Whether you are chasing profit or purpose, a team’s ability to make progress is critical to achieving its objectives. There are many obstacles that keep a team from operating at its full potential, but the three most common (and solvable) ones are ambiguity, apathy, and amateurism. The challenge is recognizing them in action.
The first requirement for progress is a clear goal. Teams are most efficient when their efforts are meticulously coordinated. A lack of clarity can offset the benefit of combined efforts, leaving team members at times working against one another and impeding progress. The Shakespearean author described this aptly in Macbeth as “two spent swimmers that do cling together and choke their art.” It’s easy to assume that everyone has the same understanding of what the team is trying to accomplish. As a manager, have the seemingly obvious conversations to verify.
Even with the best of intentions, it’s almost impossible to do great work when you just don’t care about it. More than the others, this one is often imperceptible. As a manager, your best defense against this unseen enemy is to over-communicate. Reinforce why the work matters to the business, and ask your team why the work matters to them. If they don’t have an answer, help them to find one, or look for opportunities for them to contribute to a different working team.
Nothing stops progress like amateurism. I define this as not constantly seeking to perfect your craft. There is no substitute for putting in the hard work to get better at what you do. And as a manager, no amount of process improvement or reorganization can overcome a team member’s lack of capability in the core skills required to do the work. This progress-killer only gets noticed after years of trying other remedies.
Companies spend millions on new software or work processes, only to have the investment negated by capability gaps within the team. When you’re looking to accelerate progress, start with capabilities. Then invest in processes and tools. They are a force multiplier – not the force itself. Progress depends on capable employees who naturally and proactively seek out ways to get better at what they do.
The path forward
Progress is elusive, difficult to define, and challenging to measure. But we can take steps to make it easier to achieve. Communicate clearly, make sure each person cares about the work they’re doing, and only hire professionals with a commitment to the pursuit of perfecting their craft.
What obstacles have you encountered in your pursuit of progress? How have you worked to overcome them?