How To Enable Follow-Through

Follow Through - People Development Network
Follow Through - People Development Network

“We can do anything we want to if we stick to it long enough” – Helen Keller

There is a saying that 99% of success is showing up.  I partly disagree.  Showing up is indeed very important just like it’s important to first buy a ticket if you’re hoping to win the lottery. But success is not so much about showing up than following through.  Statistics show that up to nine out of ten startups fail, so clearly showing up is not enough.  Even more critical is having the perseverance to follow-through.

Ask any startup or small business owner and they will most probably say that starting is mostly fun and exciting.  It’s when things get tough that you start doubting yourself and fear starts creeping in.  It’s this fear that causes the to picot too fast and too soon.  It’s this doubt that causes them to lose confidence in themselves, the solution or the ability to deliver.  It’s the continued hardship when trying to break free from the mainstream, doing something that has never been done before that causes them to give up. Like so many mountaineers prior to Edmund Hillary gave up before reaching he summit of Mount Everest.  If it was that easy, more people would do it.

99% of success is following-through.

So how do you enable follow-through?  How do you keep a team together when things get tough?  How do you help your team persevere?

1. Pursue your passion

When the purpose is riches or fame, your chance of success is close to zero.  Riches and fame are the results of success, not the driver.

From my personal experience working with small business owners and entrepreneurs, it’s rarely the skills or lack of resources that cause failure.  Much more probable as a reason for failure is the lack of self-confidence after receiving harsh criticism, or doing it from an ego-based place rather than pursuing a heartfelt passion.

All successful people I’ve researched, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Apple founder Steve Jobs, say that to succeed you have to be really passionate about what you are doing.  It’s not enough to have profit as purpose.  It has to be something you are passionate about and emotionally invested in.  You must want it so bad that giving up is simply not an option, no matter how hard things get.

You’re pretty much guaranteed that things will get rough.  When passion is not your driver, you’re bound to give up.

To find out whether you are on the right track with your life purpose, business or start-up, ask yourself this one question:

“What can’t you stop doing?”  

If what you love so much that you just can’t stop doing it is part of your vision, success is inevitable.  If, however, there is no intersection between your personal vision and the vision of your business, you’re bound to fail and it’s time to re-evaluate.

2. Expect obstacles and mistakes

No matter how good you plan or prepare, when embarking on a new business venture or personal journey of self-discovery, you’re guaranteed that you make a lot of mistakes.

The point is not to try to avoid these mistakes.  The point is to try to learn from them as fast as possible and adapt.  Learning happens much more effectively from the mistakes you’ve made than the things that you did perfectly first time round. Don’t be afraid to get it wrong.

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein

If one of the geniuses of our time advises us to embrace mistakes, it surely is advice worth taking.  Don’t beat yourself up because you did something wrong.  Do a retrospective to critically analyze what happened, what you would do differently next time, and what you’ve learned from the experience.

Not taking the time to do a retrospective and learn from the mistake is, in fact, the only mistake you can make.

3. Face reality and make conflict safe

It’s harder to face a difficult situation than trying to avoid it.  However, if you want your team to follow-through, you have to go towards your fears and make conflict safe and productive.

Many small business owners and entrepreneurs I’ve come across are so attached to their idea and their vision that they are not open to receive feedback and face the reality of the situation. Often they will either ignore something that is not working, hoping it will go away, or outsource it to someone else to fix.  Both are strategies for failure.

During the storming stage of team formations, things tend to get messy as truths that you would rather not hear are put on the table.  It’s necessary to have these difficult conversations.   However, it’s not necessary to blame, be defensive or aggressive.

From the book “Crucial Conversations”, which is a guide to have conversations where the stakes are high, the first principle of effective dialogue is to start with the heart. When you start a conversation with an attack, or use dreaded words like “we have to talk”, you immediately close down communication.  What you want is to open up dialogue and expose something unwanted but in a safe, kind environment.

It’s better to be kind than to be right.

Listen to the other party, and allow them to express their feelings without taking it personally.  Validate how they feel and try to understand their viewpoint rather than to convince them to see your viewpoint.  Restoring the harmony means that both parties need to feel happy with the outcome of the conversation, whether you are in a team setting or a partnership.

4. Get involved

It is very demotivating when things are not going as smooth as planned and someone is criticizing from the outside but not doing anything to help.  It is as demotivating to feel as if you are trying to perform miracles to a dead audience.

Whatever your role in the team, get involved.  Care about what the others in the team is doing as much as what you want them to care about what you are doing.  Try to understand their constraints and what they need to do their job and express what you need and why.

When you see something wrong, volunteer to help.  There is an African proverb saying it takes a village to raise a child.  Similarly, it takes a whole team to enable follow-through.  For a team to deliver, everyone needs to be involved.

5. Give ownership

One of the first things to do when a new team starts out or a person joins an existing team is to clarify roles and working agreements.  When someone feels they have ownership in an area they are much more likely to be pro-active and take responsibility. When they feel they are merely a chess piece being moved around in a political game, they’re more likely to respond with passive-aggressive behavior and disengagement.

Ensure that everyone in the team has a clear domain that they feel passionate about in their ownership.  One way to facilitate such role clarification is described in a blog by Yassal Sundman from Crisp, called “How to set role expectations and working agreements”.  Adapt this to person level rather than team level. Make sure that each person in the team is clear on what is expected from them by other team members and that they know where to find everything they need in order to do their work.

Ensure that responsibility is evenly split between all the different people in the team and that each person takes ownership over at least one area.  If this is not the case, distribute responsibility with each person writing down the area of responsibility they want to let go on a sticky note.  Put all the sticky notes on a board and let everyone in the team volunteer to take over one or more of these areas.

Most importantly, allow each person to really take ownership of their chosen area. Freedom is by far a greater desire for most people than even power.


Success, whether as a startup or an operational team, is more about follow-through than showing up.  Just like the strength of a ship is tested in stormy seas rather than the docks where it was built, so to the success of a team is tested when things are tough.

Enabling follow-through requires courage to engage in conflict, pursuing a passion and getting your hands dirty.  If you are looking for team coach to help you on your journey to success, visit my website and send me a message.


Image courtesy Brian Erickson via


Karin Dames
With 20 years experience in the software development industry, Karin specializes in helping teams get unstuck, innovate, communicate and ultimately be more productive. She believes in efficiency through fun implementing lean, agile and playful design as tools for process improvement. Her goal is to create more happy, healthy and whole workplaces where each person thrives and productivity soars.


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