[Q&A] How do I keep my team focused on their OKRs?

Jun 15, 2023

Q: How do I keep my team focused on their OKRs?

A: Keep your team focused on their OKRs by creating OKRs that are strategic, ensuring they’re measured clearly, celebrating wins, being consistent with reviews, and using “off-target” OKRs as an opportunity to focus and improve.


Great question! Here are a few of the best answers from our Strategy Collaborative Q&A Session!

Good strategy cascades from the questions, “Where are we going?”, “What does success look like?”, and “What specifically are we doing?” Read the guide below to learn how to avoid common pitfalls when enacting your OKRs and keep your team motivated and on track.

Avoid Turning OKRs into a Laundry List of Operational Tasks

A common source of pitfalls in strategic planning and OKRs is creating operationally obvious OKRs, or even worse, action that just re-iterates your team’s job descriptions.

Great, focused plans create the future. OKRs need to support that future, not just what you’re doing today.

Creating a plan reporting on action items that people would be doing anyway can create a lack of motivation and cooperation in the strategy execution process.

Pro-Tip: Being strategic ultimately means that you are creating the future. Separate out the operational obvious and focus on action items that are truly strategic, impactful, and meaningful.

BUT – Don’t trap yourself into focusing only on the strategic.

This next point may seem contradictory, but there is also a risk of teams and leadership going too far in the opposite direction where they only focus on the strategic. This can create a sense that if it’s not strategic, it’s not important and ultimately create a culture in your organization where people are afraid to speak up because they don’t feel like their ideas are smart enough.

Pro-Tip: While the goal of creating action items and metrics that are strategic is important, set a general ground rule that you will avoid comparing operational vs. strategic ideas.

Acknowledge your organization operates in the real world, and you will have OKRs that improve upon your current state. Avoid putting stress and barriers on your team that causes them to overthink their own contributions.

Helpful Takeaways from Agile Project Management for ORKs

Inspect and evaluate your progress

As in any agile process (Agile management, agile OKRs, agile strategic planning), it’s important to pay attention to your work and regularly evaluate if what you’re doing is working. This involves actively looking at what you are doing and assessing progress towards predefined goals.

“Walk the board”

Walking the board is a specific technique used in Agile planning. It involves reviewing the tasks and actions on the board, understanding how they contribute to the predefined goals, and discussing progress and obstacles that may hinder achieving those goals.

Embrace retrospectives

Agile planning emphasizes the importance of retrospectives, which provide a safe space to reflect on past performance and identify reasons for not achieving set objectives. Creating an environment of psychological safety encourages open and honest conversations that help overcome barriers and improve future planning and execution.

[PS – this is the same methodology we use in our monthly reviews and quarterly refreshes].

The Do’s and Don’ts of Creating a Strategic Plan that Motivates Your Team

DO frame your plan as creating the future.

What starts well stays well. Start with articulating the future you want to see in your organization. Make a deliberate decision that you and your tea.m are coming together to create that future. Focus on the impact that the actions you act on today will have on your tomorrow.

DO ensure that your initiatives and KPIs indicate progress.

Your KPIs and initiatives should indicate if you’re moving your organization forward, not just ticking off a box on your ‘to-do’ list. If KPIs are telling you something isn’t working, adapt.

DON’T make the reporting process punitive.

When people are concerned of receiving any kind of negative backlash during the reporting process, the leadership team will not get that open honesty that is needed for overcoming the barriers that impact your strategic progress.

Your reporting process shouldn’t be about evaluating whether people are doing their jobs or not, but about evaluating whether the organization is moving forward.

DO define what you’re seeking.

Again, the reporting process is not merely a performance readout. The purpose of capturing, reporting, and sharing performance in performance reviews is not simply to assess whether targets were met or not.

It is about shifting the conversation and addressing the underlying issues, and to do that, you must define what you’re looking for in this process. Only then can you surface the issues that arise and impact your plan.

DO take some time to run a mini retro.

Again, if your progress isn’t where you need it to be, avoid the punitive approach. Don’t focus on where the goal owner is going wrong, but instead use it as an opportunity for a retrospective.

Try to take an opportunity to figure out why you’re not achieving the things you set forth for yourselves. What is contributing to the reds and yellows in your performance?

Pro-Tip: You can run a mini-retro between monthly or quarterly reviews! If something isn’t working, it’s ok to jump on it faster.

DON’T see the reds and yellows as a weakness.

Allow people to understand that this process will inevitably surface vulnerability. You will see clearly where you’re hitting your goals (aka the greens) and where you’re falling short of your goals (aka the reds and yellows).

However, as a team and as leadership, you must begin to learn that the reds and yellows aren’t a weakness, rather, they are an opportunity to grow as a team. Additionally, having the conversation with your team is a strength.

DO celebrate your greens.

Documenting and celebrating your success make everyone feel like they’ve accomplished something. When you get to the end of your strategic plan, you can look back and see where you were and where you’re now. It brings the work into perspective, and you can see why the endeavor was so important to your organization.

Additional Resources to Consider

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