How You Could Be Sabotaging High Achievers & Killing Productivity

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In a recent workshop I facilitated, a Senior management team needed to step away from the daily business to give themselves the time to discuss and share ways of creating a common culture. Prior to bringing everyone together, I interviewed each team member individually to understand their respective responsibilities better, get a sense of their character and attitudes.

From these conversations, it was clear that each member is highly committed to their organization, and brings a unique skill set to their team and into the units they oversee. It was fascinating to hear about the innovative projects that they were each spearheading within their groups.

Over the course of the workshop, they realized that short deadlines with little turnaround time to manoeuvre were putting them increasingly under more and more stress. Since their commitment to excellence was a given, the exceedingly high expectations that they held themselves to meet deadlines had been “normalized” into their behaviour.

While the team member realized that their holding themselves to high levels of performance, creates a high level of expectations, they were not clearly expressed within their own units. These unexpressed expectations were being projected tacitly as a given, within their units. Once this blind spot was exposed, we got to work on new ways of collaborating and communicating what each of them could practice in order to modify, adapt and transform their working culture.

High stress, short delays, speedy turnaround times are working environments that some people believe provide maximum adrenaline for high productivity.

However once all these factors are peeled away and the expectations are articulated, team members are better able to see the pressure their working habits are putting on their team.

How to transform expectations into team performance:

  • Discuss objectives with the intention of setting goals together
  • Review timelines and deadlines as a team before committing
  • Step back, take a break, remove yourself from the environment to reflect on “routine”
  • Assess what and how you and your team feel about a constant stream of new, short deadlines, it’s the effect on productivity
  • Bring key stakeholders together to imagine what it would take to create a smoother workflow solution
  • Challenge cannot be a constant; it needs to be managed and discussed as a cycle with sufficient time allocated to replenish, assimilate and share the learning.

Facilitator Learning and Takeaways

  • An essential discipline for a facilitator regarding others is ENGAGEMENT. Reactivate engagement by confronting all facts of the situation through collective experimentation, discovery, appreciation and conscious commitment.

For example, at the beginning of the session instead of an icebreaker, I asked team members to work in pairs and explain a recent event they were proud of. The listener was asked to pick out key competencies of the person telling their story. It turned out that the overwhelming majority of team members told personal stories that allowed them to create a deeper level of intimacy and connection to one another. We then created a Wall of Competency where all team members’ competencies were posted, and all members could review and see their own and discover those of their colleagues. This wall created an enormous sense of appreciation from the get-go and was carried throughout the day.

  • Another vital facilitator discipline regarding others is FOCUS. Don’t get caught up in the high achiever’s need for “doing”. Set a learning and reflection tone, ensuring all members have the opportunity to express their perspective and that sufficient time is allocated for collective discussion and common understanding. For a group to function effectively, all relevant information about a given situation needs to be on the table.

For example, during the session when participants express their needs and reservations, time needs to be allocated to enable candid dialogue and exchange as often their topics are the very issues that everyone has been “too busy” to address. As a facilitator, I sense the tension and the intimacy that this can create, and my job is to shape clarity while standing between detachment and engagement.

  • A crucial facilitator discipline regarding life is AWARENESS. Build awareness of what is going on in a way that helps others live successfully and take action.

At the end of the day, team leaders were excited to take their learning back into their units and were planning how the knowledge would be transferred and applied.

The best takeaway at the end of the day is being told: “we learned so much today and couldn’t have had these conversations without you.”