We have all been there…
You are working hard on something, making great progress, excited about the potential end result of whatever you were working on only to be stopped completely by a lack of responsiveness from someone else who is critical in the process.
In our culture, there are very rare occasions in life where we don’t have to rely on other people to get things done. Think about it…all of the supply chains that exist just to simply ensure fresh food shows up at the grocery store so we can keep our families fed. Same goes for other things we take for granted such as access to water and utilities, safe means to travel, internet access, etc. We rely on many people every day to ensure our standards of living are maintained at the level we now expect as a result of the consistency of those services. Furthermore, we learn very quickly how much we rely on these things when they are suddenly not available!
Now apply that same concept into your work situation…
I truly believe that the best end results involve multiple people speaking into it. I think of the team I am a part of. We are truly stronger together when leveraging the talents, gifts, skills, abilities and experiences of everyone on the team. Again, you realize the value here when you have experienced the opposite.
If the above is true, that means we need to rely on others most all the time. So, how do you make that work well on a team?
As a leader, we should be looking for opportunities to develop a culture where each person on a team is sensitive to when they may be the “bottle neck” for others – especially those in leadership. Try and visualize a bottle and you will understand why this term is used. A bottle neck functions as sort of restriction; designed to impede progress. In the workplace, this shows up in many ways including participation in meetings, responding timely to email or voice mail, picking up the phone (especially when you know why they are calling!), approving something, etc.
Most people don’t want to or plan to be a bottle neck, but responsiveness continues to come up as a major issue in many organizations. For example, you may be saying “I am incredibly busy and a lot of requests are sent to me. I have to prioritize who I respond to”. No doubt that is the case. I am in that situation often! Although I am far from perfect in this regard, I have found that most people appreciate a response to simply keep them updated. Even if the response isn’t what they want to hear (i.e. it is going to take a few weeks to get back to you on this), the fact that they are getting a reply is a much better outcome than no reply at all.
I also realize that at times people simply get backlogged in their ability to respond. Do you have a process to ensure the most critical things are being addressed even in the midst of busyness? Although my wife is not a big fan, I check email on my phone throughout the day to ensure the most critical things are responded to (whether delegated or handled directly). I don’t respond to everything in that moment, just what is most important.
Now there is a fine line here as well…the “tyranny of the urgent”. When you objectively look at things, there is not much in life that requires an immediate response, yet we sometimes allow the emergencies and priorities of others to become our emergencies and priorities. This may be appropriate at times, but not every time. If every situation you are faced with is an emergency (and you are not a doctor in an ER), you may want to look a little harder at whether you have the right people involved, the right resources available or whether there is an empowerment issue with your team (I wrote on delegation in a previous post).
Ultimately, why is responsiveness important?
I believe it is a matter of mutual respect and trust-building amongst a team. We need to know and trust that anything coming to us is clearly important to the other person and they value our input into what they are trying to accomplish. That is a very different view than seeing their email as a nuisance or preventing you from getting to the more important things.
My point is – address not only the efficiency issues but include heart issues as well.
Where are you the bottle neck at times for others? What can you do to help encourage progress vs impede progress?