When The Going Gets Tough, Involve Your Team

I’ve been working with many leaders recently who are doing their best to lead their teams through this time of great uncertainty and change. They know it’s their responsibility to take the lead, and they are doing their best, while still desperately trying to stay calm and collected for their team.

But this isn’t always the best approach.

Your team members expect you to lead, but they don’t expect you to be perfect. And sometimes – in fact, often – letting down your guard and asking for help is the best option.

For example, in the 1990s, Les McKeown, owner of a chain of pizza restaurants in Ireland, was experimenting with hand-held devices for waiters to take orders and send them instantly to the kitchen (in the days before tablets and smartphones). They were more efficient, but that caused a problem. If a customer changed their mind after the waiter submitted the order, the kitchen staff had to start all over again, increasing food wastage.

McKeown tried everything he could to solve the problem, but couldn’t find a workable solution. He eventually gave up, and was announcing that to his staff, when a staff member suggested:

‘Why not ask the customer to hit the Send button?’

This simple insight solved the problem. Customers were excited to use the new technology, knew their order was being processed, and subtly understood that pressing the button was final.

McKeown was lucky, but you don’t have to rely on luck. Regularly ask your team members for their input, and genuinely listen to their ideas.

Part of your role is to shield your team members from problems so they can perform at their best. But don’t protect them from everything. Often, their unique perspective generates innovative solutions. Especially in this time of great change and uncertainty, getting ideas from as many people as possible is a good thing.

So, ask for help!

Sometimes you turn to the usual suspects – such as peers, your manager, industry experts, and industry consultants. But also engage your own team members. Ask them at team meetings, post questions in Slack and on your intranet, and approach people individually.

By all means, ask the most experienced or most senior people, but include others as well. As Les McKeown discovered, the best ideas sometimes come from more junior people, because they bring a different perspective, have different experiences, and might engage more directly with customers. Not all their ideas will be practical or useful, but don’t reject them too soon.

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.

Shunryu Suzuki, Zen monk and teacher

Say ‘Yes’ more often, and you’ll encourage more ideas in the future.


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