In Part 5 of our 12-part series on the qualities of high-performing teams we examine the difference between problems and breakdowns, and how to lead teams so that breakdowns are shared openly.

How can breakdowns get you on the path to breakthrough performance? Most professional workplaces are experiencing transformation from an instruction-based work style, in which employees carry out the orders of their supervisors, to a collaborative-based work style, in which employees and supervisors share information.

However, listening carefully to conversations between employees and their managers reveals that information still flows downward within an organization. The daily challenges people face are not often shared with an organization’s leadership. To lead an organization and provide them with the capacity to achieve breakthrough performance, it is imperative that leaders create an environment for people to easily share information, especially in an environment where change itself is accelerating.

Breakdowns are not problems.

The challenge for managers is that people often hesitate to share information if it might be considered as ‘bad news’ for a project. Organizations that communicate poorly deal with problems: things that were not planned for, should not have happened, and are often dealt with through individual effort outside of the purview of the team and its supervisors.

Breakdowns, however, are a set of circumstances that interrupt the commitment of a team. Teams embodying breakthrough performance understand that there will always be breakdowns- but what distinguishes effective teams from ineffective teams is the ability to share information and act accordingly. Problems are different from breakdowns in the manner in which they are dealt with:

·      Problems are avoided, breakdowns are sought out

·      Problems place blame, breakdowns are dealt with in the absence of blame

·      Problems require ‘fixing,’ breakdowns enable us to recommit to fulfilling our commitments

Create a structure in which people share breakdowns.

Creating an environment in which people freely share breakdowns requires more than simply asking them to be open with their challenges, It requires that leaders provide a structure for people to share breakdowns.

Explicitly asking people to come to meetings with a specific number of breakdowns, or, holding a ‘breakdown session’ in which people articulate as many breakdowns as possible are two simple ways in which leaders can get their people sharing their perspective on the challenges they face in their work.

The less leaders need to rely on their people’s individual initiative to share breakdowns and the more they actively pursue breakdowns, the more they embody the principles of breakthrough performance. The results can be extraordinary.

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