One of the most frustrating things that I experience in my process improvement work is when team progress stalls. There may be a lot of activity, but no real results. This can happen in many different ways.
Team members waste all their time arguing about what to do first. We have endless discussions about improvement ideas that never turn into action. Often, these discussions devolve into general gripe sessions with no real purpose.
On the other end of the spectrum, teams can find themselves with no clear ideas for improvement. We don’t make any progress because we don’t know what to work on.
There is one question that I have found to be extremely helpful in all of these situations.
Like many Americans across the country, I spent over an hour on Tuesday waiting in line for the opportunity to have my voice heard. This provided me with plenty of time to observe those around me. One thing that stood out was that the turnout was much larger than usual, which naturally led to a much longer wait.
While many voters expressed clear displeasure at the length of the line, I was filled with a sense of pride in my community. I’m happy to live in a community full of people that care about the country and want to do their part to help improve it in whatever way they feel is appropriate. They were willing to take an hour or more out of their day and invest it in the future of our government.
If only we could get our teams to be this engaged. We’ve covered in the past the best way to measure employee engagement as well as some strategies for engaging our teams and getting them to speak up. Today I would like to cover some thoughts from the voting line that can be applied to our teams and workplaces.
It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around.
108 years of striving and hoping. 108 years of falling short of the ultimate goal. It has been an incredibly long journey.
Granted, I am not a member of the 2016 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs (I love typing that). But this has been a dream of mine almost as long as I have been alive.
The journey for this team, however, really got started back in 2009 when the Ricketts family bought the Chicago Cubs and set their plan into motion. They set their sights on the long-term goal of winning a championship, knowing it would take years to accomplish.
The process involved totally overhauling the leadership and philosophy of the organization through the hiring of key individuals such as President of Baseball Operations, Theo Epstein, and manager, Joe Maddon. The entire roster was transformed with the new philosophy, The Cubs Way, in mind. The culture of the organization needed to be totally transformed to achieve their goal of a World Series Championship.
After enduring years of losing baseball, the hard work has finally paid off. The team did not deviate from their plan. They stuck with the process that was set in motion at the beginning and trusted that it would help them achieve their goal.
We can learn from this example if we are facing a daunting task. If your team is pursuing a long-term objective that seems impossible, take a deep breath and prepare for the journey.
There will be ups and downs along the way. Challenges will continually pop up. You will be tempted to deviate from your plan or try to find shortcuts. Significant change is never easy.
It takes time to get the right people on board. You may have to temporarily be content with less than ideal results. At times it will feel like you are making no progress, or even going backwards. That’s normal.
As you pursue your goal, focus on the steps you need to take today to keep moving forward. Trust your process. Celebrate the small victories along the way. Know that if you continue to persevere, the day will come that you get to celebrate the achievement of your ultimate goal.
Speaking of which, I’m going to get back to enjoying this victory.
Go, Cubs, Go!
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While driving through town this weekend, I smiled as I passed a local school preparing for a fun event for their students. My smile quickly faded as I noticed an unassuming line of orange cones. Thoughts of a tragic accident that occurred in the past year at that intersection flooded my mind.
I imagined the difficult conversations that must have occurred in the wake of the accident. The second guessing. The questions of what could have been done to prevent it from happening. What should be done to prevent any future recurrences? The cones were no doubt placed there as a result of these discussions.
While I appreciate the efforts made to prevent future accidents, I have one question that I can’t get out of my head: Why did a tragic accident have to happen before any changes were made?
A few years ago I had the chance to go on a whitewater rafting trip with some friends. Before we were ever allowed in the water, our guide spent a significant amount of time with us discussing safety rules and rafting techniques. He explained what we were to do, when to do it, and why it was important. We practiced responding to commands and ducking into the boat.
He wanted to make sure that when we were in the middle of a large rapid, we would all be on the same page, and respond appropriately.
Organizations face similar challenges every day. How do you ensure that everyone on your team is headed in the same direction? How do you make sure they are prepared to work as a team and respond appropriately when the heat is on.