Efficiency … and other stuff

A recent letter published in The Alabama Baptist detailed how inefficiently the state highway department is managed. “Having served as a county commissioner in one of the largest districts in the state, we often had to deal with a slow, inefficient, unmotivated or even adversarial state highway department,” the letter writer noted on page 9 of the July 17 issue.

I have no personal experience with the highway department, but the letter writer’s evaluation could be applied to a number of businesses, organizations and groups with which I do have personal experience.

I’m sure you can think of a few as well. Think about when you drive by a construction site where one person works while four stand around and watch. In the few seconds it takes me to drive by, I can spot six or seven things the others could do to move the project along, and I’m not even part of the process. Why can’t they see those things?

Or what about watching people work behind a counter at a snail’s pace while the line of people waiting to be served grows and grows. No urgency, no spring in their step, just slow and methodical movements.

Built differently

I guess I’m built differently. I would be competing with myself to gain speed, increase accuracy and produce an overall positive experience for every person who stood in my line.

And while it always disappointments me to run across people who spend more energy trying to get out of work than it would actually take to do the work, I recognize this is something all teams face.

In fact, in most work environments you will find yourself in one of three positions — overwhelmed with too much to do, underwhelmed and possibly even bored or balanced just right.

The goal is to move all team members to the balanced category. And with the right attitude and spirit among team members every team can produce a balanced, fulfilled and efficient life for each member.

But how do we get there?

It starts at the top. If leadership allows people to do just enough to stay on the team or keep their job, then some people will do just that. Not everyone is self-motivated and strives to do better.

A good first step

So a good first step is for team leaders to recruit only team members who will commit to doing what it takes to reach the overall goal of the group or company. This does not mean the person must be an extroverted, type-A, take-charge kind of person though.

Several years ago my sister-in-law Katrina helped me understand the difference between introverted with a strong work ethic and quiet with a lazy streak. There were some things that needed to be done related to our family, and it was obvious to me where to jump in and help. She was involved in the same conversations I was and had the same opportunities to help, but she didn’t move. I was confused, so I asked her about it.

She explained that she actually felt left out because she had wanted to help but didn’t think we were interested in her contributing. She was merely waiting to be invited.

If it needs to be done, then do it

Katrina is more than capable and will do top-quality work at anything she puts her mind to, but she works from the premise of not overstepping or doing anything she hasn’t been asked to do.

This was a great lesson for me to learn, because I am of the mindset that if you see something that needs to be done, then take care of it. And because I had experienced similar situations with a few of the student interns at The Alabama Baptist during that same time frame, I decided to make some adjustments.

I started applying the principle of inviting them to join in work projects and helping them understand I wanted them to participate and to take initiative.

From there, everything changed for those students and they developed more in a few days than they had in months. Learning to view the world through another person’s eyes and working to communicate in the language he or she understands is making a difference in the teams in which I participate — whether it be at the paper, at church, in the community or among family members.

But the responsibility of balancing the weight among team members doesn’t fall solely on the team leader. Each individual must contribute to the effort to achieve a positive outcome as well.

Are you overwhelmed?

If you happen to be a team member who is overwhelmed with too much to do, then you will need to determine if you are willing to share some of the load or if you struggle with control issues and have trouble letting go. You also must learn to work as a team rather than a lone ranger or no amount of bemoaning how stressed you are will change things. You have to trust your team members and work to grow them, empower them and cross train them as needed to be able to work together.

However, if you are a person whose plate is piled high and spilling over, it seems easier to keep doing all the tasks rather than take the time to work with someone to take some of them. I truly understand. I fight this every day. But it’s not true. It really is better in the long run to carve out time to train someone and officially hand the responsibility, assignment or whatever it is off to a trusted team member rather than keep trying to throw a tiny bit of strained energy at it day after day.

What’s hardest for me to admit is that in most cases the other person will do a better job with the task than I can because they will have more energy to devote to it.

Are you bored?

Of course, if you are a team member without enough to do, then you must first be honest with yourself and make sure you aren’t hiding from responsibility and purposefully trying not to carry a fair share of the load. If this is the case, then you should evaluate your purpose for being a part of the team. Are you OK with being the weak link? A strong team leader would probably have helped you find another place to go by now, but don’t settle for giving as little as you can even if leadership allows it to happen. You are better than that, plus you are missing out on a fulfilling life experience.

If you are like Katrina in that you want to be an essential part of the team and contribute at a high level, but you are unsure where to show initiative and where to hang back, then observe the environment around you. Who seems to be overloaded on your team? What parts of that person’s responsibilities could you help with easily? What could you learn to do without much difficulty? Those are good places to start.

Observe areas to help and offer to take something off someone else’s plate, even if it is something extremely simple.

Take initiative to grow

Then do it again and again. Don’t do it one time and then fall back. Pick out things you are comfortable with and that are easy items for the other person to hand off. Offer to take them on as your responsibility. Keep doing this with the people who are overloaded until you sense you are making a dent in their load and bringing your load up to a more equal level.

Remind others on the team you want to grow and take on more challenging responsibilities. Prove yourself by being dependable and following through with your current responsibilities and the new ones you take on.

Make sure you are delivering high quality results in all that you do, especially during the times you have more time than responsibilities. Don’t be tempted to rush to complete assignments while not worrying about the quality. If you have extra time, then push the quality up another level.

Taking the initiative to improve your work without someone having to suggest it will speak to the true nature of your intentions, interests and character. Quality and quantity are both important in all that we do, but they must be balanced appropriately.

Well-balanced, efficient team members produce a team that can’t be stopped, but more importantly it is biblical to do, be and give our best.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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