One of the key skills of any successful team is the ability to be honest and open about performance of individuals and teams. We can all be drawn in by the, “it’s always worked this way”, mantra as if it is some sort of infallible holy tradition. It’s easy to do this, why step forward to put your head above the parapet and question months and years of working practices? There are a few good reasons, particularly if teams are not profitable and likely survive off the back of other profitable teams – a truth I have seen in multiple companies over the years.
No team should be unprofitable month after month, if they are then there is a requirement and responsibility to reflect and adapt. Nor should teams that are profitable believe they are exempt from reflection just because they are financially positive, to declare you can improve no further is to be so arrogant that you become the most recent casualty of, “it’s always worked this way”, rhetoric .
Toyota and Royal Marines
The Toyota production system has often been referenced as the success story that gave birth to the modern Agile movement. I recall learning about this in college one aspect of Toyota’s transformation stuck with me strongly.
Toyota removed the hierarchy that meant workers and managers ate lunch separately. Instead, all Toyota employees ate lunch and took breaks freely mixing with other at various levels in the company. One of the outcomes of this integration was the discussions that were had between those on the floor doing the hands on work and those in the offices delegating and directing the work. Workers were able to share real experiences of problems and propose solutions that managers could then act upon to improve the process. Workers had their problems solved, managers looked good for improving performance and the relationship between workers and managers created greater cohesion towards a shared common goal and purpose at Toyota.
Similarly, I have read a number of books about war and I remember the story of how the Royal Marines, as part of a wider force, made fantastic progress “yomping” across The Falklands at a rate of speed that the Argentine forces did not expect. This is fairly well know in the public narrative but there is a smaller aspect that I really like.
A troop of marines found their advance halted by a fixed machine gun nest, a well fortified defensive position that pinned down enemy forces very effectively. The marines were held at a distance unable to make much of an impact with their rifles and light support weapons. A lowly marine suggested to his troop commander that maybe they should look at their problem a bit differently. They had weapons designed to combat small forces of soldiers and they had heavier weapons designed to combat light vehicles and armoured vehicles. The young marine suggested using a weapon normally designed to attack a armoured vehicle from a distance, to attack this machine gun nest.
There was no rule to say only certain weapons could be used in such a situation but it can be appreciated that a troop would assume using similar weapons against a defensive position is only fair. By changing the game, as any victorious force has in military history, the marines were able to dispatch the position quickly and easily by introducing an approach that had not been considered before, or at least not widely shared.
If You Had All The Answers You Could Do It Yourself
The reason we have teams of people is that we cannot do it all ourselves. If we could we would do it ourselves, it would be much cheaper. The fact of the matter is that the more minds you apply to a problem, the richer the solutions you will get as an outcome.
It does not matter where someone sits in the hierarchy either, you can be the head of a department with 40 years experience yet that is no replacement for a young mind to enter the game and not play by the rules, either literal or mentally imposed on the self. Likewise a young mind is no replacement for experience, but combine these and you have a powerful alliance to approach a problem from a different perspective to a less forward thinking organisation.
Honesty Is The Best Policy
It can be hard to admit a mistake like not having improved a process sooner, but a process has to be improved at some point so why not now and why not review it regularly? Approach your working practices with a “Strong Opinions, Loosely Held”, that is to say you are very sure and clear on your opinions but it does not hurt to be open to and welcoming of other opinions that will inevitably shape your own.
The aim of the game in modern organisations is to target objectives, big and small throughout. These goals have various measurable outcomes depending on the goal but there is one aspect I have a strong opinion (loosely held) and that is that everything you do should be in an effort to promote your superior and at the very least ensure they don’t get fired. Being bold and articulate to improve a team and your own individual self only serves to accelerate a teams velocity, being able to change a single process in some way that can easily double the output of many workers, which has a powerful multiplying impact.
Teams Are Cells
Teams are like cells, they maintain a state. You inject energy into a cell and there is a disrupting effect on the state, a period of instability and confusion results until quickly the disruption calms and a new state is reached and maintained.
This is how everything works in the world at a cellular level. Never fear change, embrace it and assess it. If the change is positive you can welcome it with open arms as part of the family now, and if it is negative you can expel it entirely. Without the trial you will never know what works for you and your team, it is stagnant to fear change as an ultimate end knowing that change is fluid and can be changed back and changed forward on assessment.
Don’t fear change of how you do things, or what you believe. You were not born knowing everything, actually you were born knowing nothing at all about the world so don’t let ignorance and arrogance lead your mindset – don’t be a baby.