One of the flaws of much of the literature and training on leadership, team development, and organizational change, is the search for the big fix. Frameworks, models and broad, sweeping programs are alluring, yet prove unwieldy in their translation from the page or training room into reality.
When exposed to complete, new ways of thinking and acting, humans don’t suddenly transmogrify, casting aside old, bad habits and adopting new and improved approaches.
As someone once said, “It ain’t happening.”
You don’t read a book or a whole shelf of books or attend a training class and suddenly embody the models outlined in the material.
Groups don’t study the characteristics of high-performance teams one week and suddenly adopt those behaviors the next week.
Rapid wholesale change in human thinking and acting is rare in general and practically unheard of in the workplace.
Mostly, if we change at all, we change incrementally.
Coaches get this. They focus on helping individuals or groups modify one or two core behaviors as a means of improving performance.
The best team coach I ever observed skipped the lectures on high-performance teams and pushed us to modify two core behavior sets: how we talked and how we decided.
It turns out we knew how to do neither in spite of our endless blathering and the steady stream of decisions and subsequent reversals.
Once we re-learned those simple but not simplistic behaviors, we were able to focus on bringing our vision to life.
Effective leaders like airline pilots understand that small adjustments generate big changes.
Sweeping incrementalism—focus on a single, established behavior and introduce a small change to drive significant results.
Sweeping Incrementalism at Work:
A product manager cancels the travel budget to industry events for the balance of the year and instead, sends her team members to study industries and technologies far-removed from the core business. The process opens their eyes to new market, partner, and product opportunities. A few years later, they are a very different firm, in part, because of the expanded view she helped them achieve.
A GM recognizes the heavily siloed environment and lack of energy for continuous improvement in the unit he inherited. Instead of blowing up the culture, he creates cross-department teams and sends them out to look at companies outside their industry who are the best in the world at customer service and quality management. The intent was not to imitate or even replicate but to grab ideas and develop approaches that fit the firm’s environment. The initiative helped break down walls and stimulate an environment of ideas and actions.
A CEO complains to an executive coach about her uncreative management team. After observing her interactions with her team, the coach helps her refrain from framing and solving every problem in real time, and instead step back and ask, “How should we?” and “What if?” questions.
It turns out the team was very creative.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
The big fixes are alluring, but the best results frequently derive from subtle changes. If your team members aren’t talking, it’s because you’re not listening. If ideas aren’t flowing, people are afraid of speaking up for fear of being shot down. If your product roadmap lacks anything new, it’s because your view is too narrow. Quit complicating the situation by looking for large changes when a simple adjustment might yield big results.