Process-Go-Round

This is a true story, but I changed details to respect everyone’s privacy.

A team regularly reviewed their process. The frequency of their check-ins, how they tracked their tasks, things like that.

These reviews were supposed to be an opportunity to raise concerns and make suggestions. In reality, folks were expected to raise concerns and make suggestions. If they stayed silent, the leader would call on them by name.

“Tommy, what do you think? You haven’t said anything.” He’d ask.

“I’m good, no problems.” Tommy answered. The team had been working together for years. He was comfortable with their process.

“Don’t hold back. Tell us what you think.”

Feeling pressure, Tommy tried to think of something. “Maybe we check in too often. I guess the interruptions make it hard to focus.”

The manager nodded. The team switched from daily check-ins to Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

It took weeks for the new schedule to become a habit. People would show up on Tuesday and wait around for a canceled meeting. They’d forget to go on Friday and hold up the conversation while someone went to find them. Eventually, the new schedule stabilized.

Then, “Tommy, what do you think? You haven’t said anything.”

“I’m good, no problems.”

“Go ahead. Tell us what you think.”

“Uhhhh. Mondays are tough days. After the weekend, I’ve forgotten about work.”

They changed the check-ins to Tuesday and Thursday.

People showed up to an empty room on Wednesday. They remembered barely in time on Thursday and showed up unprepared. Eventually, the new schedule stabilized.

Then, “Tommy, what do you think? You haven’t said anything.”

Dmitrij Skorobogatov/Shutterstock.com

On and on the process-go-round turned.

The team spent a lot of their time and focus tweaking their process, which is another way of saying they spent a lot of their budget tweaking their process. It turned out that the check-in schedule had no measurable impact on their output. It didn’t change what was delivered.

Process changes are expensive because folks need time to adjust to them. Each change needs to be valuable enough to offset the cost of making it a habit.

If people are happy and their work is getting done, let them work. It’s important to provide opportunities for team members to raise concerns and give suggestions, but equally important not to force them to change what’s already working.

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