“Entropy is the natural tendency of a system to degrade over time”.
Ever noticed how if you don’t use a piece of equipment for a while that it needs maintenance before it’ll work properly? This happened to me recently when I was using my bandsaw – turns out that the blade had begun rusting from disuse. As my father, a farmer, said to me: “Preventative maintenance beats fixing things”.
What’s Entropy Got to do With It?
Many teams bump along – team members work on their individual responsibilities and the overriding belief is that if everyone does their piece, the team will be successful. Our work with really successful teams shows that leaving success to chance is a poor strategy. Sometimes it can be striking how basic the preventative maintenance actions are to lift a team’s performance.
Here are some maintenance tips for you and your team:
1. Be uneasy
Complacency is easy to fall into. Successful teams know this and challenge the status quo, often. Teams that are students of themselves don’t accept that their current performance is predetermined; they engage in open dialogue about what is holding them back and what they should do to be more successful. Then they change something.
Hint: Assemble your team and ask a simple question such as “How can we improve as a team?”
2. Be compelled
A few years ago, we worked with a project team that was determined to improve its performance. We found that the most fundamental challenge they faced was that the team had multiple plans, while they all believed that there was only one plan. Once they consolidated all these plans a lot of their problems evaporated.
A team works in sync when it has a compelling reason to do so and a plan that everyone understands. The problem is that we often rely on our memory about the plan and don’t use it as a day-to-day tool to ensure continued alignment.
Hint: Conduct regular reviews of the plan. We recommend formal 90-day check-ins that combine a look back and a look forward where new elements are introduced to be worked on in the next three months.
3. Engage the right leadership gear
Leadership in a team is not about the team leader telling people what to do, or at least not all the time. Often, effective leadership is about standing back, coaching and encouraging team members to think situations through and determine what the best course of action is. It’s also often about encouraging team members to step up and be leaders themselves.
Hint: If you’re the team leader, hold back and challenge the team to find the answers to a problem. Let them plan a solution. Let them decide who will lead and who will help. Then support them to success.
4. Get better every day
We’ve observed many times that ideas from away seem more credible than the ones made at home. This often plays out when a team ignores a suggestion from a team member who might say: “In a previous life we had a problem like this and this is what we did…” The team has two options at that point – either gloss over the experience of the team member or stop and do a deep dive to really understand what can be learned from that story.
Hint: Mine the knowledge and experience on your team. Encourage team members to tell stories from their past that are relevant to the situation at hand – then look for the wisdom in the anecdote and see if it can be used in your team.
5. Build a trust wall
Nothing erodes performance more than a lack of trust. Why would I exert myself and take a risk to offer an idea or insight if I don’t trust that my contribution will be listened to and treated with respect? Why would I volunteer my energy and time if I didn’t trust that others will join me in changing something important to us as a team? A team with a strong wall of trust has the basis for building other elements of its success.
Hint: Build a habit in your team of carrying through on commitments to each other. Acknowledge success. Reinforce actions that demonstrate trust in the team. Put team members together so that they can build a track record of doing what they say they will. By being trustworthy, we become trusted.
Entropy is inevitable but not irreversible in a team. Keep working on the health of the team and performance will improve.
One good way to increase your team’s performance is to know where you’re starting from. Take our no-obligation team assessment and find out how best to start on the road to a high performing team. click here to get started.