Employee Teams? I’m Already Overloaded!

Rick Tucci • July 14, 2022

Let’s face it, the pandemic honeymoon is over. Leaders are quickly coming to the realization that treading in place is no longer a viable strategy. Improve and innovate are back on the table!

But as leaders dust off their change management playbooks, too many will follow a formula that invariably leads to slower, and less than optimal results from change and improvement initiatives.

A recent client experience illustrates the point. The manager of a large distribution center needed to get on top of a corporate expense reduction target for external services, everything from grounds keeping to janitorial services to small repairs. His instinct was to request the company’s Program Management Office to assign a project manager to review external services contracts, meet with suppliers, and identify opportunities to negotiate price concessions. Unfortunately, he quickly found himself in a queue with a long list of other departments looking for help.   

We suggested an alternative: Assemble a team of frontline employees to bring their experience and creativity to the table. Equip them with an easy-to-use process to brainstorm ideas and formulate the best ideas into business cases for review and approval. The knee-jerk response was predictable: “I’ve got too much on my plate to handhold a team through this kind of exercise. And, hiring an external facilitator is not in the budget.”

In our experience, leadership's reluctance to unleash employees to solve problems and implement solutions is less the result of a lack of confidence in employee ideas. Rather, it's the perception that engaging employees in change and improvement teams takes too long, requires too much support, and is just not worth the trouble. The attitude often reflects a hangover from bad experiences with large-scale change initiatives or continuous improvement programs like Six Sigma. On top of that add the challenge of supporting teams in hybrid, flexible hour workplaces.

The solution: Make employee teams easier to launch and manage, and better equip them to deliver reliable results in the new workplace! Our experience with more than 10,000 improvement teams shows it can be achieved by following four key principles for productive employee engagement:

  1. Provide Precision Top-Down Guidance − Tell employees what needs to improve and why. Let them know what’s in bounds for change and what’s not. Don’t confuse Town Hall Meetings with focused improvement teams.
  2. Set a Fast Pace − Employees don’t have the luxury of time to wander their way to the goal. Set a timeline that allows enough time to get ideas on the table and into action, but is close-ended to give sight to the finish line. 60 days is ideal.
  3. Start with Ideas! − Your people have ideas. Let them share ideas right out of the gate. Then provide the tools needed to prioritize and refine. Don’t burden people (who don’t do change and improvement as their day job) with learning complex methodologies before putting them “in the game.”
  4. Make the Experience Turn-By Turn − Take the mystery, fear, and hassle out of the team process so employees can focus on the problem and their ideas. With the right kind of digital collaboration platform, it can be done economically.

As you (or the leaders you support) weigh the options for getting back on the path to better results, don’t estimate the power of employee ideas to help get there. As important, reduce the fear, the risk, and the burden by embracing the principles outlined above for productive employee engagement in the new workplace.

Grow more leadership talent while solving real problems on the one-stop digital platform that works anytime and in any place change and improvement is needed.

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