"Yeah I'll do it", and why your team sucks

2020-05-15 13:00:00 +0100


A guy says "yeah, I'll do it" and then sucks at it (I'm sure he's actually great at his job but that wouldn't serve the purpose of this article). Photo by Surface on Unsplash.

Despite the impending threat of a global pandemic, our economy hasn't stopped just yet. While many critical jobs in supply chains have come to a halt, lots of higher level jobs that would have otherwise involved online collaboration are running in full swing. This sort of environment puts all kinds of new pressures on teams, and teams that have thus far chosen not to emphasize the importance of team development are being put to the test. Can YOU survive the pandemic, even with your negligence of team building?

Well, yeah, probably. You'll survive for all of the wrong reasons.

What's efficient and what's effective

Your leader stands at the front of the room addressing the team.

"Results have taken quite the hit this quarter. If we ever intend on getting out of this crisis, we're going to have to take action now. First, we're going to need to bring what we have to our sponsors." They say. A man to your left pipes up.

"Yeah, I'll do that." He says.

"Alright, that'll do. Next, we need to figure out how we're going to move forward with marketing. Do we need a new dynamic, maybe?" They continue. A woman to your right quickly chimes in.

"Yeah, I can figure that out." She says

"Okay, fair enough. We've also got to put together a new schedule so that-" They're cut off before they can finish by a man in the back.

"I'll do it!" He shouts. The leader sighs in exasperation

As a leader, one of your primary functions is to delegate. The leader is the one who's got the vision. They can see the bigger picture in a way that most others can't. They know the end goal. Not only that, but they've got a pretty good idea of how to get there. But, if your project is big enough to require the leader-follower model, then you should recognize that you can't do it all on your own. In fact, as a leader, it isn't really your job to do the work. That's what you have followers for. This means that knowing how to properly delegate work is of the utmost importance.

In the story above, the leader is seen trying to delegate work to their followers. To delegate work, they've first got to break the project up into smaller sections, tasks and objectives. From there, you can get a better idea of where you've got to direct your attention. The leader seems to be doing a pretty good job at this. They've chopped their main objective (in this case, getting their project over an abstract obstacle that's hurting results) into subtasks that can be delegated to the followers. The next thing they've got to do is engage their team to complete their tasks. They've done that, and the tasks have been taken on by different followers. The work will be completed. Great. What's the matter with this arrangement?

True, at face value, this doesn't seem all that bad. In fact, if I was in this room, my immediate response might be to be annoyed by the leader's frustration. We're doing his work after all; what more does he want? Well, the issue is not what the followers are doing, but rather the way they're doing it (and by extension, the leader's failure to deal with it).

A closer look at efficiency

You might call this arrangement an "efficient" solution to the problem of delegation.

Don't get me wrong, efficiency, as the word implies, is great! If you're looking to get lots of work done well in a timely manner, then efficient solutions are ideal. The thing is that efficiency doesn't carry the same weight as effective solutions. As Stephen Covey would say, you can't be efficient with people. You can only be efficient with objects. People require effectiveness. Delegation is 100% a human affair (as is team organization in general). This means that dealing with efficient solutions will do nothing for your team. You'll get the work done, of course. At the end of the day, it might even feel like you did a good job. However, your efficiency is much more likely to cause damage to the dynamic of your team while doing nothing to take full advantage of your followers' collective ability.

You might ask: how could any of this hurt? Everything is working as it should; surely nothing about this arrangement could be damaging. However, you'd be wrong. For an example, consider yourself sitting in that room: the "you" in the story. While everyone around you is jumping at the opportunity to take on work, you're sitting silently in the middle of the room, waiting to be heard. No one is asking for your input. You are on the verge of becoming disconnected from the group. This is how a team starts to fall apart. Without the right kind of leadership to keep everyone together, the team naturally disengage.

Your team is a collective force. They're at their best when they're working together. In the efficient paradigm described above, the leader is only taking advantage of each individual's capabilities. Were they to work together, there's a good chance that they could come up with much more creative, innovative and ultimately successful solutions to the problems before them. But, they aren't. They're taking on the work themselves.

This is an important thing to take note of. The leader doesn't seem to be trying to enforce this efficient workflow on their followers. In fact, they seem to be trying to engage their team as a whole. Rather, it's their followers that are immediately jumping to the efficient conclusion. These followers are trapped in the efficient paradigm. In fact, it's quite likely that they've been there for their whole lives. School and most lower level jobs thrive in this mindset. In higher level positions, I'd go as far as to say that most people haven't ever really had the opportunity to work for a good, effective team. If they have, then by that point, they were probably so deep in the mindset that they weren't able to break free and take full advantage of this new culture. If they're going to thrive in an effective, collaborative, people-centric environment, they've got to learn how.

As a leader, it's your job to teach them.

Effective delegation

Your leader stands at the front of the room addressing the team.

"Results have taken quite the hit this quarter. If we ever intend on getting out of this crisis, we're going to have to take action now. First, we're going to need to bring what we have to our sponsors." They say. A man to your left pipes up.

"Yeah, I'll do that." He says.

"Woah, hang on there," the leader continues. "You there in the middle of the room, I want you to work with the man to your left. We're going to need your insights."

"Sure thing," you say. "I think we need to clarify our marketing strategy first. Maybe the woman to my right could help?" She smiles

"Absolutely"

Ultimately, the same work is getting done. The difference is that now the project is a collaboration. It might feel like a minor, irrelevant detail at first, but a big part of a leader's job is dealing with long-term direction. Efficiency is inherently directionless. It deals with finite problems that have definite solutions. Effectivity deals with direction. Where are you going as a team? How can you work together to get there? Without the right mindset, you're not going anywhere.

I remember a few years back, I had the opportunity to take part in a team that was tasked with taking photos of school events. On the first day, I walked into a room full of people I had seen around but never really spoke to. I barely knew most of their names. None of my friends were interested in this sort of thing so I just sat at the side of the room on my own. After a few minutes had passed, the two leaders walked up to the front and started to give their introductions. They welcomed us and thanked us for coming. Next, they went over some logistic stuff, where to find the school DSLR if needed, how we could submit photos and such. After about ten minutes, they announced that there would be a number of events that needed to be covered for the yearbook. One held up a printed Excel document that had a list of event names and an adjacent column where you could write your name. She laid the paper down on the front table before walking to the back of the room to sit with her friends. Immediately, 25 people stood up and got into line to sign their name next to an event. I hung back at first and decided that I'd just wait until everyone else petered out before going up myself. After they had all left, I went up to the front to check the list. Every row was signed. Finally, I walked out of the room, and that was the last Yearbook club meeting I ever attended.

I emphasize this sort of thing not because I'm really particular or because I hold a grudge against my high school yearbook club, but rather because a leader's mindset can make or break a team. These things, while they seem really minor, can make a huge difference in the long run. Knowing how to properly delegate tasks is one thing, but knowing how to deliver work to your followers while ensuring that everyone on the team remains engaged is a whole different story that requires less management and more leadership. Efficiency, while, of course, efficient, doesn't work on people. Being efficient with people is objectifying. Humans require the human element: something that can only be achieved with collaborative, people-centric, effective solutions. There's more to leadership than getting work done. Leadership is about getting teams to work together, and it's your job to make that happen.