When I first rode my mountain bike in Tiger Mountain, Washington, I had never ridden a bike with gears before. As I was trying to keep up with my friends, I realized I was pedaling fast but going nowhere. I soon learned that gears make all the difference to your performance. Rapid innovation happens when teams are all in the same gear. Here is how to make sure your team is not expending unnecessary energy just trying to keep up or slow down.
1. Set the pace.
Just like a pacemaker in a marathon run, your team needs to know how fast to run throughout the race. One leader I worked with went from one successful product launch to another, with no break in between. The more he succeeded, the more he was given new challenges and larger teams to run. He didn’t know how to stop, take a break, and then re-set to the right pace. Instead he became exhausted and burnt out, unable to sustain his track record of innovation.
2. Let your team return your serve.
I was talking with my good friend and global leadership expert Andy Bass as he completed a worldwide tour of manufacturing plants for one of his clients. He gave a great analogy that just like in tennis, leaders need to make sure their teams and peers can return their serve. Otherwise their effectiveness is no greater than an automatic tennis ball machine gone wild. If no one is acting on your rapid-fire ideas, questions, and disruptions, you may need to check in on your team's current workload and speed. Without effectiveness, there is no speed.
3. Make sure people are following.
Watch parents trying to get their children to walk to school. The usual tactic is for the parent to walk 10 steps ahead in an attempt to get their children to hurry up. I heard one parent yesterday say to her three sons, “You are deliberately trying to walk as slow as possible!” The oblivious kids were happy dawdling, talking, picking things off the ground, and walking backwards. This parent was infuriated as she tried to get her kids to school on time, but I doubt the young boys were doing it intentionally. It is easy to get frustrated and assume intent when there is none. Are you walking too fast, or not explaining to others why they need to keep up? Here are five fast ways to get people to follow you.
4. Do they understand and believe?
There are two reasons why people don’t follow along as quickly as a leader would like. Either they don’t understand, or don’t believe, or both. Does your team really understand your goals, your strategy, and where you want to go? If they do understand, do they believe it is possible and are they passionate about the destination? If not, everything will slow down to a frustrating crawl.
5. Help your team change gears.
While I was desperately trying to keep up with my friends in Tiger Mountain that day, one of them stopped and quickly explained how to use my gears. My friends then rode close to me for a few miles, calling out when I should change gear until I got the hang of it. That helped me keep up and enjoy the ride rather than worry that I was holding everyone back. That is teamwork.
The most common misconception about innovation is that it has to happen at rapid speed, when speed is irrelevant if your team and peers are not keeping pace.
How can you help your team keep the right speed today?