Bottleneck: little jobs and emotional friction

Thanks to JG.

A particularly troublesome breed of little job are things left undone that hold up the work of other people – a decision that needs your input (or for you to decide), a design that needs your approval, feedback to your team from a key meeting, or a training you need to hold before your team starts a new project.

We usually want to empower our teams to make decisions and get on with things – but we’re also afraid of what happens if something gets rushed, or isn’t fully checked before being launched… and of course it’s important that we’re thoughtful in our answers to colleagues questions, and that we give their the attention it needs or deserves.

But however honourable our excuses, being a bottleneck causes all sorts of problems:

  • It slows everyone down while they wait for you;
  • Knowing that people are waiting for us doubles the burden of the mental overhead and nameless dread that the undone tasks often bring us anyway;
  • It also creates frustration and emotional friction for team members who are waiting for us to get our act together and do what they need us to do – that is to say, the negative consequences of being

Some things that may help

  • As JG suggested, getting these little jobs out of the way early in your day can make you feel lighter and more empowered as you get into the important stuff – although this can backfire if your answers generate emails with further questions;
  • It’s often the case that the email you’ve been avoiding is a quick job after all;
  • Finding the right people to join your team enables parallel processing in your organisation – removing yourself as the bottleneck;
  • Helping your team become the right people is just as important. This will need training, which itself will need you to have…
  • Clear, well formulated and well communicated principles and policy about what to do in certain situations – as simple as an FAQ list, or a blanket decision like allowing all staff to spend a certain amount to fix a customer’s problem without checking with anyone – can help your team do their good work without waiting for you, making it easier tomorrow for everyone;
  • Recognising the problem, apologising and talking about bottlenecks – and asking for ideas to fix or mitigate them – is never a bad thing;
  • Giving away authority is often the right thing to do, as long as (1) you share key principles clearly (see above); (2) you keep an eye on what’s going on; (3) doing so will take less time than doing the job yourself, even if at the cost of additional short-term effort; (4) the cost of failure isn’t catastrophic (really, it rarely is).
  • It often comes down to trust – trusting that your colleagues can do it; trusting that their ‘good enough’ now is better than your ‘perfect’ later; trusting that the more you trust them and the more they get on with things, the better they’ll get.
  • Go back and read the one about Who’s Got the Monkey.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.