If there are times when you feel like your team is inefficient and not focusing on the right things, you’re not alone. If you feel unaware of how long things will take and can’t make projections for future projects, you’re not alone. Many leaders feel unaligned with their team. I know. I’ve been there (and still find myself there on occasion). At times, managing feels more like herding cats than leading a company (not to degrade your team or mine, just an expression). Talking with fellow leaders, I have learned that this is commonplace…even when it seems like everyone else is succeeding all the time.
Things pile up in times of stress–those times when you feel the most out of control. It’s understandable. You lose your way in a “perfect storm” when project delays collide with unforeseen expenses and a lost customer.
These are the times when you need a go-to method to keep your ship on course.
Here I outlined my own three step method that works in my perfect storms.
Step 1: breathe and write
It may sound trivial, but it’s a step I find quite helpful and therapeutic. Problems often aren’t as bad as I make them out to be, and taking time to slow down, write, and reflect is absolutely necessary. Take a few minutes to write down your thoughts about what troubles you. Are you running into a project delay and feel like the team is not efficiently managing their time? Are you unsure on how to forecast the next quarter because this one failed to go according to plan?
If you write down your thoughts, then the real problem may reveal itself to you. Getting your thoughts out of your head clarifies your thinking and shows angles of the problem you may have missed in the moment–it helps you see the forrest for the trees.
Book yourself 30 minutes on your calendar, find a place all to yourself, and then, with no reservations, just write. On your computer, a notepad, a napkin. Anywhere.
Make it happen. It’s your job as a leader.
Once you have your thoughts down and some clarity around your major points of frustration, move on to Step Two.
Step 2: talk with your team
Go talk with your team members face-to-face and one-on-one to hear directly from them.
What are they working on? How do they feel about their workload? What problems do they face day-to-day? What could be done differently from their perspective?
The key here is to listen. Ask probing questions that solicit their input like, “what is something that you feel we could do to solve the problem?” or, “what is something we could implement in a single day that would help?” You don’t have to act on all their advice, but it’s important to receive it and make them feel heard. Let them know you’re trying to solve problems and get to the bottom of key issues.
What you find out while you listen will amaze you. It’s so much more informative than merely asking for a status update.
Once you’ve talked to several (or all) of your team members, move to Step Three.
Step 3: draft action steps and let everyone loose
Go back to your notes from Step One and compare them to what you heard from your team in Step Two. Did they say that the software you chose for project management isn’t working out? Did they identify roadblocks? Any bottlenecks? Start by taking your team’s input, and make some quick wins in areas that overlap with what you see as key problems. By working with your team, you’ll solve problems faster than you could have on your own, and you will honor your team by actually acting on the input they gave you.
After your one-on-ones, respect “heads down” time. Talking to my team enlightened me to their lack of uninterrupted alone time. When they have their rare “heads down” time they get more done, feel more accomplished, and become more motivated. Amazing!
It astounds me how easy it is to foster a culture of interruption. Priority turns into ASAP on every task, and you’re in a knee-jerk cycle of always reacting. Toxically keeping on like this will eventually kill the team’s productivity and innovation. They no longer look for problems to solve to make the company better or focus on the business’ mission. Instead, they are stuck putting out fires or waiting for someone to ask for another thing ASAP. Give them their heads down time.
So now it’s time to stop reading and go do.
Take the time to reflect (put in on the calendar if you need to).
Get 30 minutes just to yourself and write down your thoughts. It’s easy to say you’ll just think about it on the drive home or in the shower, but you need to write it down. Writing clarifies your thoughts and give you a record you can refer back to later.
Here is a simple Google Sheet to help you get started. You don’t even have an excuse
If you try my method, tell me about it in the comments. I’d love to hear your tips, too!