Equip the Team
- September 25, 2008
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We’ve been a going concern at BP3 since May 2007. But it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was part of a much larger organization. I almost forgot how fast a small team can achieve alignment. In larger organizations, you accept that you have to say the same thing many times before it sinks in as “policy” rather than opinion. You spend a lot of time bringing people along with your way of thinking, giving them an opportunity to reflect back to you, provide input into the process.
Sometimes it is great to be part of a small team. A single email rallies the troops to action. Everyone is on board with the goals, and providing valuable inputs toward those goals. One of the things I felt was most important at my last stop was setting out an operating philosophy for our team, and a “compass”. The compass tells you where “North” is so that you can make decisions in relation to how close they keep the compass aligned with North. When a company makes every decision as a one-off exception, and hopes that the team will infer the philosophy from those collective decisions, the company is taking a huge bet that won’t pay off. Spell out the philosophy. Give them a thumb-rule or compass for making tough decisions. Give them visibility to how you apply the philosophy and compass to your own decisions. And then watch your team apply the philosophy and compass to their own, providing some coaching along the way. It isn’t that different from teaching, when you get right down to it. I’ve seen some pretty senior leaders (in multiple organizations) exhibit some excellent crisis management skills, or customer management skills, and yet fail to communicate the principles behind their behavior to their team. As a result, those decisions keep going back to those leaders to make, instead of being made closer to where the action is. This creates bottlenecks in the organization, and it can inhibit growth of the organization in terms of size…
You can’t leave a healthy culture behind unless you invest in this kind of team and grass-roots self-reliance. One of the Navy Seals sayings is to “equip the man” rather than to “man the equipment” and I think that’s a guiding principle for running teams of any size. We’re working to impart our organizational philosophy to our team, as well as other tools, such as six sigma, process mapping, value stream, etc. These are alignment-aiding tools that our team can put to work to guide their own efforts without needing to check in with “management”. Further, I think this philosophy can be pushed to process implementations. Don’t look at the process as equipment to be manned by operators. Look at it as a tool to equip your process operators to do their job more efficiently and more effectively. The change in perspective can open our eyes to great process improvement opportunities that we’ll otherwise miss.