80 mph teamwork

Carmine Coyote provides a vivid, and unfortunately all too accurate, description of the high speed at which many organizations pace their work.

Raising the speed limit generally causes everyone to drive faster. You don’t have to increase your own speed, but if you don’t you’ll likely be constantly harassed by everyone else. You’ve probably experienced what it feels like on the freeway to have an eighteen-wheeler bearing down on you at 80 mph, flashing his headlights and blaring his horn for you to speed up or get out of the way. That happens in the work environment too. If one person is working steadily at a modest pace while everyone else is rushing around in some manic state, at the very least the “slow” person is going to get some hard stares and snide comments directed at them.

Carmine makes a compelling argument that constant high speed will often be counter-productive for companies and can be unhealthy for individuals. Despite the drawbacks, there will be times for fast paced action when teams must meet critical deadlines or execute entire projects quickly.

Continuing the analogy of highway speed and speed at work, a friend who recently moved from New England described how it felt driving in a new city. Her comments get at one of the most important characteristics teams will need to be effective at high speeds.

“On a highway up there, we would all be driving 80 mph with almost no distance between cars. It worked because everyone knew what others were going to do. It’s different here. I don’t feel I can trust the other drivers.”

Like drivers, work teams can perform effectively at high speed, for a limited time, but only when the conditions are right. Trust among team members is perhaps the most important condition for fast action. It allows for individuals to focus on their assigned tasks with confidence that others will do the same. Trust allows team members to more freely communicate problems that need broader attention and trust can speed decision making processes. While trust alone won’t guarantee effective high-speed teamwork, it is a good start.

Related posts:

Trust is a two-way street

Rebuilding shattered trust

Why a strong team is greater than the sum of it’s parts

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