Is Your Team Average?

Dec 14, 2023

Is Your Team Average?

This post marks a shift in the conversation about development. Let’s start with a question: Is your team average? The instinct for most leaders is NO WAY! We are definitely above average! Maybe asking the question in a different way will help. Is your team exceptional, extraordinary, outstanding, remarkable, great, special, or rare? These are the most common opposites of average. 

Over the years I’ve talked with hundreds of leaders and a majority of them identify their teams as above average. No leader likes to think that they, their team, or their organization are average. It’s almost like an admission of failure. So, we develop multiple ways to justify that our team is above average.  If you look at the numbers, though, most teams are average. Why?

The answer goes deeper than “we didn’t hire the right people.” The reality is that most of your team could improve their performance 15% to 20% quickly if needed. It also goes deeper than “we’re not developing our team members.” Most organizations have some form of development, even if it’s just average, so let’s give everyone a high five for the development plan they currently have. Something is better than nothing.

Most development plans, though, develop average team. Why? The issue is “what we are developing.” In a world flooded with information it’s easy to assume that development is about information.  Give people enough of the right information, and they will develop. 

That’s where the path to exceptional deviates from the path everyone else takes. The real issue that separates exceptional from average is “what” you are developing. Development is not about information. If all we needed was more information, we would all be in great shape, have great relationships, and be independently wealthy. Why? The information is already available – everywhere! 

The core of development is application - ensuring that people have the right information AND that they know how to apply that information every day everywhere to drive performance and growth. Most teams are average because we develop them to be average and hope that a few team members will rise above average. Let me give you just one example.

Most development plans train people to successfully perform in a predictable environment. Do you work in a “predictable environment?” Not me. Changes and problems are common. Few development plans, though, equip people to thrive in the complex situations that occur daily at work. Early in my career I worked with a manufacturing client who needed to improve productivity. We improved performance significantly in a short period of time because we focused on application more than information. Downtime is a major barrier to performance growth in a manufacturing setting. Reduce downtime, and performance improves. Every operator I worked with knew how to run the machines. They passed the training program. Every mechanic knew how to fix the machines. What they were missing was a common, practiced strategy when problems occurred – breakdowns, jams, and product quality issues. Here’s the interesting thing. Individually, each operator had a strategy to respond to these problems. But they weren’t sharing their strategies and identifying which ones worked best. Mechanics knew how to fix the machines where problems occurred, but they weren’t teaching the operators what they could do to prevent breakdowns. We improved performance by developing everyone’s skills, strategies, and confidence to prevent breakdowns or quickly fix them when they did occur. Mechanics became both teachers and fixers. It was certainly in their best interest. The more their taught the operators, the less time they spent fixing the machines. And the longer machines ran between breakdowns. The operators became a team, rather than a collection of individual operators. Experienced operators shared their knowledge with newer operators. They taught them how to keep machines running, how to quickly cleanout breakdowns, and how to make simple machine adjustments themselves. The results were significant. Why? We focused on application, not just information.  

As leaders we want a team that makes the best decisions every day, everywhere to drive performance and growth. Information alone will not create that outcome. Practicing application in a real-world setting is the only solution that creates long term growth. Application is what turns average into exceptional.

Development systems that focus on application are built around 3 elements: awareness, initiative, and discipline. We call these the DNA of Development. In future posts we will explore the details of these 3 essential elements of growth.


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