It was an early morning breakfast meeting when she explained to me about all the changes that were taking place within her organization. In her words, “there are a 1,000 details related to change, multiple moving parts with some planned small short term wins.” Given recent successes, senior leaders in her organization were wanting to aggressively scale everything up and engage the whole organization. “What do you think about scaling everything up so fast, Geery?”, she asked me.
I responded that within her small team people were still building foundational trust and still building a set of common language.
“So,” she asked, “how fast can we go?”
“Only as fast as you can maintain what you have already built.”
One of the things I have learned during the last two years of visiting with leaders and teams from all over the country, is that once a team is launched and people want to expand it’s influence, most leaders underestimate the increasing percentage of time, resources, and staff that are required to maintain action over time within the initial pilot group.
Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao in their exceptional book, Scaling Up Excellence: Getting To More Without Settling For Less (Crown Business, 2014) write that “scaling requires leaders to find and develop pockets of excellence, connect people and teams, and ensure that excellence continues to flow through those ties.” Right now, many people in senior leadership positions are wanting good teamwork to expand to other areas. They want a “successful team” to role model “the right way” to other teams. Therefore, they try to deploy the successful team’s leader to help the other dysfunctional teams. When this happens, it rarely works well.
First, people have to realize that within a pocket of excellence, the team leader has made an emotional connection with people who are creating the pocket of excellence more than just the intellectual connection. It’s just as much about the feel of the process as the facts. Theses same leaders also assist others in making connections with others inside and outside the team so people can maintain perspective.
Second, these successful team leaders understand the difference between technical problems and adaptive problems. They make sure we are not trying to find technical solutions to adaptive problems. They also understand that adaptive problems can only be addressed through changes in people’s priorities, beliefs, habits and loyalties. In essence, this requires all involved to generate new ways of thinking about problem solving and decision-making. And leaders who maintain their teams over time are very clear about the new way of thinking.
This week, ask yourself the following two questions: What is the new mindset that I are wanting my team to embrace? Have I clarified this with them? The answers will help you maintain a successful team over time and prepare you and the team for the scaling process.