A Simple Exercise That Will Unstuck Your Team Immediately
When people ask me what I do, my answer generates both excitement and skepticism.
“I help people improve their change fitness” — I reply. By becoming more adaptive, experimental and resilient, they can thrive in a change-driven world.
The notion that we can prepare for change makes everyone feel excited. Resisting change can only cause suffering. But when we prepare –or stretch for change- we can perform at our best. Similar to how we stretch our bodies before practicing sports.
And then comes the skepticism. “Is this approach too soft? Will it create real impact?” –they ask. Investing in “soft skills” feels like a waste of time. But, as Seth Godin wrote in this great post, soft-skills are anything but soft.
That’s the purpose of sharing this simple exercise. To show you how a small action can create a real impact in your organization.
Keep reading to unstuck your team.
Why Everyone Suffers from Feeling Stuck
“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” — Albert Einstein
To unstuck a team, first, understand their pain.
Even the most successful professionals or teams feel stuck. It happened to a friend of mine. I always thought he had a great job. Peter –an engineer, MBA graduate- holds a senior position at a large global tech company.
Yet, he feels stuck.
My friend has been leading the development and launch of a new customer-facing system. It’s been a long journey for his team. One full of scrutiny as well. The top leaders want to monitor the progress. They want to know as much as those involved in the implementation.
Every Tuesday, Peter has to present a report to the top leaders. The document is so detailed that it requires a full day of preparation. On top of that, everyone gets tense as the “scrutiny” meeting is about to start.
But none of the above is what makes my friend job’s painful. It’s the notion that the report is useless is what really makes him feel stuck.
Peter (and his colleagues) realize that this weekly update has no real impact on the project. Its only purpose seems to make the leaders feel involved and acknowledged.
My friend wants to cancel it. But this challenge took him nowhere: his boss didn’t want to question his boss. Even though he too agrees that the report is time-consuming.
To make things worse, the week Peter’s wife was giving birth to their third child, his boss got mad at him because he couldn’t present that week’s report.
The notion that my friend’s boss also realizes that the report is not useful but does nothing about it makes him feel even more stuck.
I hear stories like this all the time.
There are three recurring themes why people feel stuck at work:
1. A boss’ unreasonable behavior drives everyone crazy
2. Employees waste time and talent on meaningless activities
3. Personal and professional interests collide rather than feed off each other
Unstuck Your Team with This Exercise
“Doing less meaningless work, so that you can focus on things of greater importance is NOT laziness. This is hard for most people to accept, because our culture tends to reward personal sacrifice instead of personal productivity.” — Tim Ferriss
The exercise is simple:
Remove meaningless tasks from your team.
Eliminate those activities that bring no value — neither to the company nor to its employees. Free up their calendars so that they can focus on things that matter.
Most importantly, liberate your team from suffering.
Here’s how it works:
(full instructions at the bottom):
- Ask your team to review all the activities they perform daily
- Let them categorize all tasks, with special emphasis on those that make them feel stuck
- Ask the team to choose three of those “stuck activities” that they want to eliminate
- Experiment by testing what happens when you remove those activities
- Be willing to support both the experiment and the team
- Monitor the impact on the organization performance and the team’s excitement
Most leaders feel very nervous every time we run this exercise.
They fear that removing certain “practices” will affect their company’s performance. They worry thinking that their team doesn’t understand what’s good for the company.
Trust me on this one and take the leap: your team knows better.
They are closer to the business than you are. Spending their whole day in the trenches gives them a better perspective on what’s important and what’s a waste of time.
The experience of this exercise is revealing. You will understand how much your team might be suffering at work. You will realize that what seems important to you -as a leader- might be completely disconnected from your team’s interests.
You will understand what excites your team and what makes them feel stuck.
But, the most critical learning, is to let go. The company won’t suffer by eliminating any of those “stuck activities.” Actually, the team’s motivation increases. And so does the overall performance.
“Removing Meaningless Work” — Exercise Instructions
1. Get all your entire team on a room–this exercise is more effective when everyone’s present.
2. Launch: Kick-off with an icebreaker to create awareness and a “safe space.” Setting up the room is critical: the more honest the feedback, the bigger the impact you can create.
3. List: Ask your team to write a list of the things they’ve done in the past two weeks. Ideally, they should list all activities day by day. The more obsessive and detailed, the better. Meetings, phone calls, preparations, breaks, etc. Everything needs to be captured. Everyone should do this on her/his own.
4. Categorize: Let everyone assign emojis to their respective tasks (using a playful tone helps). To keep it simple, stick to three levels:
- 😊 Smiling Face –what they love doing
- 😐 Neutral Face –what they are okay doing
- 😠 Angry Face –what they hate doing
5. Group: Let each person group the activities into three levels (smiling, neutral, angry). Ask them to find a theme for each group: one sentence that captures the ‘why.’
6. Consolidate: Divide the team into groups of five or six. Ask them to share their findings within their group.
7. Consolidate: Each team should consolidate individual’s analysis into one. Keep in mind what each category stands for:
a. The Happy Face stands for “activities that we love and want to spend more time and do more of those.”
b. The Neutral Face stands for “activities that we are OK doing and have no objection to doing more of those or spending more time when needed.”
c. The Angry Face stands for “activities that make us feel stuck that we want to stop doing (or simplify them) so we can spend the least time possible on them”.
7. Share out: Each group present to the rest. Provide time for questions and discussions.
8. Your role: You, as the boss, can also ask questions. But only at the end–avoid influencing the team. Be patient. Especially if the team criticizes an activity or project that is close to your heart.
9. Prioritize: Time to remove tasks. Let your team choose the top three activities they want to get rid of. It can be a report, a status meeting, a specific policy, etc.
10. Eliminate: It’s time to build a plan. Choose one activity that will be immediately “removed” from the team workload. At least for 30 days.
11. Eliminate more: On week two, remove the activity that was second on the list. Following the above pattern.
12. Eliminate even more: On week three repeat the same process but, this time, with the third activity on the list.
14. Monitor: Check out if eliminating tasks affects (or not) overall performance and business results. You might need to bring some tasks back. Be patient though–an initial variance might not be significant in the long-run. In most of the cases, we’ve run this exercise, nothing happens. No one knows better what matters (or not) than your team.
Depending on the dynamics of your business, you can run this exercise once a quarter or every month. What is exciting for a team today can become irrelevant tomorrow.
Like my friend Peter’s report. Initially, it was probably a good idea. But, at some point, it lost all relevance yet no one did anything about it.
That’s the good thing about adopting an adaptive mindset. To improve your change fitness requires on-going preparation, practice, and adjusting.
Go ahead. Unstuck your team.
Improve Your Change Fitness
Download a free copy of my guide “7 Ways to Improve Change Fitness.”