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Leading Teams with Better Planning: The importance of sustainable pace

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How’s your to-do list looking?

What about your team's?

If it’s looking a bit unachievable, read on to learn how to improve your planning - and your leadership.

1.    We’re powered by stories 

I always think I need to do things faster than everybody else. It’s been a great way to speed up my delivery over the years. It’s also burnt me out more than once and led to many avoidable mistakes.

Sometimes, I treat my need for speed as a strength. Other times, as a weakness. But like all key personality traits, it’s both, neither, and part of a larger, deeper story.

I used to worry it was a sense of arrogance or superiority (as in ‘I don’t need to take as long as everyone else, because I’m smarter than them.’) but it isn’t. When I observe someone else being careful and deliberate with something new, I don’t feel smug. I feel a pang.

That pang, if I stop to listen to it, says something like “That’s lucky for them. They’ve got that time and luxury.” I’ve never really stopped to examine that pang before, but I did recently, to ask: Is that true? Why don’t I have that time and luxury? What’s the real fear here?

I think it’s pretty core. I try to do everything as quickly as possible, because once upon a time, I genuinely needed to. At uni, I couldn’t procrastinate on assignments or hang out after lectures, because I had a baby at home to look after. In business, I didn’t develop a considered “offering” when I launched my practice in 2014, because we were on an apprentice builders’ wage and had a mortgage and two kids to provide for. That story played an important safety and survival role, and it used to serve me. But it doesn’t anymore.

Stop and think: What stories do you have about time? Where did they come from?

2.    Plan for the real world

We’re gearing up for recruitment of new facilitators and coaches right now, and I am beyond excited. We’ve just mapped out all our preparation, so we can go to market next Thursday. Eep!

Yesterday, as Sha and I were mapping our process and agreeing deadlines, I felt an alarm go off. I knew that if we weren’t careful, we’d get swept up in the excitement, forget about other priorities and box ourselves into unreasonable deadlines, causing unnecessary stress.

We’re all victim to planning bias, where we overestimate how much we can do, underestimate how long it will take and neglect past examples or risks. It’s a default setting – what Daniel Kahenman calls “System One” - and it requires intention and attention to ward off.

For us, we had to stop and make sure we’d built in time for discussion, iteration and unexpected derailments, so that we didn’t wind up panicking in a few weeks time.

Stop and think: Do you plan for reality, or best-case? Has planning bias caught you off-guard recently?

3.    Lead by example

Leaders set the tone. The example we set is much more powerful than the words we say. If you do everything as fast as possible, overwhelm your plate and regularly need more time to complete your projects, this has a powerful impact on the people who look to you.

It means that when you ask questions like “when will we have this done?” people actually hear “ “how fast can we do this?” If your team are similarly speed-inclined, this a recipe for disaster. You can’t get around it with communication, either. If you don’t walk your own talk, people will be more influenced by what you’re doing than what you say.

Stop and think: Are you setting the right example with workload and delivery? 

TL;DR: We’re all powered by past stories that affect our relationship with time and work. As leaders, we need to pick those scabs, check how they’re affecting us and our teams, and lead by example.

Here's three things you can do next time you’re facing a deadline or time pressure.

  • Listen to your internal story and check whether it’s true or not

  • Check yourself for planning bias

  • Walk the talk on workload.