You may be an inspiring leader who can motivate anyone to do anything.
But if you can’t identify and remove the obstacles to individual and team success, it is all empty words that don’t build authority or credibility.A great leader knows the significance of seeing obstacles, considering ways to remove them and engaging others in the same process. Click To Tweet
In this article I’m going to look at exactly how to do that for a few specific workplace situations. These responses to each incident are my own responses on the obstacle removing process based on working with supervisors and middle managers over time.
You likely have a few obstacle removers of your own that specific to your context. So here’s to putting our heads together for increasing everyone’s ability to bust those obstacles and gain some ability to articulate our answers in the process!
Part A: Three typical individual workplace obstacles
A. Your team member can’t get an answer from a vendor and it is slowing down the ability of the team to meet the customer’s order
Seeing the obstacle: Encourage your team members to come to you when they face an obstacle they can’t seem to get around. Remind them that two heads are better than one and no man is an island. If they don’t come to you, go to them and ask if there are any obstacles they are facing that you could assist with since it is your job to ensure the team has what they need to succeed in their jobs.
Considering ways to remove it: Since the employee doesn’t have the authority or power you as a manager would have, it is really up to you to contact the vendor and find out what is going on. Make it clear that your employee is the person for this task and that if the employee doesn’t get a response, it stops everything else on your end. Ask what they can do to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
Engaging others in the process: Let the team member know that you will help with this and that you want to know if he/she is getting a response after you have spoken with the vendor. Check back again a bit later and once again after the problem is solved. At an upcoming staff meeting, let the team know that this is the type of obstacle you can assist with and ask if there are any others they can share that you may not be aware of.
B. You have a colleague who has issues with depression and sometimes just drops the ball on project deadlines and communications
Seeing the obstacle: If things seem to fall off the map and you aren’t sure why, sit down with the employee to try to get to what could be in the way. If fatigue, depression and apathy seem to be part of the problem, suggest that the team member see a doctor. Ask what he or she is doing to stay healthy, physically, socially, mentally, spiritually. If personal issues, sympathize, express your belief in his/her ability to find solutions and overcome difficulties. Take some notes and date them, keep them confidential.
Considering ways to remove it: Ask what would be helpful to the colleague. Make a few suggestions that come to mind and ask if those ideas would be welcome or not. Tell the colleague you want him/her to be successful and that when tasks and communication aren’t flowing it is hard for you to do your job too. Ask if there is a Plan B that could be put in place for times when the colleague is feeling really down.
Engaging others in the process: Let HR or your manager know that you are concerned about your colleague and are letting them know. Don’t disclose details just say it might be helpful for the colleague to have a discussion to know that people in management are interested and concerned about employees. Then leave the conversation to them, but stay present to the colleague without letting yourself get sucked into their problems, which won’t help either of you.
C. A team member consistently oversteps the boundaries of her authority making pronouncements that confuse other team members and customers
Seeing the obstacle: Consider that many people don’t have an understanding of what the roles of the individual, the team and the institution are and how they differ. Remember that the role of the individual is to do their job and get along with team members, follow instructions and ask if there is something they are unsure of before making any pronouncements about it, if at all. The role of the team is to work together to reach goals, support and encourage each other and be transparent about interpersonal conflicts by addressing them privately with the person involved rather than gossiping about it. Anything outside of this should go to management at the next level. The role of the institution/company/manager is to resource people to do their jobs, take on difficulties that are too big for the team and make decisions at a higher level than individuals or teams. Individuals have the power to act. Teams have the power to collaborate and get jobs done at multiple levels. Managers/employers/institutions have the power to evaluate/judge and make key decisions that involve moving money, building institutional reputation/brand and negotiating high level customer relationships.
Considering ways to remove it: Explain the above to the employee in question. Point out the dangers to the institution/company if she continues to overstep her bounds. Give her several sample scenarios and ask her what the role of each is in those scenarios. If she can’t tell the difference, tell her very specifically what she can and can’t do and what she can and can’t say. Then test her on it again. If she gets it, then monitor and follow up. If she doesn’t get it, she may have a professional judgement issue that could even be a social or learning disability. You would in the latter case have to monitor her closely and intervene regularly, or ask yourself if this employee is more trouble than she is benefit and follow through accordingly.
Engaging others in the process: Do some fact finding: Do others in the team know the difference between the three roles and boundaries? See if this is something everyone needs to discuss to reach a shared understanding.
