When you think about building high performing teams you’ll often find one thing in common: they are all running at a little bit over 100% ‘capacity’. Not under and not too far over. It’s a good thing ‘capacity’ is a straightforward concept. Oh no wait it’s actually a rather meaningless phrase that managers hide behind to shield their team from unwanted work.
A high performing team should be judged on the performance per person rather than just the overall output i.e. if you bring in a new team member then output should increase proportionately. Seems simple right? So what about all those companies that grew super-fast but the output per person decreased significantly. You don’t usually get to hear about it because the PR machine is talking ‘growth’ or ‘expansion’.
The problem is, they could all be doing better. You get to hide behind success. Success gives you an excuse to stop self-reflecting, success adds justifications to everything you do, success makes companies complacent. And complacent companies get fat. Too many people and not enough productivity.
The main reasons senior managers think ‘lean’ is immediate cash flow. If you can spend less and get more you are winning right? Correct. But there is a delicate balance to strike. Overworked employees will be more likely to leave, underworked employees will still be more likely to leave (through boredom, lack of progress etc.). When you think ‘lean’ think optimum efficiency. By that I mean a level of productivity and efficiency that you can maintain and scale.
When a company goes through rapid growth this balance is put at risk. Certain teams end up too fat and some too light. Too fat and your productivity or output per person decreases, too light and you risk losing people, which hurts productivity as you have to cover the gap and the train the newbie. Either way, productivity gets hit. If you can grow fast without upsetting the balance then you really are winning and the growth will be much easier to achieve.
Consider the team of 4 led by manager A. They each felt that they were a little too busy. Probably not enough excess work for a new full time person to take on but the manager hired another team member to keep morale high! Hurrah. Or so they thought. So now we have a team of 5. All working at about 90% ‘capacity’. One team member is getting increasingly bored and has grown frustrated at the lack of development opportunities. They leave. The manager doesn’t want to rock his carefully constructed boat so hires a similar replacement. A few weeks later another original team member is bored and frustrated. They leave. And are replaced. And so on and so forth for the rest of time.
Imagine the same team under a different manager. He Is Mr. Lean. 4 people working at over 100% capacity? Excellent! So efficient. However, after a couple of weeks he has the first resignation, before he is able to hire a replacement another goes. In his quest to keep things lean the remaining two people are integrated into another of his teams and the workload is shared. They are resented for increasing the workload of the other team - carnage ensues.
What if, in parallel universe, manager A had a crash course in management…The 4 team members feel like they have a bit too much work on. Manager A arranges a meeting to review the processes the team adhere to. They review these seeking to improve efficiency through automation and elimination of unnecessary steps. With a small investment in tech/systems this is a success and they are able to bring down the workload - not quite enough as the team still find themselves staying late once a week but it’s an improvement. Over the next few months the team is steady, challenged, busy but consistent. No leavers. No fallouts. They achieve a greater output per person than their parallel universe selves and didn’t need to hire anyone.
So before you hire. My question is. Do you actually need to?
To find out more join us on Thursday 15th September for out talk "Building a Lean Workforce" where we will be joined by 3 expert panelists:
James Brown, European Director - Commercial, People and Technology
Nick Kennell - Principal Consultant
Ghilaine Chan - Consigliere | Plug-in COO | Business Juggler
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