I took my Golden Retriever Bree for a walk in the woods on the week-end. It was a beautiful day with newly fallen snow, and the air was crisp and fresh. As we were walking Bree was running around me with her nose down sniffing for something fun. Every once in a while she would look over at me to make sure I was still coming. Suddenly from behind a tree … SQUIRREL!! Bree would chase off after it. It doesn’t last long as the squirrel runs up the tree and chatters away at her.

Bree is a dog. Dogs chase squirrels. That’s OK as it shows their playfulness.

What isn’t OK is when leaders do this with their teams. At it’s most extreme I worked with one leader who was an excessive reader. There’s nothing wrong with reading of course, but the problem started when he’d return the next day and suddenly we’d find ourselves chasing the next squirrel (aka … silver bullet).

I remember one day he came in after having read something on Lean and suddenly we all needed to use the terms “Muri, muda and mura” (I’ll let you look them up but suffice it to say it’s about waste in a system). Then another time he may have read the 5 dysfunctions of a team and we were suddenly being lectured on trusting each other. It just went on and on  like this.

When leaders chase squirrels I’ve observed how detrimental it can be to the people they are leading.

If you don’t like the weather in Newfoundland wait 5 mins and it will change. If you don’t like the looks of today’s squirrel just ignore it and it will fade away. The people stop listening to the leader and may even write him off as eccentric. The leader gets frustrated because no one is executing on his ‘great’ ideas. This leads to a break down of trust and eventually we have a perfect case study for the “Five Dysfunctions of a Team”. Then before long the leader is talking about how the people are just resisting change.

My friend Jason Little has a saying … “Change resistance is like Rainbow Unicorns … fun to talk about but neither really exists!” I totally agree with him as I see us humans as being wired for change. It’s what makes us such incredible creatures.

Resistance is actually a sign of a problem. In the case of my squirrel chasing leader story there were numerous problems:

  • The manager assumed he knew the work better than the team themselves
  • There was a breakdown of trust between the leader and the people, so anything the leader said was met with skepticism
  • There is a limit to the rate of change a team can accept before they need time to absorb and settle into their new reality
  • The manager continually held the team in the “Storming” phase of the change curve “Forming, storming, norming and performing”

Here’s an idea: Let the team own their work environment (hardly a new or unique idea by the way). I see it all the time where leaders read something, then come in the next day and try to fix the team with it. This is why implementing Scrum, or Kanban on a team rarely succeeds. Leaders read some cool story where a team adopted Scrum or some other methodology and now they’re producing some kick-ass results. No methodology can do this alone.

Leaders: it’s time to hang up your cape and stop trying to save the world. You will find your job a lot easier if you instead let your team(s) save the world. The good news is you still have a very important job to do. They need your support as they learn how to do this. They need your support as they encounter problems and trouble on their journey. They need your support and leadership as the team struggles with breaking the status quo. Oh …. and your ideas will surely provide some great discussion points at their next retrospective. So rather than imposing your ideas on them, ask them how and where you can contribute your ideas.

To succeed teams need leadership. It’s time to shift the thinking from the archaic and ancient management practices of yesterday to providing real leadership.

And please … leave the squirrel chasing to Bree.

Building Great Teams

Building Great Teams

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