhancements, as you go.

Real-time learning won’t happen automatically. You’ll need to introduce practices and structures to support it, such as “pause points” to reflect on surprises or unintended consequences that occur during work activities. From there you may choose to recalibrate what you’re doing.

While the insertion of real-time learning may slow activities slightly, the benefits should appear quickly as you see improvements. Plus, adding learning into the mix keeps people engaged and growing as work is happening.


Incorporate additional “speech acts” if a colleague doesn’t fulfill a promise they made

As you were coordinating forthcoming actions, you assigned tasks to colleagues. In doing so, you made requests of them.

In the post You’ve made a decision. Before you take action, do these three things to help you coordinate tasks effectively and efficiently, we established what happens when you make a request of another person, and how the colleague’s affirmative response results in a promise whereby they will fulfill the request in accordance with your terms of satisfaction.

Sometimes promises are broken, for any number of reasons:

  • Extenuating circumstances prevented fulfillment of the promise, such as the arrival of a competing project that caused a colleague to miss a deadline you set.
  • The person who made the promise didn’t have the skills to do what was asked.
  • The person misjudged what was required to accomplish the task in full and on time.
  • There was a breach of trust and goodwill.

When this happens, much is at stake: The task may not be completed. Other work may be hampered. Your relationship with the other person may be impacted. The solution: Step in quickly and skillfully so the situation can be made right.

The earlier post focused on three “speech acts”: requests, responses, and promises. The circumstances of a broken promise call for two more: complaints and apologies. These are communication activities with discrete steps that require practice, but the gist is:

  • If person B breaks a promise, then person A makes a complaint to ask person B to take corrective action. This provides an opportunity for person B to make things right and for the relationship between A and B to get back on track.
  • Person B makes an apology, which allows them to acknowledge responsibility for the broken promise and correct the situation. Doing so will rebuild trust.
  • If person B is the first to realize they’ve broken a promise, they can apologize proactively without needing to wait for a complaint. This signals good faith and will strengthen the relationship.
  • Done this way, a complaint and apology is a complete, respectful, and healthy communication between the two people, which doesn’t need to be escalated to anyone else.

Complete, well-communicated complaints and apologies are essential to keep work moving forward and sustain relationships. If you ignore these vital “speech acts” or don’t attend to them thoroughly, your good work can be threatened, relationships can be damaged, and morale can suffer. Jump in early and skillfully any time a promise is broken.


Incorporate these five recommendations to make actions smarter and better. In turn, you will establish a strong foundation for effective collaboration, achieve better results, and cause colleagues to want to work together again and again.


Tom Lowery is Better Still’s content creator and designer, and an expert and consultant in change management, talent management, leadership development, and team optimization. He holds a Masters degree in ethical leadership from Claremont Lincoln University.

This topic is represented in the Better Still catalyst “Get Things Done With Others,” one of seven catalysts that are foundational to individual and organizational excellence. Seven Better Still tools support this catalyst, in Better Still Teamwork ToolkitsSM for Team Leaders and Team Contributors, and in Better Still Solutions.

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