Is The Quest For Perfection Killing Your Team’s Productivity?


Perfection is a good thing. Right. In a corporate environment it means setting a standard of excellence for which work product and rigor of thought is the norm. Successful leaders will demand perfection from themselves and their team. When does the quest for perfection inhibit a team’s productivity?

The perils of perfection came into focus when coaching a high performing team. The leader wanted to identify the team’s “secret sauce”. Or put another way, what are their strengths as well as areas of opportunity. To help uncover these insights, the senior team members participated in a leadership culture survey.

Among the findings, they as a team scored very high on the perfect dimension. They took great pride in this score since to them it represented a quest for unyielding superior performance. However, this was not the end of the story. Knowing that high levels of perfection are accompanied with negative trade-offs, we dug deep into this area and uncovered an insight:

As a team they were not effectively collaborating on client presentations. Whoever was responsible for the presentation would wait until he or she was finished and deemed it perfect before sharing his or her work with others. Team members were cautious about sharing work-in-progress because he or she knew it would be judged with a very critical eye. Therefore, he or she would work independently until the last possible moment before reviewing it with senior team members, usually late the afternoon prior to the client meeting. However, since his or her work is rarely perfect, there would be substantial revisions resulting in a late night to make the changes and prep for the meeting. This was a recurring pattern causing frustration and angst to all involved.

Once they surfaced this insight, it became readily apparent to everyone that they would be more successful if they reframe their perspective on what it means to be perfect. Their solution, the end product would always be evaluated to the highest standard of excellence but they would allow for more “imperfection” during the process.

Here’s what they implemented:

  • When preparing for a client presentation they would start with a quick kick-off meeting to set clear objectives and expectations as well as determining who needs to be involved and their role
  • Agree to regular check-ins to review the content and provide constructive feedback without judgment. This allows for more idea sharing and creative thinking throughout the process
  • Review the final presentation at least one day in advance of the client meeting in order to address any last-minute feedback and avoid late night revisions

What I like most about this situation is that once the team recognized how being perfect was impeding their ability to attain a higher level of success, they in short order, designed and implemented a new process and put it into practice immediately. And they had the courage to admit this new approach improved their work product, collaboration and quality of life without being any less perfect when it really matters, in front of clients.

Is your quest for perfection negatively impacting your work?