Category Archives: Teams

Process and People

“I feel a bit overwhelmed,” admitted Melissa. “There are so many things that can go wrong on this project, and I’m just not sure if I can manage it all.”

“You are right,” I replied. “You cannot manage every detail. Success consists of the execution of a hundred things, most of which cannot be managed.”

“Then how?”

“Most things we accomplish as managers consist of process and systems with elements that can be measured and managed. But that is only part of the story. Success also requires elements like focused attention, cooperation with team members and commitment to the result. Those are elements, difficult to measure, but more importantly, almost impossible to manage. You cannot manage focus, cooperation and commitment. This is the people side of management, and people don’t want to be managed.”

Melissa was silent, thinking. “The people side is more difficult than the process side, and maybe more important. I think I would take a mediocre process with some fired up people, over a spectacular process with a poor attitude.”

Mental Fitness

Five miles into the ride, the warm-up is over, we turn south on A-1-A and set up the pace line. Today, we have five riders. It was a weekday, so the ride will be a quick 28 miles.

Mike takes the lead, Scott follows, then Rob, Henrik and me. There is a southerly flow in our face, so Mike pulls an easy 19-20 to the first set of buildings. The route ducks behind some condo towers and in the swirl, the speed climbs to 21. By now, the gaps are closed and the line becomes efficient. To be a part of this team, each member takes a turn on the nose, maximum effort into the wind. Macho and ego may play a part (of course it does), but it is the responsibility of the lead bike to keep up a respectable pace. If the leader on the nose sees the speed drop off, it is time to move left and signal the pace line up. A short respectable pull is more appreciated than a longer pull that slows down the line.

As the leader moves off the nose and back to the rear of the pace line, it is important to maintain enough speed to hook on the back and close the gap. A brief lapse in concentration and the pace line can run right past. If too much space opens up, the last rider might lose the wheel in front and suddenly find themselves off the back.

If I could only catch Henrik’s wheel. Four feet, three feet, two feet, hold the gap. Don’t lose the wheel again. Mike comes off the front, Scott moves up, Mike will hook up in another 30 seconds. Close the gap. If Mike hooks up and I lose Henrik’s wheel, we will both be off the back.

The interdependence of the team requires each member to show up rested and fit. Each team member is responsible for conditioning, nutrition, overall aerobic fitness and strength.

When you look at your team, do they show up rested and fit? Does each team member take responsibility for their own conditioning, to support the interdependency of performance? Business projects often require long hours, focused concentration, dogged determination, stamina. Success requires a clear head. It takes more than a willingness to close the gaps. It takes fitness (mental and physical) to execute, to move the bike (project). How fit is your team? What does fitness look like for you?

Easy Now, Hard Later

From the Ask Tom mailbox –

I often think, especially in my coaching and team development but also in personal goals, about the hard part. I recently read another blog post about getting to the hard part in anything we undertake and how at times we can have the tendency to want to avoid it. How do we continue to enable or encourage the people around us to focus on the hard part. I want nothing more than the success of the people in my life.

This is a classic addiction curve. What is easy now, gets hard later. What is hard now, gets easy later. This is also the procrastination curve. The busy curve.

David Allen, in his book Getting Things Done, provides a model to work an INBOX (or a to-do list). Work down the list, anything that takes less than two minutes, do now. If it takes more than two minutes, schedule it, delegate it or put it into a project loop. It’s a sucker punch model. It’s too easy to knock out all the two minute tasks and too hard to work on the stuff in the project loop.

Easy to understand, we know what we (and our team) need to do. We just don’t do it. It’s too hard.

Embedded in David Allen’s model, down in the bottom right hand corner is a piece of brilliance. It’s called next action. I call it robust next step, or robust first step. When I encounter anything that looks hard, I just ask, what is the robust next step? And, if I can do that step in less than two minutes, I do it now. Even if it’s hard.

Critical for Growth

Nicole was still stymied over our discussion about the role of the supervisor. “But if I am not actively working on the line with everyone else, I don’t feel like I accomplished anything at the end of the day.”

“Nicole, let’s talk about the value-add of the supervisor. While your team members do the production work, your job is to make sure production gets done. The value you bring to the party, as the supervisor, is that the work is complete, at the target volume, at the defined quality standard and on time. To make that happen, your job is to schedule the appropriate materials, schedule the appropriate team members and make sure the right machines are available. Your value-add is consistency, thoroughness (no gaps) and completeness (the job gets finished).

“The Mom and Pop operation, just starting out, doesn’t have to worry about that stuff. They just have to finish today’s job for today’s customer. As organizations grow, as volume increases and there are more customers than you can count with fingers and toes, these are the issues that make or break a company. Is the right volume of product (or service) produced, of consistent quality, on time? Successful supervisors are responsible for taking the organization to that next level. It is a different sense of accomplishment, yet critical for the company to grow.”

Make Improvement Easy

Nicole had the numbers posted. She was still working side by side with the team, helping on the line, but at least the numbers were posted.

“But, we didn’t make our goal,” Nicole shook her head. “That’s why I was afraid to write the numbers on the white board, before.”

I ignored her body language. “Nicole, I want you to add another number to the board. I want you to post yesterday’s numbers next to the goal numbers. For right now, I just want you to focus your team on improvement over yesterday.”

“Well, that should be easy,” snorted Nicole.

“That’s the point. Make improvement easy. Then focus on it.”

