Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Avoiding the Waterfall

Have you ever led, managed, or been a part of a team/organization that was:

a) constantly bickering?
b) so tied up in bureaucracy that every form had a form to request the form?
c) hamstrung by office politics?
d) full of people lacking passion and energy?

If one or more of these characterize your organization or team, it's often because the team lacks a vital ingredient. The missing ingredient?

A focus on results. 

When an organization lacks a clear focus on results, its attention becomes scattered on trivialities, turf-wars, and passion-sucking processes that exist only because someone wanted a process - not because it accomplishes anything meaningful.

Effective leaders and managers maintain a consistent focus on results. Those outcomes are the reason the team and organization exist in the first place. A focus on results provides clarity, it prevents organizational navel-gazing, and it energizes individual's with a passion for the outcomes.

Management guru Peter Drucker defined results as the things that take place outside of the organization. Everything inside the organization is a process to produce those results.

Examples of results (what happens outside the organization) include:
  • Customers purchasing products and experiencing the benefit of those products (the results of a retail business)
  • Children benefiting from their education (the result of a school)
  • Citizens experiencing safety and a decline in crime (the result of a police department)
In each of these examples, multiple internal processes might take place to produce the results. Each internal process can be weighed against how effectively it contributes to the desired outcomes.

In our day-to-day work it is easy for us and our teams to run in circles chasing all the small distractions that come our way. Long ago I learned that a group of people in a boat headed toward a waterfall don't spend a lot of time arguing - they all grab an oar and paddle. Their clear results (get to shore and continue living) produce clear action (paddle!). One significant way we can serve our teams is by regularly and passionately calling our attention back to the desired outcomes.

Next time you are part of a team that feels confused or unproductive, clarify what results they want to achieve. It brings everything else into focus.

Take care,

David M. Dye

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Twitter: @davidmdye
David shares twenty years experience teaching, coaching, leading, and managing in youth service, education advocacy, city governance, and faith-based nonprofits. He currently serves as Chief Operating Officer for Colorado UpLift and enjoys helping others discover and realize their own potential.

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