Are you setting your team up for failure?

Are you doing what you can for your team to insure success?
Or are you setting them up for failure?

I was driving home this morning after dropping my daughter off at school. It was dreary and raining, and the 2-lane road was busy with normal brisk rush-hour traffic. About a block ahead, I saw a utility truck blocking the other lane. I could see headlights of oncoming traffic in my lane as the cars maneuvered around the truck. As I approached the truck, I slowed down and then stopped to let the other lane’s traffic make their way around the truck and back into their lane.

stopsignSuddenly, I noticed a utility worker standing off to the side of my lane, about 3 car lengths ahead of me, holding one of those portable  reversible “STOP/SLOW” signs. He was frantically waving the “STOP” side of the sign at me. Apparently I didn’t stop in the right place for him, and he appeared to be mad. Or maybe just terrified I’d roll right through and cause an accident.

I felt bad for him because he was standing in a bad spot. He wasn’t far enough upstream of the utility truck to stop me sooner, so I can see why he was frantic. But in the rainy weather, I had my eyes on the oncoming headlights, not him.  He was responsible to control the traffic, yet he was not in the right place to do it. I thought I would offer some help.

He switched his sign to “slow” and I started to move. As I got to him, I stopped and rolled down my passenger window. I said “I’m sorry, but I didn’t see you. You might want to stand a little further back there, because I didn’t even see you until I was nearly on top of you.”

“We had a sign back there at the intersection,” he said, with a little irritation in his voice. (The intersection was a good quarter mile back, and I didn’t notice any signs.”

I said “Oh, I didn’t see any signs.”

“Didn’t you see the truck?” he asked.

“Yes, I did, and I saw headlights coming at me, but I didn’t see you or the signs.”

He pointed to his fluorescent orange vest and said “You didn’t see me?” He was astonished and frustrated.

It was the first I even noticed the bright vest. Silly me. Fluorescent colors are  hip and trendy wardrobe colors right now, so I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t’ even notice it on him. I said, “No, I didn’t see you. I was looking at headlights.” I paused. ” I think it would be a good idea to have two of you, one in each lane, and a little further away from the truck, so people can see you better.”

He didn’t appreciate my advice. He looked at me with contempt and sneered “I’m the only one here!”

“I’m just making a suggestion. That’s all,” I said. I rolled up my window and got moving.

I felt bad for the guy. He was set up for failure on three, possibly four accounts. First, he was commissioned to do a job that really required more than one person. Second, he didn’t have the recourse to get the help to fix the problem. Third, because of his gruff personality, he was not the right person to put in a position where he would have to have contact with an irritated and irritating public. And possibly fourth, he didn’t seem to demonstrate a willingness to accept input from someone else to help solve the problem.

I’m sure this guy is a decent hard working guy. But he was not equipped for the job he was to do. As a team leader, do you set up your team members for failure? Here’s how to prevent this:

1. Asses the job thoroughly to determine exactly what needs to be done. What resources are needed? People, money, equipment, time. Lay it all out. If the job needs to get done, be willing to pay the price to get it done.

2. Match the job to the right person with the right skills, whether it’s technical skills, people skills, organizational skills, physical skills or creative skills. This is THE SINGLE most important thing you can do as a leader!

3. Think through any obstacles. Develop a plan to overcome them. Involve your people in this planning.

4. Give your people the authority and resources they need to not just do the job but to overcome any obstacles.

5. Conduct periodic debriefings with them. See if they have suggestions to improve their work, or concerns about what is going on. Constantly evaluate the match between them and the job to find if it’s a good fit and if the job is getting done correctly.

I wonder if this utility worker went back to his boss at lunch and complained about the lady who stopped traffic to offer her opinion on his work. I really was just trying to help. If his boss is smart, I would hope that tomorrow’s rush hour would be a little smoother, and that guy will have a partner to share the load.




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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Jung

    I agree on your article. I have suggested a safety vest with special illuminated lighting showing them a sample vest. They said “It is fantastic”, but that was it.

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