It was the opening line of the email that caught my attention.
I don’t want to throw a wrench in this, but…
The accepted definition of this phrase or idiom “Throwing a Wrench into the Works” means to damage or change (something) in a way that ruins it or prevents it from working properly.
But that is not what was happening here.
They were not trying to damage or ruin the project.
Their wrench was an idea to improve the situation.
But sometimes the project is already moving forward, and we are afraid of Wrenches causing delay or disruption.
Sometimes we have invested in a strategy or direction, and we are afraid of Wrenches causing us to move or admit we may have to accept a sunk cost.
Sometimes the world has changed from when we started the initiative, and we are afraid of Wrenches causing us to start over and change course.
How about a new definition of what it means to Throw the Wrench.
To Throw the Wrench is to speak up and offer an alternative.
To Throw the Wrench is to express your reservation or concerns.
To Throw the Wrench is to help an organization from making a mistake (or further mistakes).
Maybe more than ever, we need you to Throw the Wrench.
As organizations, we need to listen to, learn from, foster, and encourage the Wrench Throwers.
We need the Wrench Throwers to speak up, offer ideas and alternatives, and let us know before we make large mistakes.
One idea to foster the kind of organization that encourages people to Throw that Wrench is to create a contest for the best Wrench Throw. How about prizes and a celebration of speaking up and offering alternatives.
My closing advice to all of you: Throw the Wrench.
I was quick to answer the call. I assumed they needed something right away.
They only said two words.
I was not sure how to respond besides “you’re welcome” so I also asked if they needed anything.
Nope. We just wanted to say “thank you” for our call a few weeks ago. We were a little stuck and needed some direction and talking it through really helped. We also realized that we typically call when we need something but don’t really ever call afterwards, but it seemed important to say “thank you.”
After that call I felt more inspired. More energized.
They didn’t have to make that call, but they did. They didn’t have to say “thank you”, but they did. And it made an impact. My work felt more meaningful, more important.
Where can we make those calls, and use those words? Who is helping, guiding, or assisting us in our journey? Who needs to hear from us?
Try it out today, make at least one call. Be grateful, say “thank you” and imagine the impact we can make.
On this particular job site, each member of the team has a job to do. Each morning assignments are given. As each task is completed, the next task is assigned. The leader of this team must plan out each day, and give out the next part of the plan as every individual task is completed.
This approach has been in place for a while. Let’s call it the “wait until you complete this task before you get the next one approach” for lack of a better, more concise term.
To makes things even more interesting, certain members of the team became better at particular tasks. As the assignments were issued, those who were better at certain tasks were always assigned those tasks.
This system has revealed a few issues.
Members of the team have developed skills, but a very narrow set of skills. They can do certain parts of the work, but not all of it. When someone is out or busy, work can come to a halt.
Projects have become more complex. The work accomplished on day one has to connect to someone else’s work the next day, and it wasn’t matching up. There was a lot of doing work, then going back to fix it the next day.
Once identified, the leader came up with a better plan.
“Streams. That is what we need.”
I paused to wait for the explanation.
“Streams. A continual flow from the start to the finish on these various projects. I realize that by just assigning tasks, individual parts were completed, but there was no connection into the larger project as a whole. No real understanding of how these part fit together. No ownership of the whole.”
I paused again.
“Streams. I could map out the beginning and the end, and let them flow through the entire part or project. I bet they would be happier. I recently heard some grumbling because when parts don’t fit together they have to redo work. I bet this will help them develop more well rounded skills . I have to go create these Streams.
Where have you assigned tasks instead of Streams? How could creating a flow of work from the start to finish increase satisfaction, performance, and connection to the whole?
Let’s try giving members of the team Streams instead of tasks and watch them develop and flow from the beginning to the end.
There are obstacles getting in the way of projects and progress. Obstacles on the job site. Obstacles in our offices, and workplace. Obstacles are those things (old processes, equipment, software, procedures, routines, traditions) that will delay and disrupt the workflow. Obstacles waste time, energy, and resources.
