People tell me that work is never going to be perfect. That no matter what role you have, there are going to be problems. No matter what organisation you work in, there will be issues. Logically, I know this to be true. There are problems in every workplace and every team. But then, there are also leaders that spend too much time fixing team problems, rather than on the work itself.
What I aim for is not a place where everything is perfect and everyone is happy all the time. I aim for an environment that encourages team improvement. Didn’t get it right this time? Great, next time we’ll do better.
Here are some phrases I hate. “That’s just the way it is here.” “That’s the nature of the industry.” “That’s how we’ve always done it.”
I hate these phrases because they are powerless, victim statements. They show that people have given up on team improvement. They say that no matter how much we try, nothing we do will work. Why bother trying if it’s just “how it is”?
Aim for team improvement, even in your own small context
We aren’t all working on the SpaceX program with Elon Musk. Some leaders are working in companies that wouldn’t rate a mention on the world scale. Some are working in industries that are in the dark ages. Others are working in companies that supply components to other organisations, not even clearly seeing their work have an impact on the end customer.
No matter where you work, improvement should be a key driver. Utopia may not be possible, but why not aim for it? We should be trying to improve every week, every month and every year. Even if our team sells toilet accessories.
Team improvement plays a key role in helping you drive, motivate and keep your team members interested. Let’s look at the ways it can help you and your team.
1. Team improvement initiatives provide goals
When you’re leading an operational team, life can become fairly mundane. Your team is asked to produce things or provide a service. The team does the work. Then it starts again. It can seem like a never ending workload. Team improvement provides targets to aim for which may not naturally exist.
Project teams are slightly different in that they have a defined scope of work to complete. A project (usually!) has a defined end point. This means that you already have a defined goal for the team. Operational teams are usually fulfilling a continuous need, so it can be good to punctuate the constant stream of requests with something else to strive for.
Whether it be a reduction in processing time, an increase in quality or better working conditions, team improvements can provide key goals for team members to strive for.
2. Team improvement feeds your high performers
High performing team members feed on achievement. They need to feel like they’re progressing. If your team isn’t improving, then your high performers are becoming dissatisfied. They feel as if they aren’t getting anywhere. They feel as if they aren’t making a difference.
High performers who feel as if they aren’t making a difference or using their skills appropriately will soon leave. Improvement opportunities help your high performers feel like they are learning. If they’re still learning, then they have at least one reason to stay in your team.
3. Team improvement provides opportunities to lead
Team improvement provides leadership opportunities for your team members. Give team members the opportunity to lead initiatives that improve productivity, quality or team morale.
Not only will this motivate team members, it will give them valuable leadership experience to include in their resume, for future job opportunities. After all, your job is not to keep them in your team forever. It’s to help them improve until they can find their next big opportunity.
4. Team improvement means that you’ll be ready for change
If your team is consistently improving, your team members will be ready for change. They will learn that change is constant. As such, when you really need to improve, due to changes to your organisation’s internal or external environment (such as new regulations or new competitors), you’ll be ready for it.
A team that is not accustomed to change is a team that will show the greatest degree of resistance. Like steam engine wheels that have rusted in place, you’ll need some significant force before you can get them moving again.
Embarking on frequent team improvement initiatives will future proof your team. Not only will they perform better, but they’ll be ready when real, mandatory change happens.
5. Team improvement maintains skill levels
Improving the way your team works keeps people learning new skills. Introducing new and better ways of working in your industry will prevent your team members from growing stale. Keeping in touch with your professional network can help you to remain aware of industry trends and new ways of working. You and your team members will need to learn new skills and techniques to improve, which will keep your skills current.
If you’re leading a team which isn’t improving, there is a good chance the skills of both you and your team are stagnating.
If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.
– Jack Welch.
You probably won’t achieve utopia in your team. That’s not an issue, unless you’re using that as an excuse not to try. Team improvement initiatives keep your team learning, ready for change and provides opportunities for skill development and leadership.
Are you consumed by the status quo? Or are you trying to get better?