Expect common breakdowns to help your team work better together.
Does your team get derailed by miscommunication, hurt feelings, customer service challenges, or another department’s dropped balls? These common relationship breakdowns don’t surprise effective leaders. On the contrary–smart leaders know it’s not a matter of if they’ll happen, but when. You can prepare and make your team work better together by planning for these breakdowns and turning them into opportunities for growth and connection.
4 Ways to Make a Team Work Better Together by Planning for Breakdowns
- Know Where Breakdowns Will Happen
- Plan for and Train Recovery
- Model Recovery
- Celebrate Successful Recovery
Have you ever seen a light pole or a stop sign after a car runs into it? You almost never see it partially broken, bent, or mangled. There’s usually a clean break and the sign or pole is lying on the ground.
Weird, right? Some of these poles are so big that you would think they could withstand the impact without breaking. It turns out, they could withstand the impact, but the engineers designed them not to.
And, if you inspect even bigger poles, you’ll often see a slip base where the pole is bolted to an anchor. This is the point of planned failure – the bolts will shear and break when they receive a specific type of impact (like from a car crashing into them). The engineers design them to break cleanly for three reasons.
First, accidents are unavoidable. With millions of cars speeding along our roadways, it’s not a matter of if a car will hit a pole, but when. Knowing that these breakdowns in traffic flow are inevitable, the engineers plan for it.
That leads to the second reason for planned failure: it minimizes damage. The pole absorbs some of the car’s velocity, rather than resist it. There’s far less damage to the car than there would be if, for instance, the car hit a large, immovable tree. It’s also less likely that the car will bounce off and spin into traffic. The planned break also minimizes collateral damage from a flying pole. The pole breaks cleanly and falls over rather than resisting the impact until it snaps and goes spinning off into traffic or someone’s living room.
And finally, the reason for these clean breaks is they make recovery much easier. Rather than disrupting traffic to dig and set a new anchor, they can use the original anchor and just swap in a new pole or sign. It’s faster and less expensive.
Planning Breakdowns: How Leaders Can Help a Team Work Better Together
So how do you implement planned recovery on your team? Follow these four steps to steps to improve your team’s productivity, morale, and relationships.
1) Know where breakdowns will happen.
First, identify where breakdowns are most likely to happen. You can do all the process planning to minimize manufacturing and service errors, but you will still have breakdowns and challenges.
You’re a human being. So are they. Nobody’s perfect. There will be times where we all will hurt one another despite our best intentions.
The biggies include:
• One team member lets down, disappoints, or inadvertently disrespects another team member.
• A disgruntled customer eats up time–not because of a true product or service defect, but because they are having a bad day.
• Another department doesn’t keep their commitment and creates stress for your team.
2) Plan for and train recovery.
It’s not a matter of if, it’s when these breakdowns happen so what’s your planned recovery?
One of the best ways to help your team work better together is to have frank discussions about these breakdowns and give them the tools to talk with one another. In his executive role, David met with every new employee and explained:
It’s not a matter of whether we’re going to hurt one another or let one another down. It’s going to happen. What will distinguish us from other teams and other organizations is what we do with that next. Do we have the conversation? Do we acknowledge it? Do we address it?
One tool you can give your team is the I.N.S.P.I.R.E. Method for tough conversations. For example, “I noticed that this didn’t happen. I’m curious, what’s going on here from your perspective. Let’s talk about how we can get back to what success looks like and let’s recover.” These conversations tools are essential to help your team work better together.
3) Model recovery.
Despite your best efforts, there will be times where you let down your boss, a team member, or a customer. It happens. Yes, work to minimize them, (we also do everything we can to prevent people from crashing into poles), but be ready for the breakdown with your planned recovery.
These are awesome culture-building leadership moments. Your team’s watching. How you take responsibility makes all the difference.
Karin spent several years leading contact centers supporting large enterprise clients. You can imagine that when things broke, they broke big, and needed to be resolved fast, and every senior leader was watching. And wanting answers.
These are the most important teachable moments for your team on the art of recovery.
It was really tempting to blame the person at the root of the cause. Resist the urge. (Even when asked for names).
Blaming your team only teaches your team how to be better blamers. Not how to recover well.
It’s much better to have a productive “How can we prevent this the next time?” conversation that encourages psychological safety and candid ideas.
4) Celebrate recovery.
You get more of what you celebrate and encourage, so be on the lookout for the moments where your team implements their recovery processes. Teams that know how to surface problems quickly, discuss disappointments and conflicts, and respectfully resolve these issues have more trust. The increased psychological safety permits healthy risk-taking and innovation. Moreover, when you plan recovery, train it, and model it yourself, your team will spend less time in needless conflict, anxiety, and hurt feelings–which means more time solving bigger problems and doing better work.
We’d love to hear from you: how have you seen leaders help their team work better together and overcome normal human relationship breakdowns?