Like many highly committed teams, they had a long list of deliverables and each person worked long hours with the hope of achieving them. At the end of each month they got together to review what they had accomplished. They never completed everything and most often they completed only half of what they set out to do. While it was disappointing, everyone was working hard and they accepted they had done their best. Incomplete items were pushed out to the next month continuing the cycle. Does this sound familiar?
How well does your team navigate difficult situations?
Most teams struggle to navigate difficult situations, as in the example, when results don’t turn out as expected. This is very common because a plan is simply that, only a plan and despite our best efforts, the future can and often does play out differently. In other words, breakdowns are inevitable. What matters is how you manage them.
The easy answer is work harder
When a team is not hitting its goals, common responses are to work harder, to blame or accept we did our best, as in the example above. None of these behaviors is effective. The cycle can only be broken by fixing the underlying issues. Here are four areas to examine to identify the underlying cause of your team’s problems:
- Are your team goals clear, do you know who will judge success and on what basis? This sounds simple but is often the biggest source of team breakdowns. Many customers haven’t thought about what success looks like. Investing time to clarify this and how they will judge success can avoid much wasted effort.
- Do team members understand and appreciate the importance of each goal? Is the impact of not completing the goal understood? When the link between the team’s goals and its purpose are not clear, the goals can be viewed as a to do list. 8/10 might be a good score on a test, but is not acceptable if all 10 items are required for the team to fulfill its mission.
- Is the team living within its capacity? Many teams I work with have not considered they have finite capacity. Instead they prioritize what they consider to be important without considering if it is within their capacity. The accompanying story is work harder which is ok in the short term but is a sure path to burnout. And overload leads to fewer goals being achieved. The alternative is a simple capacity planning assessment, drawing the line when the capacity limit is reached.
- Is it safe for team members to report problems? By safe I mean is the act of bringing a problem to the table positively rewarded regardless of the situation? If it isn’t, issues will be driven underground and will appear later as surprises. At this time it is often too late to take corrective action.
Are you learning from your breakdowns?
The next time your team misses its goals, use it as an opportunity to assess what isn’t working. By treating it as a learning event, you can turn the team’s frustration into the ambition to improve.
Good advice Andy. I’ve experienced all these problems at one time or another in my career. As you might imagine given my area of expertise, I think clear and meaningful communication is at the heart of great teams.
Absolutely Larry, that is the underlying foundation for each of the points above. Great point!
Andy I really like the way you pose these simple, essential questions: very clearly. So clearly, in appearance, that at first glance they seem completely obvious and could elicit a quick “of course” response.
But I find them to be very powerful and penetrating, especially when I asked them of myself a second time. The third time, I added “really” to each question (really clear, really understand, really living, really safe, really learning), triggering an even deeper reflection. Thanks and keep up the provocation!
You are touching on something that is very important. Best practices are often not difficult to do and yet we either don’t adopt them or practice them consistently. I think this is why some teams perform better than others and I wonder what prevents the others from adopting them?
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