You’ve agreed a new way of working and everyone’s enthusiastic about it, yet you can’t see it working in practice. It looks rather as if everyone’s scared to take the initiative. It’s the same mechanism that comes into play when you prefer not to eat in a restaurant that nobody is sitting in. But there has to be someone who sits down first. Precisely… and it should be you.
If nobody dares to take the first step
Recently, we hung up an improvement board in our department. The intention is for us to use it to write down any issues that we’re running into. This way, we can get a picture of which problems are costing us too much time, and what we can do about them.
During our internal meeting, I clearly explained what the purpose of the board was. My team seemed to be enthusiastic, but after a week there still wasn’t anything on there. I discussed it again during the next internal meeting, and urged them to write down what wasn’t going smoothly in the department. Perhaps I was imagining it, but the group seemed to stare at one another and everyone seemed to say, “I don’t mind doing it, but I think you should go first!”
Although I’m prepared to take the first step and can write something on the board, it’s not my role as team manager. I would just be taking the initiative once again, whereas this board is actually meant to change that. It’s really as if everyone else has got their own reasons for not taking the first step. And the result is that the board is still as spotless as ever. During lunch, I’m gnawing away at myself, because it’s still not working.
In the afternoon, I have a meeting with Rogier on his own. We start talking about his progress, and I gradually become rather frustrated. Again and again, he mentions problems that make me think, “That should go on the improvement board!” But how can I get that into his head? Telling him to write down problems on the board didn’t work last time either.
But when I sit down at my desk again, I get an idea. Next time something like this happens, what if I take that person straight to the board? Then at least something would get written on it. Yes, I’ll do that next time!
I glance around my team. Frankly, I’m annoyed that yet again, nothing is happening now. It may not happen till tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow. But why don’t I put it down on the board myself now? That way, at least I will have something to mention tomorrow. Yes, I’ll do it! So I stand up and walk towards the board. I can feel my team’s eyes boring into my back as I pick up the pen and write down one of Rogier’s issues.
The following morning, we discuss Rogier’s issue. Several suggestions for solving it are proposed by the team. When I put on my coat at the end of the day, I see that a new issue has been added to the board. We’re underway!
Once one sheep has leapt over the ditch …
If a team of people want to change, it the old group mentality sometimes holds them back. Nobody wants to be the first to try out the new way of working because it’s ‘strange’, or because of the risk that it may go wrong. That’s why everyone looks at everyone else to see who’s going to take the first step. In general, you can yourself be the person who demonstrates that the new arrangement really can be carried out without negative consequences. Do this today rather than tomorrow, because the old group mentality is strengthened further each day you wait. But sometimes you cannot be the first to act. In that case, approach one or two of your people individually, and help them to cross that threshold. Once they lead, the rest will follow.