How teams coordinate action to achieve the greatest possible outcomes
Teams are about getting things done smoothly and successfully. Given the normality of uncertainty, our flow of work is subject to disruptions and interferences that require us to continually adapt and adjust. How teams adapt and secure one another’s cooperation and commitment is fundamental to effectively coordinating action.
To illustrate, let me share a conversation I had with an executive with whom I engaged in an executive coaching relationship. For anonymity, I will call him John.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, John, like most leaders, faced a significant challenge: how could he ensure that teams across the organization continued to perform and deliver results while working remotely?
Over a Zoom call, John shared a concern. ‘Pre-COVID, we were all teaming and working together in the office. Now, in this hybrid way of working, we’re working together and apart with half the team members working from the office and the other half working from home.’
Sensing there was a greater underlying concern, I asked what concerned him most about working remotely.
John replied, ‘Well, I’m not sure that we are coordinating action as effectively as we could. If I’m really honest, I’m not sure that the team members are as productive as they could be, and in fact, I’m a little concerned that they’re wasting a lot of time.’
Curious as to what was on John’s mind, I asked how he believed team members were wasting their time. ‘We’re having too many unproductive meetings. So much effort goes into staying engaged in back-to-back virtual meetings day after day. Outside of that, everyone is getting caught up with distractions around the house and I’ve no doubt that some are watching movies on Netflix.’
While this may have been the case, I couldn’t help but think about what this may indicate about the levels of trust across the organisation. Reflecting on John’s response, I offered a different perspective and suggested that besides the ‘known spoken’ concerns he raised, there was also a range of ‘known unspoken’ concerns. I suggested that one of the most significant ‘known unspoken’ breakdowns to coordinating action was the propensity team members have to make sloppy requests of others. We make sloppy requests of others when we do the following:
- When we throw out hints but don’t ask for anything specific, for example, ‘your desk needs a clean.’
- When the precise nature of actions to be performed is not specified, for example, ’could you tidy your desk?’
- When the exact time to have the task completed by is not indicated, for example, your desk needs to be tidied as soon as possible.’
- The criteria to judge satisfactory completion is not clear, for example, ‘everything is to be neat.’
- The assumption that the listener understands the precise nature of what has been requested.
As Alan Sieler in Coaching to the Human Soul says, ‘a sloppy request will always get a slippery commitment.’
Consider for a moment how much time and effort is wasted by making and committing to sloppy requests. How teams coordinate action to achieve what is most important is a function of the effectiveness of the requests they make of one another and the quality and trust in the commitments they give to one another.
I asked John how many requests, on average, he made of others on any given day—be they via email, voicemail or in direct conversation. After some thought, John estimated he made 40–50 requests of others each day. I then asked him to consider what percentage of his requests were fully met to his satisfaction. He answered that on average only 40%–60% of his requests were fully met.
The sad truth is that John isn’t the exception. The results from a poll I conducted in 2020 also showed that between 40% and 60% of requests made of others are effectively met. Imagine the implications across an organisation when, on average, 50% of requests made of others are not satisfactorily met.
Imagine the dollar value of the direct and indirect costs associated with 50% of everyone’s requests not being met? How much time, effort and energy are being wasted by having to make the same request of others and them having to redo the work. Besides the wasted time and energy, what impact would this have on the levels of morale and motivation across the organisation?
Written by Bernard Desmidt.
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