6 ‘We need to stretch ourselves’
Evelyn is a manager interested in developing her team, but worries that they may be ‘too good’ already. Listen to her plight in the audio below (a transcript is also provided).
We need to stretch ourselves, but how? In a way we’re too good at this aspect of our work; we’re getting a bit complacent. We hit our targets and I’m not sure where the ‘next level’ is. More of the same? I don’t think I’ve worked for a better or stronger team, but can we improve?
Evelyn’s team situation is one many of us will be envious of, particularly where we have stakeholders external to the team who set targets and have no difficulty in setting them even higher.
This team could just coast along – or wait until they are performing in a tougher environment and are then forced into change – or until something else disrupts their smooth running. Fortunately, in Evelyn, they have a manager who is not prepared to accept that status quo. Evelyn recognises a great team that gets results, but wants an even better team that gets even better results.
This professional development course – and many others like it – treat ‘development’ as though it is something we should all be doing, no matter what, as if change is important for its own sake. We would qualify this by saying that it must be ‘the right kind of change’ or ‘a change for the better’ – something that enhances current performance, or future capacity. Such are the shifting sands on which our organisations are built, such is the dynamic environment we find ourselves in – we cannot afford not to ‘develop’, but we must develop into something ‘better’.
In the context of Evelyn’s too-happy team scenario then – how is ‘better’ established? If there is no clear direction being forced on this team – how should they find one?
When teams are set a goal – or have been working towards the same goal for a very long time – the goal itself isn’t questioned. Most of the thinking or innovation happens around ‘how’ to achieve that fixed goal. In the next activity, we’re going to turn that traditional perspective on its head.
What do you already have in your team that could help it do more or do different? In broad terms, list the skills, equipment and other resources that your team has at its disposal.
If your team wasn’t spending time reaching your current goal – what could it do instead? List the sorts of ‘outputs’ (products or services) which your team could provide to others if given the freedom to do so. How close are those ‘outputs’ to the ones you currently offer?
Now what do you really want? What would ‘better’ look like? Write down which of the alternatives you’ve been considering might be something good for the team and its business. How would adopting this new ‘goal’ stretch the team further?
You don’t have ultimate freedom (without breaking free from your organisation!), but what new ideas might your organisation be interested in? What new products/services might your team be able to provide for clients? If there is no scope for diversification in what you offer, think about ‘how’ you provide your current offer to clients/internal customers.
We appreciate it will have been hard to ‘break free’ from thinking about what the current team is working towards. The activity may have been ‘too much blue-sky thinking’. We wanted you to engage with this to realise more of the potential within your current team – it already has the means to produce a whole range of different outputs – to achieve different goals. Not just more of the same (it is easy to set a target for ‘more of the same’), but something different. The process you’ve undertaken here can also help you think about changing ‘how’ you deliver: before focussing on what you think you need to achieve
Take home: look at what you’ve got before deciding where you’re going. Where you have the luxury, use your assessment of your team’s means to inform, extend or vary your team goal. You’ve done this activity in isolation from your team – but its real power is in being performed as a team – so the team can ‘buy in’ to what they’re working towards.
Extension: Our approach to this section has been inspired by a ‘movement’ represented by the ‘’. Effectual thinking challenges the orthodoxy of ‘causal’ managerial thinking (having a goal in mind, then drawing in the means to achieve that goal) instead, promoting a view that the future should be shaped by the people (the means) by which various imagined goals might be achieved.