Start navigating the negative forces
You’re probably familiar with this refrain: “If only we had more _____, we could do more _____.” Whether your team is on the front lines of a big organization, or leading a small company with limited resources, or inside an agency with demanding clients, it’s easy to feel knocked around by the forces around you. They might range from internal forces like budget or stakeholders to external ones like emerging technologies or changing customer needs.
Yet most teams have a lot more control in the face of negative forces than they realize. Teams can’t stop a force, but they can often alter it or simply alter how they respond to it — and that fundamentally changes the dynamic for the better.
It helps to think of forces as if they were wind. We learned this trick a number of years ago when SYPartners worked with then-Yahoo CTO Ari Balogh. If the wind is working against you, you analyze the conditions and re-adjust your sails. You keep tacking until you’re in a better position. And on the flip side, if the wind is in your favor, you don’t take it for granted — you maneuver to keep that advantage going. (Yes, forces can also be positive. That’s a topic we’ll cover in a follow-up post.)
So, what does navigating the negative forces look like?
Let’s say internal stakeholders are slowing your team down. The first thing to do is get underneath what’s happening and why, and then think about what you can change. Are your stakeholders overwhelming the team with suggestions? If so, look at how to graciously accept advice without immediately acting on it. Their job is to provide input. Your job is to filter it wisely.
Or maybe the team is busy trying to please or appease skeptical stakeholders, which is squeezing the time you have to do the actual work. If this is the case, consider how to build more trust and reset expectations to give the team some breathing room.
There are some forces that will just stop a team in its tracks, no matter how agile that team is. But these are the exception, not the rule.
So, the next time you hear your team launch into that familiar refrain, don’t give in or give up. Instead, carve out an hour of the team’s time to map the forces working against you. For every force, indicate the degree of severity — is it a major force? A minor one? Then, look at what you can alter, adapt to, or even just ignore.
And if all else fails, consider the advice of Winston Churchill: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”