One Crab in the Basket

“All my team wants to do is complain. I know things aren’t perfect, but we still have to get the work done. They shoot down every idea I have,” Chet shook his head.

“Have you ever been crabbing?” I asked. “Crabbing, you know, where you trap crabs, pull them out of the water and throw them into a basket?”

Chet looked at me a bit sideways. “What’s that got to do with my team?”

“Here’s the thing, Chet. If you only have one crab in the basket, you have to really pay attention, because the crab will crawl out of that basket lickety-split. The trick is to catch more crabs quickly. With a bunch of crabs, when one starts to crawl out, the other crabs attach to the legs and pull him back into the basket. You would think they would all try to crawl out, but that’s not what happens. Sometimes, teams are the same way.

“Before you describe a possible solution, go around the table and have each team member describe the major benefits if we are successful at solving the problem. If you can get them to focus on the benefits, they are less likely to focus on the crab (you) trying to crawl out of the basket.”

Huddle Meeting, Most Important Meal of the Day

“What’s the major benefit of a huddle meeting first thing in the morning?” I asked. The team looked around at each other to see who might jump in first.

“To share the plan for the day,” said Shirley.

“To make certain assignments,” chimed in Fernando.

“To schedule lunch,” smiled Paul. Everybody stifled a brief laugh.

“Lunch is important,” I said. “Now, most of you are too young to remember Woody Allen, but he said that 80 per cent of success is just showing up. One of the major benefits of a huddle meeting first thing in the morning is to firmly establish the starting point for the team.

“Lots of time can get wasted as people trickle in, fritter around, sharpen pencils (who uses pencils anymore?). But, if you have eight people on your team and you lose fifteen minutes, that’s two hours of production.

“A huddle meeting can start the day. Sharp and crisp. Five minutes. Let’s go. Hit it hard.”

Need a Heads Up

Frieda was frustrated. “I sit in a department managers meeting and get called on the carpet for an assignment that I knew nothing about. One of the other managers pulled an end-around and took a project directly to one of my staff members. I am not a mind-reader, how am I supposed to follow-up on a project I know nothing about. I told everyone in the staff meeting that if they want work done in my department, they have to work through me.” Frieda stopped. Calmed a bit. “That didn’t go over real well. Now everyone thinks I am a prima donna.”

“Do you think the other department managers are being malicious?” I asked.

“No, things are just busy. I think they just wanted to get their project done.”

“So, in busy companies, this kind of thing happens. We simply need to get work done and sometimes you may be out of pocket and one of your team members becomes convenient for the project. Don’t take it personally. The question for you is –How can you, as the manager, find out about these projects so you can schedule them appropriately?

“Do you have a weekly staff meeting in your department?”

“Of course, that is when we sit down and take a look at all the projects in-house, get a status report and talk about production issues.” Frieda was firm in her response.

“So, I want you to add an agenda item. –What are the projects that have been assigned that we don’t know about? This is actually pretty easy. These would be projects that your team is working on that are not on the project list. The purpose is to capture the project information so your team can respond appropriately. You get back in control and your fellow department managers see you as cooperative and helpful. AND, with your fellow managers, you can ask for an email heads up about the project, so you can make sure appropriate resources are deployed and that the due date has been effectively communicated and on your master schedule.”

Special Practice

“You did some training last year, tell me about it.”

“Well, first, we invested a decent budget. This was a new process we were working on. We spent a lot of time looking at different programs. We put together a decent PowerPoint, even hired an outside trainer.” Travis stopped.

“And?” I said.

“And, after all was said and done, a lot more was said than done.” Travis chuckled. “I heard that in a seminar once. But maybe it’s true. After the training, some of the people worked the new way, but some didn’t. Over time, the whole process was abandoned. ”

“You know your program really didn’t have a chance. It was missing something critical,” I said.

“I know, you are going to say positive reinforcement, but we all talked it up and everyone got a certificate when the training was over,” Travis defended.

“That’s all very nice, but I am not talking about being nice. I am talking about being effective. In the training you demonstrated a new process. This new process required a new skill, a new behavior.

“Travis, I can show you how to throw a ball, but if you want to get good at it what do you have to do?”

Travis looked puzzled, “Practice?” he said.

I nodded. “Very special practice.”

Avoid the Hazard

The paceline moved north, into a headwind, pulling 18mph. “Walker up!” The shout came from the lead cyclist on the nose. He pulled his right hand off the handlebars, arm straight out, pointing to the pedestrian in the bike lane. A second later, his right hand dropped, waved the pace line left, out of the bike lane into the active traffic lane. Though the group may not have seen the walker, each cyclist in the line knew about the hazard and knew to follow the lead bike into the active traffic lane to avoid it.

Intentional, agreed-upon communication. It was simple, efficient and effective. As the paceline continued north, there were other hazards to avoid, potholes, a tree branch in the road, narrowing traffic lanes, overtaking cars. Through a series of hand signals and audible shouts, the group made its way safely through urban traffic.

How does your team communicate in its daily routine? Do they have simple, efficient protocols to warn of impending hazards, delays, material shortages? Do they have agreed-upon signals to provide each other with feedback?

Chances are good that prior to a delay, prior to a material shortage, prior to a change in schedule, somebody knew. Someone could have warned the group and the group could have acted according to an agreed-upon protocol.

Get your team together and play the “what if” game. Find out what problems occur often and how they are best solved. Then create the “signal.”

“Walker up!”
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