But obstacles are interesting beasts. They like to remain unspoken, unidentified, or undisturbed.
Obstacles like to mask themselves as something else.
Obstacles like to pretend they are just petty offensives.
Obstacles like to create divisions between us.
Obstacles will do almost anything to remain in place instead of being addressed and removed.
What if we took a different approach?
We could become Obstacle Hunters.
A collective agreement to stand together (side by side) to notice, track down, and find obstacles. A collective agreement with the freedom to bring up any obstacles that may disrupt or delay your daily progress. A collective agreement that each member of the team should be an Obstacle Hunter (even if the obstacle was created by leadership). A collective agreement that obstacles are hurting our progress and ability to deliver and there is no fear, offense, or worry when we bring obstacles forward.
What are you waiting for? You and your team face these obstacles every day. These obstacles will want to remain hidden from view and out of focus. It is time to start hunting these obstacles down and get them out of the way of your progress and team satisfaction.
Let’s go hunting today. Watch out obstacles, we are coming for you.
I used to give an assignment to leaders and supervisors at the end of a session.
“Go back to your organization and find a project to delegate down to someone else.”
The reason for the assignment was simple. We had discussed the importance of conveying trust in others and to build their capacity within the organization. We reviewed some some key points from Dan Pink’s book Drive and discussed how delegating projects would resonate with the key drivers for all employees: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.
Weeks or months later, I would check in with these leaders. Almost no one delegated a project.
I asked why.
“You don’t understand, I got back to the office and am so busy, I just couldn’t find the time to sit down with someone and explain it, it was easier to do it myself.”
“They wouldn’t do it right anyway, and when you think about it, I was saving them from failing.”
“I need this done a certain way, and don’t want to worry about if it is done right.”
The lists, and the excuses kept coming. For the few leaders that did delegate projects, many of them picked the worst project on their list and passed that down to someone.
Each excuse was almost a direct hit against the primary drivers for employees.
Autonomy – people want some self direction and control over their working environment which may mean taking on projects and doing it their way. Lack of delegation sends the message that you are in complete control and there is no room for others to develop their own way or style.
Mastery – people want to be good at things, and that means trying new things, working on new projects that develop and refine skills over time. Lack of delegation keeps their skills shallow, and maintains your expert status.
Purpose – people want to feel like their work matters, and their time is meaningful and makes a difference. Lack of delegation makes others feel unimportant, and worse conveys that you do not trust them or value them and their contribution.
I had to change the assignment.
“Within 2 weeks, find the project or assignment is BIG and IMPORTANT that would give you the most satisfaction, organizational recognition, and reward and delegate that one. AND find your partner here today and tell them about this project then call each other each week to ensure it is delegated.”
At first you could have heard a pin drop.
The big and important one? YES!
The one that would give the most rewards? YUP!
Now when I check in with these leaders I hear a different story.
“It was pretty scary to give up a big project like that, but I was surprised, they took it on and completed it. They seem more energized and are looking for the next project.”
“They went in a different direction then I expected and that made me worry, but the result was better than expected and frankly maybe better than I would have been able to do.”
“Not only are these employees taking on more projects and responsibilities, I find that I have more time to do my core job and I am less frantic and busy.”
So the choice as leaders is simple. You can keep everything to yourself (most likely out of fear and control) or you can learn to pass down important projects and assignments. When you choose to keep it, you convey a lack of trust and your work will continue to be hectic and busy. When you choose to pass projects to others, you convey trust and importance in others, and build their capacity.
One leader candidly expressed their fear in doing this.
“What if I delegate these important things down, and my employees become better at these things than me? Won’t I be working myself out of my job?”
My response was simple.
If you are the kind of leader that can build the capacity of teams in a way that you are no longer needed, you most likely have a much larger and more important career as companies will pay a lot to replicate that in their organization.