Trust and the Bottom Line: Part Two
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6 Ways to Optimize Performance Through Openness & Accountability

By: Ethan Schutz

We continue our discussion of trust, the core of The Human Element, with a look at the costs businesses face when people won’t work well together. A team’s ability and willingness to interact effectively is a primary driver of their ability to innovate and problem solve, yet teams are often not equipped with the tools they need to perform at their best. In other words:

We ignore the costs businesses incur when people don’t work well together.

In most company cultures, people are expected to handle their interactions with their colleagues professionally even when they’ve never been provided with any specific teamwork training or method that would equip them to do so. This is puzzling, especially when you consider that this is not the case for any other aspect of business.

Consider the operation of an auto assembly line. Every step of the process, whether performed by people or machines, is observed, timed, and adjusted to achieve the optimal result. This is a high precision process, as an unneeded motion or extra step can increase costs, especially given the number of cars being manufactured. Ongoing investment in process improvement is a common trait among top performing organizations.

And, there’s a dramatic contrast between the way we handle technical and human issues. When two computers can’t connect properly, we send technicians to fix the problem. But when it’s two people who aren’t working well together, we often ignore the underlying problem, tell the pair to solve the issue on their own, or remind them to “act professionally”.

When a handoff from one part of an assembly line to the next is inefficient or unreliable, we take action, investigating the cause and making necessary process improvements promptly. But we don’t always do the same thing when the handoff is between two departments.

The True Cost of Conflict

When people don’t work well together, they’re less productive and efficient. Consider a typical meeting in your organization. In a one-hour meeting, how much time is spent working on the task at hand? How much is spent on tangents? How much time is spent avoiding conflict, subjects, or difficult issues between members?

Productivity and innovation are reduced when team members stay silent. During your meetings, do your team members tap their creativity and imagination, or do they censor themselves? If they’re holding back, ask yourself why that is the case.

Let’s say 50% of the time you spend in meetings is spent doing useful work. That means the other 50% is wasted. Obviously, that’s time and money lost – but it’s also an opportunity. Consider how many meetings you have in a year, the total amount of wasted time, and what your company could accomplish if that time were used productively.

The Cost of Lost Opportunities

Lost time is the easiest way to measure what happens when people don’t work well together, but it’s not necessarily the only one. There are also lost opportunities. A missed opportunity can mean chronic underperformance. On the other hand, one good idea may mean the difference between a project’s success or failure. Avoiding controversial subjects or difficult conversations makes teams less able to solve problems by generating good solutions. When personnel issues go on for years, there is a concomitant loss of opportunities and revenue.

Now that we’ve covered the costs of ignoring the human element, you may see why fostering true teamwork and cultures of openness is a smart investment for any business. In our next installment, we’ll be taking a closer look at how the actions we take – or don’t take – have an impact on how we’re seen by the people we work with.