Shoot or Dish the Rock? That’s the question facing every basketball player each time they touch the ball. I love to watch basketball – especially at the college level where the athletes are talented enough to dazzle us yet still inexperienced enough to make crushing mistakes on a national television stage.
And what’s the most common mistake? It might be taking a difficult shot when a simple pass could have enabled a teammate to make an easy basket. Or maybe passing up an easy bucket while trying to make that perfect assist that gets them onto the ESPN SportsCenter highlight reel.
Both mistakes directly reduce their team’s chance of winning.
Hoops @Work? As a part of the work that I do with teams involved in change, I often do a short object exercise based on this pass/shoot dilemma. The lesson of the exercise can be especially useful if the team has one or two key players who risk becoming a bottleneck when their to-do lists grow to the length of their arms.
How Did We Get Into This Mess? The primary source of overload is obviously too much work – but the pile-up happens when too much of that work ends up on one person’s plate. It may be that one person has been given the role of system guru or another feels they own a particular set of business processes. Or it could be that one division on the org chart owns a key relationship. (I emphasize the word own because sometimes the source of the bottleneck is both the team’s need for accountability and the person’s need to be needed…)
What to Do? In the exercise, we typically discuss what causes a team member to get overloaded with activities and how to engage their peers to help level that work out. The most effective techniques for this seem to involve four factors:
- the nature of the work
- the skills, authority and experience required
- real priorities
- the amount of work
- business or project constraints
With these four factors in mind, here are several questions I ask them to consider as they decide between doing a given task themselves or dishing the work to a team mate:
Nature of the Work: Just how complex is the work? Is it too risky to allow someone else to help get it done? If it were broken into smaller steps, would they need to be executed sequentially by a single person or can it be split up into steps that can be done concurrently by a couple of people? If it’s possible; look for ways to dish the rock on the simpler parts of the work. If it’s too complex, look elsewhere for relief.
Skills, Experience & Authority: What skills and experience are needed to do the work? Does the activity require unique knowledge, special security access or specific authority? Is the task something that someone else could easily learn to do or is it so tied to the skills or the experience of one team member that it would take too long to teach another person to help out? If the constraints above are actually only desired and not required – dish the task.
Real Priorities: Sometimes each of us prefers to work on stuff that’s easy to do or things we are good at. The same is true for key team members. From time to time we may need to nudge folks with questions like: “Is the deliverable I am working on really the most important one for the team?” or “Is this needed today or eventually?” Another source of clear priority is whether someone is waiting for me to finish a task before they can do theirs.
Amount of Work – Does the activity involve mountains of effort? Or is it such a small thing that the key person should probably just knock it out? If it’s so much work that the team could get stuck waiting on that one person – look to break it up and get help. Many high-effort activities have components that are largely administrative – look to dish these parts and let the key person focus instead on verifying the results of the team’s work as opposed to doing it all themselves.
Business / Project Constraints: Finally, is the activity part of the project’s critical path – meaning that any delay in the activity would delay the entire project? If so, could the budget support adding internal or external help? Would the business tolerate any schedule slips to ease the pressure on the critical path task? Can resources be shifted from other non-critical activities to speed up the one that most threatens the milestone?
So Do I Do It or Do I Dish It? All projects and teams eventually experience activity bottlenecks. But there are also many ways to re-distribute work and relieve the pressure from your project’s key resources. Ask the questions above as part of an on-going dialogue with your most at-risk people.
Just remember that folks may not always tell you they are overloaded, so the responsibility for recognizing when a key ball handler needs to shoot or dish the rock really belongs to your entire team.
Questions for Chatter:
- Does your team habitually “pile on” by insisting that the same key person be involved in every decision? How can we break that habit?
- What other ways can key team members spread the effort and avoid being a roadblock to their team’s success?
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