It's the classic 'hit by a bus' question: 'if you were to be hit by a bus, could your team continue performing at their best and delivering results?' If not what would happen? Let me outline 3 possible scenarios that can exist in this crunch time scenario:
1. The team falls into chaos and dysfunction
2. The team's productivity drops significantly and they start to underperform
3. The team self-organises, and together come up with a plan to keep things moving
The bus question is really a metaphor that provides a (blunt) litmus test to measure whether you are leading or managing your team.
Let me elaborate:
Scenario #1: Team falls into dysfunction
Teams who at the turn of an event revert to dysfunction and chaos were on the brink anyway. They don't go from high performing to underperforming in the blink of an eye. What that means is that the leader has likely spent a huge amount of time and energy taping things together so they appear to work. These leaders find that stakeholder management always reverts to them, as their team can't be relied upon to make the right decisions. These leaders feels like they're constantly doing damage control, fixing issues raised or resolving miscommunication caused by the team. Teams in this scenario need clarity to overcome the inconsistency. Clarity of roles, processes and structure to get the foundations right.
Scenario #2: Team drops in productivity and performance
This is a interesting one, because this is a question of passion not competence. Yes, there may be an issue around capability where, consistent with the first scenario, the leader was actively involved in the team's delivery. However, what's really going on here is that the team falls below a critical tipping point (an imaginary line) where they move from being proactive and reverting to a reactive state. This is because when teams are functional and above that tipping point, they are engaged in their work. And it's the leader that gets and keeps them engaged - whether it's the activity the leader does to get the team engaged in their work, or the leader themselves. In the latter circumstance, these are the teams that are really committed to their leader and less to their department or organisation. Once they lose their manager, they lose that engagement and the team can fall into siloed operations, with the team members feeling alone and isolated Teams in this scenario need confidence, built upon process and support. So that they can stay above the tipping point and continue to take a proactive and engaged approach to their work.
Scenario #3: Team self-organises and maintains momentum
Collaborative and cohesive teams typically respond in this manner. Because they have a clear connection to their vision and understanding of their identity, they are able to 'keep their eye on the prize'. Because they are genuinely connected and respect their teammates, they have the ability to have difficult conversations removing ego and self-interest, so as to achieve the collective outcome. These teams need to ensure that their team vision and identity is well understood by each member, and they all are clear on the value of their individual contributions. This provides the team with a sustainable foundation which can handle turnover within the team. So, how would your team operate if you were hit by a bus?