How effective is your team?

How effective is your team? How effective could they be?  These are questions which I often ask my clients. Their response to the first question is usually to say, “They are highly effective.” But then, at the second question, they pause: how effective could they be?  How do we know? And how can we measure?

I have begun to think of this as a defined gap: the space between our team’s full potential and their actual performance.  Sometimes we can use defined targets in order to measure. Sales targets. Production targets. Margin. Customer satisfaction scores. But do these numbers provide accurate measure of the effectiveness of our teams?

I ask clients to think about it as a percentage.  If 100% is full potential, what percentage are they achieving currently?  I hear, “80 percent,” “70 percent,” “65 percent.” How would you answer for your team?

And then comes a harder question: What would it take to fill the gap?  The easy answer might be that team members need training.  Or we need to rid ourselves of a problematic team member. Or we need to fill that opening on the team that has been vacant too long. These things may be true, but if you took these actions, would the team be at 100%? Perhaps not. It seems that the gap may caused by more than issues of team composition and individual capabilities.

What more would they need? The answer to this question points directly at you, the leader of the team. If you think that the team will reach its potential without your leadership, you’ll be disappointed. I have seen teams of wonderfully talented people who cannot seem to find their groove. On the other hand, I have also seen teams of insufficiently qualified members who do find that groove and accomplish more than any of them envisioned.  And it is leadership – that intangible, sometimes understated, force that makes the difference.

Think about when you have interacted with your team – or with a team member -and seen remarkable results.  They step it up. They tackle a challenge. They collaborate with each other in new ways. They come up with good ideas. They embrace the differences among them and are inclusive rather than divisive.  They meet deadlines and budgets. They hit targets. And some.

And what else do you see?  Humor, good-natured teasing, respect commitment. Perhaps putting in extra hours.

How did this happen? To answer that question, you’ll need to examine what you do as the leader.

Guiding people by a kite string, not a leash

Guiding people by a kite string, not a leash: That is what one of my clients stated when he was discovering his ability to delegate.

Delegation is a challenge for many of my clients. It derives from several different managerial questions: How do I get my staff to take more responsibility? How do I spend less time guiding people to the right solutions? How do I motivate people? How do I gain more patience with my reports? How do I get home in time for dinner?

The answer is delegation.  It is not an easy answer. Delegation, at its simplest, means assigning tasks to other people. But there is a lot involved. First, you need to choose an appropriate task for the person; let’s call the person Jack. Appropriate means Jack has the right skills for the task, or most of the skills. Best if there are some skills Jack will learn while completing the task. Second, you need to clarify for Jack what your expected outcome is: What will be the result of the task if Jack does it well? Third, or perhaps this comes second, consider whether Jack is interested in doing this task. It may require some motivational skills to push Jack out of his comfort zone if he is at all hesitant, and that will mean you have to show support for Jack in building his confidence or interest. Define the benefit for Jack of completing this task: he will get to do some new things, build some new skills, interact with new people, work at a higher level,  . . .  And be sure to let him know he can come to you with any questions he has.

Then comes the hardest part.  You need to let go.  Jack might do the task differently than you would.  It might be slower, involve different people, use a different process, or just be different in some other way. Resist the temptation to jump in and correct. If you have defined the outcome well, you should trust that Jack will work toward that outcome, even if he goes about it a different way. But letting go does not mean forgetting about the delegated task.  You should provide opportunities to check in with Jack: How is it going? What steps have you taken? What progress are you seeing?  What help do you need from me, if any? Jack might make some mistakes. But this is how he will learn. It is probably how you learned. Your job is to check in often enough to make sure mistakes are not dire, but not so often that Jack feels smothered.

In the end, delegation will encourage Jack to take responsibility for the effort and take pride in it. He will learn skills and be motivated to guide himself to the right solution.  Your patience will pay off. And you will get home earlier for dinner.

Kite string, yes. Leash, no.

Having a choice

“You don’t want to let drowning get in the way of a good swim.”

That’s what a woman said to me in the locker room one day. She was referring to her dislike of the large crowd that had arrived for the aqua aerobics class. In her view it was dangerous: too many people chaotically kicking and flapping their arms in the pool would cause her to lose her balance.

As she said it, I realized that this is similar to how some of my executive clients feel. There is too much flapping and kicking in their organizations. And whereas the movements in the pool are somewhat choreographed, organizational antics are less likely to be aligned. Executives are drowning in excess movement. But what choices do they have?

“What are your options?” I asked the woman. She looked as if she had never thought about this before. After all, she had come with her bathing suit and aqua shoes – and the intention to get wet. She had a plan to get some exercise in the pool. She always came to aqua aerobics on Tuesdays. But somehow, suddenly, her plan was derailed by the number of other people with a similar plan. This was a fully-equipped gym, but she was unfamiliar with the majority of the equipment. “What else could you do?”

Executives get caught in similar ways. They respond to organizational tendencies for chaos by establishing routines. It’s Tuesday, therefore the Executive Committee meeting. It’s Wednesday, therefore the strategy meeting. It’s Monday; therefore, time to plan for the next Executive Committee and strategy meetings. They might have been drowning in chaos, but now they are drowning in their own routines, not to mention excessive meetings. “What else could they do?”

They can ask themselves the questions: “What are my options?” “How can I approach strategy/governance/marketing decisions in refreshing ways?” “How can I myself and my team get out of the ruts we have created for ourselves?”

Executives may have some control over their situations. And so did the woman in the locker room. She decided to go outside and take a walk for her exercise that day. “Thank you.” She said to me as she laced up her sneakers. “I do have a choice. It’s a beautiful day.”