Successful Supervosir 97 The Myth of Needing More People

October 13, 2018

This article will contain a philosophy that some people will reject out of hand, yet I believe it is generally true, with perhaps a handful of exceptions.

The myth starts when workers and their supervisors are convinced they are being overtaxed and need the assistance of more workers in order to get the work done. This complaint is present in the majority of organizations in which I have worked over the past 30 years.

The irony is that when you listen to supervisors and managers describe conditions for the workers, they readily admit there is a lot of lost time that could be available if conditions were changed.

My own personal estimate is that in the average organization today, companies are getting between 30-50% of the potential that is there in the current workforce. If that estimate is true, then in many organizations the output could be roughly doubled with the current workforce.

The problem is that people are working around the cultural problems and conflicts that exist in any group of people. I contrast this condition with some of the benchmark organizations I have seen where leaders have built a culture of respect and trust.

In those organizations, I believe workers freely contribute nearly 80% of what they can possibly do. That is about the maximum amount people can sustain without experiencing health problems due to burn out.

The antidote for supervisors is to not accept when people complain that they need more bodies around. Instead, seek to engage the existing workforce to a higher degree.

If you build the right kind of culture, there will be a lot less internal friction causing loss of productivity. People will enjoy a higher quality of work life as well, which will make your days (or nights) at work so much more pleasant.

Ask yourself if a better culture in your organization would make for a happier and more productive experience for all levels. Don’t be quick to buy into the notion that we need to dump more bodies into a sick system in order to get the work done. It is just not true in the vast majority of cases.

If you dump more bodies in without resolving the underlying cause of malcontent, then the problem gets worse, not better.

Instead, seek to energize the people you already have by reducing the friction or fighting between people. This action will result in better utilization of current resources and obviate the need to hire more people. Try the following techniques:

Create a common goal

Teams who have a lot of acrimony usually act that way because they lack a common goal that everyone wants. Seek to clarify your vision and paint a picture that is clear enough for all employees to grasp.

Show them how each one of them will be much better off when the vision is achieved. Remind them that they are really on the same team and not in opposing silos.

Get rid of the “we versus they” feelings and create a powerful group that think in terms of “us.” If you are not an expert at making this kind of change, then seek a consultant that can help you.

Document expected behaviors

Work with your employees to establish a set of agreed-upon behaviors that remove the vast majority of acrimony between people. Make sure everyone buys into these behaviors.

Then praise people when they follow the right behaviors. Do not tolerate it when people violate the behaviors. This action may result in actually removing some players from the team.

I have written elsewhere (Addition by Subtraction) about how removing some of the combative people who refuse to cooperate actually makes the work easier for everyone else, and you get a double whammy. You get more work accomplished with fewer people!

In this environment everyone celebrates. The group will recognize that you did not need more people; rather you needed fewer people who are mucking up the works.

Celebrate the Successes

Getting to improved engagement and empowerment can be a long road. Be sure to take time to celebrate the small wins along the way. Let the team marvel in their ability to actually be more productive without killing themselves.

Celebrate creative ideas that pan out to improve the process. Consider failures as learning experiences that help the team move forward. Remind people that they learned to walk only by a lot of falling down and then making corrections.

Mark Joyner teaches a technique he calls “High Impact Minimal Effort or HIME” that encourages people to find ways to improve productivity while minimizing the effort it takes. The idea is to create a mindset that always looks at jobs this way; it becomes a habit that leads to individual and corporate success.

Once you create a culture where people get jazzed about making their own improvements, then you can simply fall into a coaching mode where their own power and ideas will supply the fuel to the engine of productivity.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at, or 585.392.7763

Seven Traits of Super Teams

March 31, 2013

Green Arrow Breaks Through Maze WallsIf you have ever been on a SuperTeam, you know how it felt. The group accomplished seemingly impossible goals like clockwork. The group stayed pretty much on track, and when it got off the beam, it self-corrected. People on the team shared real interpersonal affection, and the group had a lot of fun. Imagine a world where most teams functioned that way: how refreshing. What would it take to make this dream a reality?

I have been serving on and advising teams for over four decades, and I have come to the conclusion that there are seven traits that enable this kind of environment. If you are on a team that has an abundance of the following seven characteristics, I guarantee it is one of those super groups that is so rare these days.

