Todd Dewett | August 27, 2020
One minute things are flowing and the group is killing it. The next minute it seems as if you’re all slogging through a field of thick mud. Progress slows or stops. Stuck happens.
You might find yourself stuck as a team due to long hours, seemingly impossible tasks, never-ending changes demanded of you, or some other reason. In any case, you need a good response since the cost of stuck is real: spinning wheels, deteriorating chemistry, and weak performance.
Let’s talk about fixing stuck. It’s all about disrupting yourself before someone else does. Consider the actions below. One or more of them are likely to grease the wheels and get the team moving again.
Figure out what you don’t understand.
This is about admitting you don’t know it all and questioning your assumptions. When you know you don’t know it all, you shut up. You encourage others to speak up. You question yourself and others as you seek to understand. You can start by critically examining each of your major assumptions until you find one that is not well supported. Imagine the new possibilities that become possible when a key constraint shifts and changes.
Reconsider how you are using people.
It’s time to question how roles are filled and who should be in charge. Sometimes stuck is just a function of alignment. When one or more members of the team are not focused correctly, things can slow down quickly. This could be about alignment with work, or about who is in charge. You might be the leader, but sometimes, for some projects, you’re wise to step aside and let others step up and run things.
Critically think about your metrics.
Sometimes the powers that be define the metrics that matter. Great, but if one or more of them becomes a bottleneck for progress, does it really matter? You have to consider dropping or changing metrics on occasion when they serve more as a constraint than a guide. It’s wise to prioritize your metrics in order of importance to more easily see which ones are more critical and which ones might be more flexible.
Slay the dragon.
Pick the cliché you prefer: slay the dragon, talk about the elephant in the room, note the dead body, etc. Whatever “it” is, call it out. If one tough conversation or one festering team issue has really got you stuck, are you going to stand for that? It could be an unacceptable client demand, a teammate who needs some tough feedback, or maybe a policy that should be ignored. The faster you embrace candor and talk about it, the faster you might get unstuck.
Shake up routines and context.
Many times, stuck is just the result of getting lost in routines and ruts. The brain loves to follow simple scripts. They make life easy since there is no need to think deeply. It’s you on mental auto-pilot. But there is a cost. When the work presents novel situations that require unique solutions, the old routines won’t work. So you have to shake things up. Change up how you structure the work, conduct meetings, where you work, when you go to lunch, etc. The more you intentionally challenge your team habits, the faster you’ll collectively wake up and gain the insight needed to improve your approach to the work.
Remember that progress is the goal.
Say it with me, “Progress not perfection.” It’s a popular maxim for a reason. We often get lost chasing unrealistically high task or project expectations. I’m not suggesting that you should shoot low. Shoot high, but when you do a great job that does not quite meet your standards, sometimes – that’s okay! Accept it and move forward. Sometimes you’ll take small steps, sometimes you’ll sprint. Just don’t stop. Stopping is the fastest way to get stuck.
There are of course many more issues to consider: reconsidering foregone alternatives, reaching outside the group for insights, off-site meetings and activities, professional coaches or consultants, and so on.
The point, however, is simple – stuck happens! So does unstuck. So admit it, own it, and start talking about it. Stuck is not a problem that should make you feel defeated. It’s a reality for busy, productive people that should prompt you to step back and re-evaluate your approach to the work.