If you’re a manager, you know that some people just work more slowly than others. They’re more methodical. They need more time to “process” information. They plod. Their work gets done but it just takes longer than you’d like. It might be frustrating but if the overall quality is good, you can plan around their pace.
Other people are stuck, which creates a different management challenge. It’s not a work style issue. They just can’t move their important tasks forward. What’s going on?
Two Essential Components to Fluid Workflow
People get stuck when they’re missing two essential things:
- Clarity about what they should be doing and
- Confidence that they know how to execute the task
If they know what to do and how to do it, they’ll produce. However, if either of these pieces is missing, they freeze. If this is the case, they typically don’t tell you out of fear. They worry about asking too many questions or appearing incompetent.
Getting people unstuck is one of the most critical, trust-building things you can do for your team.
One stuck person can wreak havoc on the team’s overall sense of unity. Everyone sees the problem. Unfortunately, others start stepping in to fill the gaps. This “patching” effort creates resentment and leaves people wondering why you, the manager, aren’t doing anything about the problem. So you must act–without allowing precious time to slip away.
Steps to Getting Your Team Unstuck
- Invite the employee to a meeting to review their assignments. Make it clear that any question they have is welcome, and really listen to the issues and concerns they raise.
- Clarify who is responsible for what on a particular project. This is easy if you already know the division of labor, but sometimes actually being forced to describe it exposes some muddiness. You may need to do some work before you can give the employee a clear answer.
- Next, talk through how the employee is planning to approach a particular task. Often, people aren’t seeing the simple, first steps they can take. They’re overwhelmed and not seeing how they’ll get from A to Z when they really only need to be focused on A to B, then B to C, and so on. You may uncover the need for some additional training or mentoring. Ask the person what they think they need to be successful and get it for them.
Process in Action
One client recently came into a new organization in a senior leadership role. He called me after a couple of months and said he had a mess on his hands. He had a highly skilled team, but they weren’t performing. His customers were fed up and his director was threatening to restructure the group. The issue was that several team members were completely stuck, not functioning at all, while others were working around the clock. Morale was incredibly low with a lot of infighting.
After discussing the challenge, we agreed to bring everyone together to complete a clarifying roles and responsibilities exercise. Improvement (not perfection) was immediate. Simply adding clarity to their work process and identifying who was responsible when helped get the gears moving again. They still have interpersonal work to do to rebuild their relationships, but their output is way up.
People get stuck when they don’t know their role or are unsure about how to do their job. Managers must diagnose and fix this situation or risk bigger breakdowns in team cohesion and productivity.
Robin Camarote is a communications strategy consultant, meeting facilitator, and writer with Wheelhouse Group. She is intent on helping leaders get more done with fewer headaches by outlining clear, creative strategies and solutions that build momentum and buy-in at all organizational levels. She writes about how to increase your positive impact at work. She is the author of a book on organizational behavior entitled, Flock, Getting Leaders to Follow. She lives with her husband and three children in Falls Church, Virginia. You can read her posts here.