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I like things to be efficient. While writing this I looked up synonyms of “efficient”, and all the words just filled me with joy. “well organized”, “methodical”, “structured”, “logical”, it’s like someone just wrapped up all my favourite things into one word. So anyway, as a leader, I think a lot about how to run an efficient team.

It seems to me that one of the keys of working efficiently is working on the right thing at the right time. It is so easy to go off on a tangent then realise hours or days later that what you are doing is actually not that important, or to spend an hour talking in a meeting and come away without actually having anything actionable for what you really needed to solve. And I think the first and biggest step to staying on track and staying efficient is to remember to always ask “Why?”.

There is a reason Simon Sinek wrote a book called “Start With Why” (great book by the way). “Why?” sets the foundation on which we can build the “What” and the “How”. If you are clear why you are implementing a feature, you will know which way to go when you find a scenario that wasn’t in the spec. If you are clear why you are in a meeting, you will be able focus on that, agree on the answer, then get out of the meeting and get back to real work! Your best work as a team will be when you are all clear and aligned on the “why”, and you’ll know you are heading into dangerous waters when you can’t give a good answer.

It’s like when you ask a girl out on a date, but she doesn’t realise it is a date. You might have a really pleasant time at first, but at some point you’re going to realise your “why” doesn’t match hers, and things are going to get awkward. At work, you always start off with the best of expectations, but if your team isn’t aligned on why this meeting is happening, or why we are implementing this feature, or why we are changing this process, then you’re going to run into trouble.

On a slight tangent, a technique I heard of recently, which I think is awesome, is the “5 Whys”. It’s pretty much just repeating why over and over again until you get to the real root cause. It’s like a kid that asks “why” on repeat, who starts with the colour of the sky and ends up in quantum physics.

So, I dare you:

  • Next time you go to a meeting, ask and answer (out loud) “Why are we having this meeting?”, and ask yourself (probably just in your head) “Why am I here?”
  • Next time you are discussing a feature in sprint planning, ask “Why are we implementing this feature, and why is it a priority right now?”
  • Next time you are discussing a new or obtuse process, ask “Why are we implementing this process?” or “Why do we do it this way?”
  • And make sure it’s a good answer!