There is no big shot in our team!

“THERE IS NO BIG SHOT IN OUR TEAM!”, a phrase very commonly heard at any workplace. Doesn’t this statement seem bit contradictory? We refer to a TEAM and yet look for ONE big shot. Where is the team work, where is the leveraging of team members’ strengths as a whole? Is the vast ocean made of a single big drop of water? What makes us ignore or not capitalize on the strengths of all the team members? Is it too much of focus on their weaknesses or our being control freaks that leads us to focus mainly on the tasks to be delivered and not exceeding the delivery expectations?

I couldn’t help but ponder more on this after reading the following excerpt from “WINGS OF FIRE”  [chapter 13] – the autobiography of India’s ex-president, Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam:

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The young engineers, 280 to be precise, changed the dynamics of DRDL*. It was a valuable experience for all of us. We were now in a position to develop, through these young teams, a re-entry technology and structure, a millimetric wave radar, a phased array radar, rocket systems and other such equipment. When we first assigned these tasks to the young scientists, they did not fully grasp the importance of their work. Once they did, they felt uneasy under the burden of the tremendous faith placed in them. I still remember one young man telling me, “There is no big shot in our team, how will we be able to break through?” I told  him, “A big shot is a little shot who keeps on shooting, so keep trying.” It was astonishing to see how in the young scientific environment, negative attitudes changed to positive and things that were previously thought impractical began happening. Many older scientists were rejuvenated simply by being part of a young team. It has been my personal experience that the true flavour, the real fun, the continuous excitement of work lies in the process of doing it rather than in having it over and done with. To return to the four basic factors that I am convinced with are involved in successful outcomes: goal-setting, positive thinking, visualizing and believing.

*DRDL – Defence Research and Development Laboratory, Hyderabad

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Some key learnings that I could derive from this excerpt from a man who had the vision and could empower India’s youth to bring about a revolution:

* A small task isn’t really small when seen from a bigger perspective.

* Every effort in the right direction matters, even if it is miniscule.

* Never underestimate the strength of your team, capitalize on each member’s strength. One plus one does make eleven!

* Don’t just show your team that you’ve faith in them but also inspire and empower them to deliver.

* Don’t give up but believe in yourself and just do it.

* A right vision and a strong inspiration is very important to make any team shine.

* Bring about a synergy by combining the experience of the old with the skills of the young.

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Fix the ‘SYSTEM’ not the ‘PROBLEM’!

Higher attrition rate and low morale of any team is always a nightmare for the managers.

Following experience illustrates how just a small ‘twist’ in approaching an issue made a big difference! [This approach was actually implemented and it worked!]: [*Names changed to respect privacy]: Sherry had always been a victim of the so called ‘classes’ by her boss. She being senior in the team had lot of responsibilities and was also accountable for some of the key outputs and performance of two of her juniors.

It was not a rare sight to see her getting scolded by her boss in front of entire team. Lot of finger pointing was done by both without focusing much on finding the solution.

Sherry could often be seen taking too long breaks, not talking to anyone for days, with low energy levels. Ultimate impact was not just her own poor performance but also low performance of the members who were reporting to her. They complained of not getting enough help and time from Sherry when required.

Soon this became an issue with the team and the things were reported to the manager, who was not too oblivious to this situation. Manager felt that Sherry wasn’t paying any heed to his suggestions and warnings.

Just at the same time, a new team leader (TL) had joined the team. Manager discussed the issue with the new TL and TL took the onus to handle this concern.  One week was given to the TL to either solve the issue or be ready to give the Termination letter to Sherry.  It was ‘do’ or ‘let her die’ situation!

This is how TL handled the situation:

TL did some homework – gathered facts from the manager, indirect inputs from the team and observed Sherry during her work. The next best thing to happen was his building a good rapport with Sherry. She was undoubtedly very scared of new TL [assuming that she’ll be treated in the same way again]. A few coffee breaks with the new TL helped a lot. Within 2 days she was extremely comfortable talking to the TL.  It was felt that there are lot of things that were bothering Sherry [both on personal and professional fronts], which were impacting her concentration level and thus the performance. The worst part was that she was unable to speak it out with anyone and find the solution. Regular scolds from the manager had further deteriorated the situation.

 The building up of ‘initial comfort level’ with the new TL really eased the situation. A few regular sessions made Sherry share her concerns in detail. No doubt there were problems at her home front which were taking on her nerves, however, lack of encouragement, appreciation and recognition from the manager had a big blow on her morale.

Sherry’s listing out of the facts related to her achievements and good work convinced the new TL of the good potential she had. However, due to a wrong approach taken to fix the ‘problem’ marred the entire situation.

Next, the TL discussed the entire thing with the manager and the key point missing in the earlier approach was ‘NOT identifying any of the Sherry’s achievements’ and also there was no one with whom Sherry could discuss her concerns.

As expected, Sherry was seen in much better mood the very next day. Last few discussions had really helped her to free her mind of all the clutter and focus more on solution.

Besides this, few mails from the manager appreciating her work and recognition for her efforts in front of the entire team added to the much needed energy.

Sherry was back full of energy, new ideas, better performance, and more time for her juniors and positive attitude. A few tips from the TL really kicked her morale and she could look at her personal problems also with a new perspective.

The ultimate thing to happen was: Sherry got promoted within next 2 months just based on her performance!

Some key takeaways from this experience:

 1. Focus on the ‘system’ than the problem: System here was ‘approach to discuss the issues with employees’, and more focus on ‘complains’ was there.

2. Find out the ’cause’: Understand the ‘why’ behind the problem. Only then you can get to the right solution.

2. Do homework: Gather facts from all the parties involved, to have an unbiased perspective.

3. Don’t do re-work: Take inputs from various people on the approaches already tried and actions taken, which didn’t work. Don’t re-invent a non-rotating wheel.

4. Build the comfort level: Building comfort level and trust is very crucial for open communication. This doesn’t have to be done in too formal manner. Simple relaxing breaks also do the deal.

5. Start with positive feedback: Listen to all the parties involved and always start by giving the positive feedback to the other party. Complaining at the first instance [unless the mistake is a regular repetition] should be a No-No.

6. Find alternatives, discuss and evaluate: Take notes, think and work on various solutions that might work. Evaluate pros and cons of each on everyone involved while also looking at the bigger system, i.e., the impact on entire team and organization.

7. Decide next steps: There must be an action plan to be implemented.  In this case, it was to: Give Sherry and other team members a truly deserved recognition, Give responsibility with authority to build trust, Have regular 2-way feedback sessions.

8. Review and revise: Once the action plan is implemented, make sure to review the results and revise the approach if needed.

In a nutshell, Fix the SYSTEM and not the PROBLEM.