If curiosity really did kill the cat I’m in trouble. I’ve never grown out of the toddler mindset of questioning everything, and so I continue to gain valuable insights and knowledge that I wouldn’t have gotten from not being curious. When something happens over and over again, like a team being unprepared to face 21st-century challenges, curiosity pushes me to explore and ask “what if?”
What if I led a team that was habitually prepared? What if I shared my findings with other team leaders? Wonder no more.
Well-planned processes keep a team balanced and on track.
I tried to cook a complicated dish last week from memory…and it did not go well. On top of using the wrong combination of ingredients, I felt chaos take over as I tried to get the right ingredients in the pot at the right time. Needless to say, it didn’t taste as I intended.
Let me be clear. I’m not one to follow recipes to the letter. However, when I approach a new meal idea I take a look at a few recipes for structure and guidance, then I add my special touch. Had I done so for last week’s meal I would have:
- Had a roadmap or structure for success.
- Felt more prepared and confident.
- Been more effective.
It starts with the recipe
The same holds true for team projects. Many small operations, or processes, are integral to a team’s success, and they must be approached with structure and direction—just like recipes. Breaking down team functions into steps creates a standard “recipe” for how that operation should work before you add your special touch.
Creating a Successful Process
To ensure you create processes that guide your team to success, make sure to secure commitment from team members on the steps you’ll take, how each one should be implemented, and the order in which they happen. You can have all the right ingredients, but if no one agrees on the recipe, nothing will get done. Just as your team’s overall goals require collaboration, the creation of the processes must involve your team’s agreement.
Let me make a distinction: processes should not be confused with expectations, which we discussed in my earlier blog The Secret to Getting Your Team Aligned. Expectations are standards of working together a team must observe or face repercussions. Processes, on the other hand, are ordered steps for more complex situations that lead to a planned result.
If it sounds like you can create processes for just about any initiative or problem your team takes on, you are correct! Start with the tricky-sticky ones first.
Use the scenario below as an example to illustrate one process in particular that is vital to any team and the five steps you can take to prepare your team for success.
A Process for Problem Solving
The project that Roberto’s team is working on has hit a snag. After weeks of programming and designing a web platform for their biggest client, they’re informed they won’t have the budget or time they were originally allowed. Everything has to be done more quickly and must be less expensive. (This never happens, right?)
Thankfully, Roberto has a process in place to solve problems like this. He analyzes the situation and takes each step in sequence:
- Define the problem: The crux of the issue isn’t time or money. Those are obvious. Roberto knows the real problem is deciding what to cut from the project, while keeping the client satisfied with the result.
- Who is responsible and how: Roberto’s associate, Xang, oversees daily deadlines for the project. Roberto assigns her the task of working with the account manager to decide which steps can be shortened to fit the new timeline. The two of them get agreement from the team during their regular responsive review meetings.
- Commit to criteria: When Xang returns to Roberto with the newly approved timetable, Roberto consults with the client. He gets buy-in on the cuts necessary to meet the constraints and proposes new criteria for measuring the platform’s success. (This step is critical!)
- Estimate your time well: Roberto and Xang check in with each team member, meeting with them separately as needed to offer the support they need to finish their tasks.
- Communicate strategically: Closer to the project deadline, Roberto increases the frequency of their responsive review meetings to allow members to collaborate as closely as possible and problem-solve.
When the project is finally presented, the client knew what to expect; each team member was prepared, and the change in deadline and the budget was taken in stride.
The situation Roberto and his team faced could have devolved into chaos but with a clear process in place, they were prepared to meet client and organizational expectations.
When teams take an intentional look at how they work—whether to solve a problem, create deliverables, or brainstorm—the best process steps become clear. What makes a team efficient in the long run, however, is establishing “recipes” for these moments so they can follow them again and again with success.
Making your team’s processes repeatable, equitable, and easy to follow will streamline your project or challenge every time.
Until then, stay curious.
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