The typical manager is caught up in a cycle of everyday work. Meetings, emails, customer interactions, finishing projects and starting new ones. Days go into weeks, weeks into months, and the endless cycle continues. Most days, the manager recognizes they need to work on issues with their team, but after working 50-60 hours a week there simply isn’t energy or time left to do the important things.
Meanwhile, the team is experiencing its own difficulties that stem from an overly busy and hectic work environment. There tends to be lots of gossip in the background about the inner workings of the company and who’s in trouble. Everyone knows the teams that are struggling and those that are in good standing with the management. Employees in these organizations become desensitized to their circumstances and they plod through the daily grind.
Eventually, there is a tipping point. Perhaps, several seemingly dedicated employees quit the company and there are rumblings of more people quitting. Perhaps, the team has had a breakdown in their work that has surfaced as a catastrophic project, or a big-deal unfortunate event with a customer. Whatever it is, the team is in crisis.
Typically, managers in these circumstances become willing to tackle the issues their team is experiencing when it is all but too late. These leaders are under pressure and daily scrutiny and are in jeopardy of being fired. They have allowed themselves to become preoccupied with the unimportant details, approached their work without a strategy, and that busyness resulted in a dysfunctional group that is causing harm to the organization.
Although this scenario is a bit dramatic, similar scenarios play out much more often than you would think. We have a different approach to keep our clients out of jeopardy and provide solutions before they ever get to this level of dysfunction.
If you find yourself in a leadership role and your team is unable to keep up with the pace of the organization, then you will find the following approach refreshing and career saving.
All teams have a critical mass of strengths and potential vulnerabilities. It’s based on the combination of personalities and how they interact with each other. It’s based on the collective nature of the team. Many leaders are unaware of how the combination of personalities on their team combine to form their team dynamic. They experience whether or not a team is able to work together to solve problems or if they have to intervene to untangle mess after mess. But they really don’t understand the team.
In addition, team members change over time with new hires, people transferring into or out of the team. As teams absorb new teammates, the team dynamic can shift. What leaders need is an easy way to map out their team and understand how they can get their team to be as effective as possible using their untapped strengths.
It all starts with a Predictive Index Behavioral Assessment. It is a 2-question assessment that, on average, only takes about six minutes to complete. However, it is extremely accurate in characterizing an individual’s workstyle. We define workstyle in terms of how we communicate, make decisions, evaluate risk, solve problems, and resolve conflict. Some people are more oriented toward working closely with others, while other people are more likely to be independent and extremely goal oriented, for example. Still, others may be more innovative and flexible in their approach and then there are those that are very process driven and need to carefully do their work using a proven recipe and not make hasty decisions. These different individuals all have certain needs and drives, and given the same job, each individual will approach it much differently.
Step #1 – Meet the needs of each individual on your team by allowing them to do their jobs in a way that helps them feel more fulfilled.
We all like to do things in our own way and there is nothing wrong with giving your teammates permission to make thoughtful changes in how they perform their work. The worst thing you can do as a manager is prescribe exactly how you want the work done. That approach simply doesn’t work. Once an individual completes a Predictive Index Behavioral Assessment, the details of the assessment are used to develop a Management Strategy Guide. The Management Strategy Guide defines strategies to better manage the individual in three different areas:
- Strategies based on how the individual interacts in the workplace.
- Strategies based on how the individual takes action.
- Strategies based on how the individual deals with risk and decision making.
Now that the leader is equipped with this understanding, we coach the leader to reflect on what the leader has done well, and what they can do better to meet the needs and drives of the individual. This is the first part of developing an action plan, but the second important part of developing this action plan is for the leader to understand their “blockers” that might get in the way of following through with their action plan. Blockers are based on differences between the leader and the individual. For example, the individual might be very precise, carefully following operating procedures and wanting to know what the plan is, while their manager might operate with much less structure. These differences will create friction as the two work together. Once the manager understands these differences, they are able to greatly increase the capacity of the individual to get more done, and the individual becomes more engaged. We call this state as being psychologically committed to the success of the team. We urge managers to do this with every one of their direct reports.
Step #2 – Characterize the team into a specific team type that will reveal its strengths and potential caution areas.
When the leader understands their team on this level, they will be able to be more realistic about their expectations for their team. Some leaders don’t realize the nature of their team and constantly are swimming upstream. It is much more effective for the leader to understand their team type and work to de-risk how they execute their work. This will create much better results.
For example, an Exploring Team is daring, risk-tolerant, and imaginative, while a Stabilizing Team is structured, task-focused, organized, and practical. While an Exploring Team may focus too much on speed and innovation that causes process and efficiency to suffer, a Stabilizing Team requires a process for everything and that might stifle some teammates. Both teams have their own unique set of strengths and caution areas that the leader can use to maximize the productive output of the team.
There are nine different team types. Once the team type is defined, the leader begins to make sense out of their personal experiences with the team and can easily see how the strengths of their team has allowed the team to do certain things well while failing when the “ask” was outside of the team’s set of strengths.
This analysis is particularly helpful to leaders new in their position or for newly formed teams. Better yet, some organizations use this analysis to figure out the best way to staff teams.
Step #3 – We want each leader to reflect on the overall priorities of the team.
Is the team designed to be an externally or internally focused team? Or is the team supposed to be more focused on collaboration? We use a list of 20 randomized team priorities and map the work priorities to the team to understand if there are gaps between the work to be done and the staff that needs to do the work.
Here is an example of how a Continuous Improvement Team was failing in their work because they didn’t have the right mix of people on their team. This particular team had the best processes and technology to help the plant run at full capacity efficiently while providing tools to the plant floor that would allow them to continuously improve their work. Unfortunately, the workers on the plant floor shut the Continuous Improvement Team down because they didn’t feel they were collaborating with the plant floor. Instead, the plant floor felt they were being disrespected and told what to do. Once we were able to work with the leader, we then identified certain team members that could stretch into the collaboration zone, and we were able to diffuse the situation to the point that it saved the reputation of the Continuous Improvement Leader. Without this intervention, the Continuous Improvement Leader would most certainly have been fired.
Some going-forward thoughts:
- If you are leading a team, be open minded about your team. Don’t get caught up in the daily grind and lose sight of your team.
- Ideally, all leaders should regularly map their teams and be aware how personnel changes, shifts in market conditions, and changes in company initiatives affect the team. Remember, you are a leader and are paid to develop the right relationships with your team and get things done through others.
- Don’t procrastinate reaching out for help should you find yourself in a situation that causes you concern.