What’s The Right Speed?

Mic Berman

April 16, 2020

My name is Mic. I am a leadership coach, entrepreneur and former COO  who’s worked in the tech sector for the last two decades with founders and senior executive teams. My purpose is to help them build, grow and thrive. I aspire to help leaders and teams get to a state of “flow” — for themselves, their teams and their organizations. 

When you reach a state of flow you can achieve growth and have a lasting transformative positive impact. 

Each week, my plan is to offer a reflection of what I’m hearing in my practice and my team’s work in leadership development. It’s an incredible time in our human history – my intention is to offer insight, practical tools you can immediately apply and comfort in our shared experience of managing through COVID-19 and leading in these especially challenging times.

Some of our clients are growing like gangbusters right now. It’s a paradox. On the one hand, the opportunity to slow down, recalibrate, deeply reflect and redefine what’s important seems so precious, rare and noble to pursue. And, for some clients who are in grocery retail, health or other sectors experiencing critical shifts, radical innovation, and hyper growth, the opposite is true. They want to figure out how to go faster!

Our team experienced something similar. When the pandemic first started getting real — I mean all of us realizing this was not going away any time soon, and that the entire world was experiencing this together — I wanted to move quickly to support our community.  As an over functioner, I started with all the resources I could access to get moving in that direction f-n fast. That’s ok, but not effective as a leader of a team. How was I going to get my team aligned and in action as fast as I could do so myself? 

It felt like our team ground to a halt — and we’re only five people. I could go fast, but they weren’t with me and that exacerbated the feeling of immense frustration.  In the same time frame, several of our clients were experiencing the same thing. They all run agile development processes, yet none of them could seem to go fast without senior leadership getting into the weeds, micro managing, pushing, driving their teams at the front line. It wasn’t simply their directors or VPs, but everyone in their companies.. How is that scaleable or tenable in an organization 100’s large with aspirations to grow even bigger? It’s absolutely not. 

I felt this pain acutely during our coaching and training session. I wanted leaders to experience the growth they now so desperately needed. Not just through brute force, but rather through a transformation in mindset and skill set that would last beyond this crisis. 

On my own team, I knew it came down to goal and role clarity within the context of our behavioural norms. Did everyone understand what the goal had become? Was everyone clear on their part in service of the whole? How could our team support each other at breakneck speed?

Here’s how we tackled it: 

1 – Goal clarity

  1. What is the new goal you are trying to achieve and how does it support your Mission & Vision as a company? What context can you offer your team to motivate them and ensure everyone understands why we’re making a change and the opportunity we’re after? This is where we started on my team. Our mission is to accelerate the growth and transform the leadership skills of our clients, to serve our community (leaders and aspiring leaders in the technology sector). Our new goal was to get free workshops out in the community as fast as possible to support even more leaders than just our alumni and current clients that are timely and build skills that are relevant right now like resilience, empathy, focus, etc. 
  2. The goals need to be SMART – Specific: Create a roadmap of topics we could test with our alumni for relevance and impact. Measurable: We wanted to see how many people showed up, what their comments and ratings were after the workshops. Attainable: We weren’t developing an entire new curriculum, we were leveraging what we’ve already done and focusing on the skills that were particularly relevant now. Responsible: There is one person with the A on their head to drive this forward, it fits within his role and there was a subset of us accountable to get him what he needed to make a public offer. Timely – We gave ourselves a deadline of two days to get ready with a go-live date 10 days out. 

With these in place, clear, focused action could occur. Everyone knew the priority and the context. Those who were responsible and accountable could track progress. 

2 – Role clarity

  1. Who is ultimately responsible for what? How do the differing roles interact to get the goal accomplished. Is everyone clear? In our team that meant Bruce was responsible to get the word out. I was responsible to define the topics with the help of two folks on my team. Our lead facilitator was responsible for creating our internal guides and resources (with help from the team) to run the workshops. Bruce had to provide ‘what done looked like’ – what was the end product we needed to provide? 

Just as it was with goal clarity, clear, focused action could occur. We knew who was driving what when, who was helping, what the deadlines were and what done looked like. 

3 – Team ‘norms’ 

These are the ground rules for how things get done — fast or slow. They are often implicit within every organization.These rules are largely based on the values of the organization, and the stories that tell us how we know when we are living them or if we are on the other side.  My two most cherished experiences of team norms that informed how I built a lasting culture at Freshbooks came from my days at McKinsey and Mozilla. 

  1. What is your governance structure for decision making and communication? Case example:  Mozilla – as an open source project – had a very specific way of working. How software was defined, created and shipped. Early in my tenure there (and I was there when we were only a few hundred, much more nimble and clear), I was made a ‘Driver’. I’d never heard the term before, but quickly learned what it meant in the process for shipping. We also had very clear rules of engagement for quality and conflict. We knew something was shippable when it passed our QA process for ensuring it didn’t break the browser or the use case. In the case of conflicts like disagreements about quality or feature readiness, we resorted to roles and a clearly documented and lived governance structure that still exists today – including the benevolent dictator. 
  2. What are your lived values? At McKinsey – the Firm’s values and vision served as the norm for any team you we on. The engagement leader provided the structure to support those values. On the best teams I was part of, the leader established a kickoff, mid-point check-in, and retrospective or review upon completion. He offered the goals, the context within the client’s goals, and the Firm’s mission. He athen provided an opportunity for each of us to offer the strengths we could bring to the team in the areas we each wanted to learn and grow. This was both an excellent example of providing formal mechanisms (I’ve talked about before in my accountability article) for establishing team norms, and a way of holding ourselves accountable to each other, the client as well as the Firm’s vision and values. 

As always, I hope this is helpful in providing you insight and immediately applicable practical approaches to get to the right speed within your organization.  ♥

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