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Fix-it Strategies in the Middle of the Ballgame

Clint Maun, CSP

How do great organizations develop and implement effective fix-it strategies while in the middle of the ballgame? Many organizations face this tough question by muddling through with “just-in-time” survival models or by creating large committees or action teams that over analyze and trudge through a cumbersome improvement process.

There is a time and place for performance-improvement teams that delve into and deal with measurable, sustainable and persistent improvements. There is also a time and place for solutions in the middle of the game, when the game is on the line and the team needs to succeed right then and there. How do they go about doing that?

The solution is found in using something very common in the sports world: the huddle. When the game is on the line, a successful team calls time-out, has a huddle and goes about designing a play that will succeed in getting them to the next part of the game. They do this not only at critical moments in the game—one minute left in the basketball game, two minutes left game before the half or at the end of a football—but they also throughout the game. In fact, in football the offense and the defense huddle before each play, most of the time, to determine how to organize themselves to get ready for the next play or set of plays against the opponent.

According to Deborah Harrington-Mackin in The Team Building Tool Kit, the primary goal of a team is “tapping into the collective genius of all the minds present to solve problems and to plan.” Utilize the expertise at hand.

Let’s say you take a loved one to a physician who, after an assessment or diagnostic, determines there is something wrong with the loved one, but can’t determine what. A great physician will immediately call a huddle. This huddle will include the patient, the family, some extra clinicians, specialists and assessment wizards who will formulate some further diagnostic plan to gather information that will enable them to make a decision about the best treatment. They huddle with the various members of the team to create success. I ask, “Why wouldn’t that happen during the on-going game called ‘daily healthcare’?”

If the game is on the line in a unit or department because of a tough situation with a customer, a problematic issue, a concern about teaming or stratification, or a turf matter, a member of the team must yell, “Time Out! We need to huddle.” It is important to teach co-workers to take active daily involvement in their units and departments seriously rather than relying on the old authoritative style of leadership.

If they can’t call time-out to form a team-based huddle to discuss an issue, they will indeed revert to the old authoritative parent-child model, waiting for the time out to be called by top-level management, who then delay the process by forming a committee or by scheduling a meeting for some later time to solve the problem. That approach is not responsive enough: it is often off target, off track and boils up to more than it needs to be. It won’t fix the problem as well as a team that meets at the co-worker level.

The Power of Self-Managed Teams points out that such a team will “move beyond cooperation to collaboration” to solve problems and create success in the workplace.

A worker who feels lost about what to do with a situation on a unit or in a department needs to know that he can say, “Time Out. Help me with this problem. We need a quick huddle to solve it right now,” rather than gossiping about it, leaving a note, blaming somebody else, going home, kicking the dog or letting it boil up into a bigger problem later.

Harrington-Macklin affirms that supervisors and managers “at all levels must support team efforts openly and without reservation . . .,” recognizing the benefits to be reaped from team solutions at the co-worker level. By setting a standard of supervisory excellence, a department head or manager sends the message that all staff members are involved in the journey toward excellence. And to that end, they must be empowered to say, “Wait a minute. We need to get together as a team and fix this situation.” Fix the problem, come up with some answers, and move the ball forward in the game.