Tale of Two Pities

Can we talk?

Not long ago I worked with a client (I always protect anonymity) and as part of my charter was to look at productivity. Now consultants will tell you productivity is an after the fact measure. It’s an output of a simple equation: Skills + Resources x Direction = Output.

Fundamentally it’s rare to see significant problems with skills or resources – most people want to do a good job and will adapt to what they have. Arthur Ashe once said, “Use what you have, Do what you can.”

Most people operate like this, so when productivity is mentioned to me even though I do my best (today’s Twitter theme: Do your best) to maintain an open mind I tend to suspect direction is the culprit.

Case in point: after engaging with the client I learned that there wasn’t a sense of alignment. Now, most clients don’t use that term but I do – an outcome of my total quality training it’s important to have alignment to get productivity.

In the group I engaged with, there were two primary production teams. One was highly efficient and effective and had managed to avoid recent headcount increases. They just kept doing more.

The other team however confused me: they did not seem to be able to get out of their own way. After some observation I was able to see some differences. To wit:

Team One

  • Held regular team meetings where the leader shared the latest news and direction from management
  • Used agendas and timelines
  • Had interactive discussion and debate
  • Made agreements about follow-up and responsibilities
  • Captured unanswered questions for resolution

Team Two

  • Held no team meetings – the leader claimed they were too busy
  • News and direction was shared randomly one:one between leader and subordinate: no group discussion
  • There was a constant request for more headcount [Ed.: in the end, the team’s size was reduced]
  • Without scheduled meetings some people interacted with the leader three times as much as others
  • No group agenda, open questions or follow-ups existed, obviously

You don’t have to have a masters in OD to see the set-up here. Even with the best Skills + Resources team two was highly unlikely to ever improve productivity markedly. There was simply no group direction. En parlance, they were screwed.

Team one performed much better with less wasted energy.

Why then, “two pities” in the title? Turns out there was little real relationship between the two leaders (they were stuck in the forming stage of Tuckman’s model) such that they could not exchange ideas and help each other. The leader on team two never reached out for help, but the leader on team one never offered.

The message here is that the road to productivity is most quickly and effectively enhanced with shared direction. The annals of sport, science, technology and yes, commerce, are littered with examples of teams with fewer resources and skills than competitors (eg., the Wright Brothers) who nevertheless rose to significant achievement.

Want better results today? Stop carping about your team and provide them some direction. Together. As in all at once. Unbound the constraints on your team by engaging their collective and collaborative mind and souls.

The fastest route to more and better production is more and better direction.

We call this alignment.

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One thought on “Tale of Two Pities

  1. Pingback: January at a Glance | ChristopherinHR

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