Although each of the above incidents involve individual obstacles, it is easy to see how everyone is affected by any “weak links” in the system and why others usually need to be involved to get to a sustainable solution. It is important to consider both the team and the individual in the process of obstacle removal, which is why the next part of this post addresses obstacles from the team perspective.
Part B: Obstacles to team success
A. Team members don’t know how to work smoothly with each other because they don’t seem to know how to interact respectfully
Seeing the obstacle: Since we now have four or five different generations present in our organizations, respect in the workplace has become more and more difficult to define. Each generation has its own ideas of what respect looks and sounds like. As the manager, you will have to spell out what you want the workplace culture, tone and interactions between employees to be like. Does it mean not interrupting? Does it mean showing support and help to other employees particularly in front of customers? You may have to do role plays and have employees do self evaluations on respectful workplace interactions based on the criteria you establish.
Considering ways to remove it: It is important to take the time to truly identify what it means to see, hear and feel respectful and considerate interpersonal relations in the workplace and specifically in your team. Until you are clear in your own mind, it will remain fuzzy in the minds of team members. Once you have taken the time to think it through, discuss with the team and teach specific skills/responses, the next step is to work on developing communications systems. You will of course need to ensure there is a clear workflow and line of communication for critical tasks the team is interdependent to achieve. But until you have addressed the roots of interpersonal respect and what that looks like, no systems will work effectively.
Engaging others in the process: This process of identifying “what respectful communication looks like here” needs input and response from the team as soon as you have an idea of what type of communications you want to see and how improvements can be addressed. Everyone will need to give input, and agree to commit to making this work. Unless all team members are doing their part to show respectful and considerate words and deeds to the team, the team cannot move go the the next step of implementing systems and schedules that are dependent on a respectful foundation. An important part of this process is to remind the team that you will be patient with the process and understand that it takes time to change personal habits of communication, but you are still focused on seeing improvements.
B. There are two bosses for a team and they give conflicting directives to individual employees and to the team
Seeing the obstacle: It is surprising how many managers do not notice this as a problem for the team. Employees complain about conflicting directives regularly and say that either the two managers in charge don’t communicate, don’t see how their lack of unity afflicts the team or are too centered in their own sense of importance to accept to work towards better communication. It can be helpful to consider all managerial directives, memos and actions in the light of how you would respond if you were on the receiving end.
Considering ways to remove it: If you are one of the managers and realize the problem, the first thing to do is to have a conversation with the other manager about how the two of you could be in better communication about your directives before informing the team. If the other manager doesn’t accept to work with you, the obvious first choice is to take the issue higher, but not after a couple of attempts to refocus the other person on how the team could best benefit and get work done more effectively if they were not confused and worried.
Engaging others in the process: Speaking with the other manager is an important step, but it can also be helpful to ask team members how they see directives from both managers as working out for them. I had a client who did this and found that employees naturally aligned themselves with a specific manager depending on their jobs and that focusing on their natural allegiances solved most of the double directives issues.
C. There are no standard operating procedures for an important work process and if the key person who knows what to do isn’t there, things fall apart
Seeing the obstacle: This usually becomes visible only when the one person who has become the “single point of failure” isn’t there for the first time. It may have been perpetrated by the one “expert” who wanted to maintain a close hold on the knowledge out of job security fears.
Considering ways to remove it: Speaking with the person who has the keys to the process and getting that person to write down steps and processes is one way to remove the obstacle. Ensuring the individual that his/her job is not in jeopardy, and that mentoring others to learn the skill will be of benefit for everyone, is another important step.
Engaging others in the process: Having the individual with the expertise identify people to mentor, and come up with the SOP him/herself, are important ways to get the obstacle addressed. It can also be helpful to have team members explain what happens to them if they don’t have access to an important piece of the work process. It is amazing how many obstacles remove themselves as soon as a group of people actually sit down to discuss them, identify the facts and stop their imaginations from going wild with what “could” happen.
In summary, it is the manager’s job to see and remove obstacles to individual and team success. This always involves getting engagement of others which can take the form of questions, discussion, agreements and designated action people to execute. I have tried to show how this process of removing obstacles can be approached and look forward to hearing from you about your examples and ideas!
Marie Gervais, PhD, CEO Shift Management is a business-to-business entrepreneur who specializes in helping employers train their middle management to lead, get their workplace learning online and interactive, and conduct team assessments to figure out who to promote and how. She has a background in integrating internationally-trained individuals to the workplace and has supported many businesses in their efforts to hire, retain, support and promote immigrant and diverse employees.
Get in touch – she would love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org or 780-454-5661