1. Good leadership

The person in the leadership role must be an excellent leader. Reason: nothing can ruin the ability of a team to rise to greatness more quickly than a leader who cannot maintain the right kind of environment and lead by example. The leadership role can be distributed to more than one member, but there is always one person in charge at any moment, and that person needs to have excellent leadership instincts. Perfection is not required, but a values-based approach to the concept of servant leadership is fundamental, and must be there.

2. A common goal

If all members of the team are aligned behind a common goal, that forms a foundation for great teamwork. To have goal alignment, the team needs to embrace the goal or vision emotionally, not just understand it. Leaders need to foster a sense of ownership of the goal in each team member, and each person must understand his or her contribution to the goal. This alignment is accomplished best by involving all team members in establishing the goal in the first place. With universal ownership of a worthy goal, the team is off to a great start; without it the team could not function.

3. Trust and respect

Without the elements of trust and respect, team members will eventually undercut each other and cause discontent. Excellent leaders know that trust begins with them and their behaviors. It is not likely you will find a trusting team if the leader does not know how to foster trust and practice trust building behaviors daily. I believe the most important skill in building trust is to create a safe environment, where team members can voice any concerns and know they will be rewarded rather than punished. Fear is the enemy of trust and will easily destroy it. To drive out fear, leaders need to make people feel good when they voice a concern. I call it “reinforcing candor,” which is an essential ingredient in good team communication.

4. Good communication

Team members must be able to express themselves freely without fear and have the skills to listen to each other without being judgmental. Great communication skills do not come naturally, and they are not taught very well in schools. Smart leaders recognize any gaps in communication skills and provide immediate training to enable seamless and easy flow of information. Team members need to dig, not just for understanding, but for intent. The most important communication skills are listening, body language, and Emotional Intelligence. How many of us had courses in these critical skills in school? When these skills are not present, the blockages produced will hobble any efforts toward a cohesive group. Smart leaders invest in training of excellent communication skills for all team members.

5. Encouragement and reinforcement

Team members need to feel that someone truly has their back. They need to know someone really cares and will go the extra mile to ensure all members are doing their best. Reinforcement for good work must be sincere and immediate. The best reinforcement on a team is from one member to another and in a loving, spontaneous way. Good reinforcement does not need to be financial. Many times the most effective reinforcement is just a sincere thank you from another team member.

6. Discipline

Discipline should not be confused with punishment. What team members need is an understanding of the rules of engagement and a sense of resolve for upholding their end of the bargain. The most frequent source of team stress is a feeling that one or more members of the team are not pulling their weight. I believe more than 50% of all team problems are caused by this one aspect alone. Teams quickly become fractionated when there is social loafing going on among some members. The best way to avoid this is to have a team charter with expected behaviors spelled out in advance and a specific agreed-upon consequence for any member who does not pull his or her share of the load. If all members agree that a slacker will be expected to “wash the dishes for a week,” then a potential slacker is not likely to goof off. If he or she does, then the penalty has already been agreed on, so a fair application is not subject to argument. My observation is that having a solid team charter with visible consequences for social loafing is the most significant ingredient that will prevent team discord.

7. Balanced Accountability

Holding people accountable is usually a negative expression. Someone is not measuring up in some way, and is forced by others to face the fact and make corrections. I advocate a more holistic or balanced approach to accountability where the good things are reinforced in addition to some coaching on things that need to be corrected.

Great teams have a deep sense of accountability, because they have a high level of commitment to each other and the goals. Since most of the team members are making positive contributions daily, they are responsible to the team for their efforts and performance in positive ways most of the time. Acknowledging accountability for positive acts is also called “reinforcement.” If an individual does come up short on occasion, he or she receives some shaping that can be anything from some gentle coaching to a more serious discussion depending on the circumstances.

For example, if John has been regularly reinforced for his accurate reporting on the quality report, it is a much easier conversation to have when a single error occurs and his boss does some coaching on how John might prevent a future lapse. Reason: you have the string of good will as a backdrop for the coaching discussion, and you avoid the common frustration of “the only time I ever hear from them is when I do something wrong.”

All teams that have these seven elements are going to be highly successful; I guarantee it. Take away any one of them, or somehow thwart their application, and the team will suffer sub-optimal performance. Foster these seven elements in all of your teams, and they will glitter like gold and perform like SuperTeams.