“We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”

― Albert Einstein

It is not a secret that many teams are struggling, buried under the weight of unrelenting requests, constant changes, and insufficient resources to do the work.

In 2019, I conducted a survey across a diverse set of leaders and project managers. An overwhelming workload, lack of prioritization and constant churn was an issue then, resulting in overwhelm and disengagement across their teams.

Fast forward 3 years later, we survived the pandemic, however the pressure on many teams has increased dramatically. The revolving door of The Great Resignation exposed weaknesses that has put organizations at risk and make it more challenging for team members who remained behind to do the work. Not only are they picking up slack for the team members who left the organization and the resulting staff shortages, but in many cases, the lack of operational documentation describing how to accomplish the work has increased the severity and impact of the situation. Finding skilled resources is a challenge, however if you are lucky enough to find the right person and they accept your job offer, it can take months to train them to be effective on the team due to a lack of organization, process documentation and limited bandwidth of other team members to train them on what they need to know to be effective. Hiring and onboarding new resources is significant drain on a team’s limited bandwidth and adds to the stress level.

According to a recent report from the Mental Health America, 1 in 4 workers are exhibiting the more severe symptoms of burnout, 4 in 5 workers feel emotionally drained by their work, and report that workplace stress affects their relationships with their family, friends and coworkers. 57% of workers report that they do not feel that they can negotiate their responsibilities with their manager. It is expected that 1 in 5 workers will experience a mental health condition within a year, and the cost of this situation for US economy is a staggering $200 billion in lost productivity.

It is clear from the work we are doing with our clients, and the discussions with leaders and managers in our community, that the old ways of working just aren’t working – if they ever did work.  It is past time for a dramatic change in direction in how we are leading our teams and managing the work.

The problem is solvable. It’s not rocket science and we don’t have to reinvent the wheel; however, it does require bold leadership. We need to strip back all the busyness to get to the core of what is at the heart of the churn and take the time to set up the fundamentals that the team needs to be successful.

Busyness – running from meeting to meeting, and a constant stream of requests and changes – adds risk to an organization’s operations and has a direct impact on revenue. According to a Gallop report, only 15% of employees are fully engaged in their work. The remaining 85% are operating at some level of disengagement. Given that it can take 23 minutes to regain focus after a distraction, the cost to an organization’s bottom line is tangible. Let’s assume that your team are 75% focused and productive, and only 25% distracted and disengaged – which is a very conservative assumption – you can estimate the cost to your team by multiplying an average team member salary by the number of team members by 25%. For example, for a team of 10 members, if the estimated cost of employee salary plus benefits is $75,000, then the annual cost of a 25% disengagement is $187,000. 50% disengagement would be $375,000. Now we are talking real numbers that would make any CFO pay attention.

What if you took a portion of this cost and reinvested it back into your team to help stabilize the situation, fill resource gaps, train the team to address the skill gaps, implement processes and tools that would help reduce the churn, and increase opportunities for collaboration and innovation?

This is exactly what our clients have been doing. We have been working with executive leaders who are playing the long game for their organizations. They recognize the need to go beyond the work from home/work from the office argument and know that paying lip-service to promote wellness at a HR level without changing how their teams are operating is a short-term game. Yes, new HR wellness policies and activities are critically important, as is the overall culture of the organization. But this alone is not enough. If an employee’s manager and executive leaders are not leading strategically, or are not playing the long game, then the wellness benefits and anti-burnout presentations won’t make any difference. Their teams will still go home at the end of the day, overwhelmed and exhausted. They will still be reluctant to take vacation days because the week prior to and after vacation is a nightmare, so they know they will need to log in to keep up while out otherwise they will never catch up.

The leaders we are working with are leading boldly – they think strategically, are genuinely concerned about their team’s wellbeing, and can exhibit restraint to ensure that they give the team the space they need to assess and stabilize. They can say no to competing priorities, and are investing in the tools, coaching and support that their team needs.

What sets these executive leaders apart from the rest?

They have the courage to ask tough questions so that they can understand what is actually going on for the team, how the situation feels for the team, what the underlying root cause is and how the situation can be resolved. They recognize that they might be part of the problem, and are ready to listen, understand and address the feedback. They are open to changing how they how they manage and lead. This is real empathy in action.

They want to foster a collaborative culture – creating an environment where everyone is at the table together, talking about the real issues, and designing solutions that help solve those issues tactically and strategically. These executive leaders know that real change happens when everyone has a voice at the table, and their input is taken seriously.

They use their influence to advocate for the support their team needs – whether that is additional resources, adding consultants to help relieve pressure, paying for training and coaching, and saying “no” to work that isn’t critical for right now.  Their ability to exercise this restraint and make tough decisions is a critical bold leadership success trait.

The situation that many teams find themselves in today wasn’t created overnight, and there isn’t a silver bullet solution that you can apply to solve the situation overnight. It requires assessing where the team is at currently and developing a plan that helps move incrementally in a new direction, continuously reviewing and improving along the way. The journey can create teams that are nimble, have agility and are resilient. And the work of continuous improvement never ends – it just becomes embedded in how the team operates going forward.

When a leader decides to obtain help to embark on this journey with their team, that step alone sends a positive new message to the team, letting them know that they are valued and worth the investment. The assessment approach invites open feedback from the team, and this allows them to “tell it how it is”, releasing pent up anxiety and emotion at the same time. After a recent assessment an Executive Director told me that he could “already see an improvement in everyone’s energy and productivity. They are working more collaboratively together”.

In future articles, we will share more details on our approach and outcomes. While we have a framework that we use, each client situation is unique, so we tailor our approach to create a focused initiative that gets to the heart of the real issues quickly, and then provides a set of recommendations and roadmap to begin the journey to stabilization and balance for team members and the team as a whole.

As your takeaway from this article, take time to reflect on the following questions:

–      The cost of chaos and churn is real. What is the cost to your team and organization?

–      What is the cost and risk of inaction?

–      What is the opportunity cost that you are leaving on the table right now because your team has no bandwidth to create and innovate?

–      What is the cost of attrition on the team?

–      What can you do about it?

–      How can you set up an environment where your team can flourish and thrive?

We’d like to help you help your team – if you’d like to learn more about our approach and outcomes, reach out to schedule a short call.

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