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Too much teamwork is not a good thing.
Here’s a scenario I’ve seen dozens of times in growing companies. The business has gotten bigger, more complex.
And bigger businesses—like bigger children—have bigger problems.
But the team that’s running the business? They’re still operating off of an older playbook. Their version of how the company is structured is outdated. The roles have changed…they just don’t realize it yet.
In a healthy company, the team is culturally strong. They’ve got a track record of solving issues and of winning.
One day, in a leadership meeting, a bigger problem arises. It’s not something the team has dealt with before. No one person has the answer. Nobody is even sure who should have the answer. Or, frankly, who’s in charge.
But the team is used to solving issues. And they want to win. So they do everything they can to help.
All of them.
All at once.
That’s a lot of input/opinions/feedback/options. It’s a lot of time and a lot of conversation.
I call it being in All Hands on Deck Mode. And despite the altruistic impulse, it’s usually counterproductive.
All Hands on Deck mode usually happens in two phases:
Phase 1: The problem
During the problem phase, one person brings up the problem. But then multiple people pile on, sharing their perspective on the problem and how it affects them. The result is a problem that isn’t well-defined—and at the end of a long, exhausting conversation, there’s still nobody to own it. Which leads to…
Phase 2: The solution
If the problem has no owner coming out of phase 1, phase 2 isn’t as helpful as you might think. Once again, everybody has a perspective on the solution, a piece of the puzzle, but no accountability for actually doing anything about it.
Listen for the royal “we” (as in “we should do this”)—and remember that “we” never got anything done in any company, ever.
All Hands on Deck doesn’t work because it indicates a deeper issue: a lack of clarity in the organization. Your team needs to know who is accountable for what. It will help clean up the “swim lanes” in your company and save a lot of unnecessary effort.
Then, you have to be disciplined enough to go to the right person when there’s a problem in their purview. If you don’t, it’s a mess. The smartest person in the room on that topic doesn’t have a chance to come up with a solution. You undermine their confidence and take away accountability. You waste time reinventing the wheel.
Not the way you want to do business.
Ever seen a little kids’ soccer match? The ball goes out on the field…and every child from both teams starts running after it. It’s entertaining as a parent, but not particularly effective.
That’s your team in All Hands on Deck mode. Everybody running after the ball—except it’s not as endearing when it’s a bunch of adults who actually should know how to play their own positions.
All Hands on Deck mode comes from a good place. Your team wants to be helpful—especially if the person who owns the problem is on a growth edge or unsure how to handle it. In that case, some input is usually welcome, within reason.
Otherwise, you end up with a little kids’ soccer team when you should be playing in the pros.
Long term, you need a tool like the Role Map to help you define the structure of your organization.( If you aren’t using a Role Map, I recommend you contact us to build one.)
That said, a growing company is always facing new challenges. You may not know who should be accountable for solving them at first. If you catch your team moving into All Hands on Deck mode, use this technique (thank you to Don Tinney for this one): it’s called Who/Who/One.
Who has the issue?
Who is your issue with?
What is the issue in one sentence?
In one of my recent quarterly sessions, there was a conversation about processes—where they lived, who owned creating them, who was training them, etc. Like many of these issues, it was cross-functional, so several leaders were involved. But the conversation was becoming unproductive.
Who/Who/One could be used in this scenario:
Who has the issue? Joe had the issue.
Who was the issue with? Joe realized he didn’t know. He wasn’t sure who was supposed to help him with his problem. The team wasn’t sure at first, but they realized that Susan should own the problem, so Joe’s issue was directed at Susan.
What is the issue in one sentence? Joe’s issue: I don’t know where all these processes are.
Who/Who/One breaks the cycle of All Hands on Deck and gets you moving toward a solution. Try it—and let me know how it works for you.
P.S. If your team is operating in All Hands on Deck mode a majority of the time, you likely need help structuring the roles inside your business. We can help. Reply to this email or send us a message to connect with our consulting team.