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Learning through Productive Struggle

Steve came to me with the brief to run a development day to motivate his team. Before deciding on the format I was curious what was beneath the iceberg, what was the cause of his team's demotivation?

Broadly speaking the nature of the team is a reflection of their leader. I put this to Steve, and he committed to working with me to first deconstruct what was the cause.

Steve’s team are remunerated well, experienced and capable people who weren’t performing. We completed a team audit and all the symptoms were connected to Steve’s style of leadership and communication. Steve had best intentions, but his actions had the opposite effect.

He was frustrated with their mistakes, compromising standards lacking initiative, taking too long, depending on him for everything. Here was the list of symptoms:

- Steve overwhelmed with workload and stressed

- Lack of trust and respect in both directions

- Indecision

- Over dependency on Steve

- Low accountability

- Individual confidence levels low

- Steve micro managing

- Low motivation

- Low performance

The solution lay in the proverb “Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man to Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime”. This was the simple principle we applied to turn Steve’s team around and without the need to resort to a “cure-all motivational” event.

We introduced – Learning Through Productive Struggle which included:

  • Communicate clear job expectations, purpose of tasks, outcomes and standards required. Clarify decision making

  • Support the individual and team by Steve adapting first. That is, his communication and behaviours to the individual’s capability. Be directive, coaching, supporting or delegate. But not to do the doing.

  • Acknowledge, recognise and praise all effort regardless of the outcome. Coach and support the individual and collective team when tasks don’t turn out right.

  • Setting up informal check-ins with each direct report. Not to tell them what they’re doing wrong, nor what to do but to support and coach them to learn through productive struggle.

Within three months the transformation was tangible. There was however just one individual who didn’t make it and amicably he left for new pastures.

Steve did hold the motivational team building day, but this time to acknowledge and reward the team not to ‘fix’ them.

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