Jan 12 2016

I’ve written before on leadership and challenging others. Last time was about having the courage to challenge anyone when things are not right. Today I write about challenging peers.

I remember once when I was the Materials, Planning & Logistics Manager for an electrical steel-stamping hall. We had 40+ high-speed presses ranging in tonnage from 35 to 500 making stators & rotors for many different customers. We were a new management team & had been working on reducing our backlog of orders and at the same time trying to ensure our customers were getting at least what was needed to get through each week. It wasn’t easy, as the site had been operating in a large backlog condition long before I started working there but we were making good progress catching up.

I remember one day where I had made a mistake, I can’t remember exactly what I had done wrong but I had upset one of my colleagues, the production manager. He gave me a proper telling off for whatever it was I had done, probably not as fierce as many I received in the Marines, but I walked away feeling deflated. I had made a mistake & he called me on it & rightfully so.

No more than 30 minutes after that telling off, he walked into my office asking a question about something completely different, acting as if it had never happened. Maybe I’m deranged, but I still look back on that day as one of the highlights of my professional career in regards to teamwork & professional relationships.

It’s easy to cite teamwork as an important factor in business success. Teamwork is easy (or easier at least) when things are going well, but for teams to be truly effective, I believe the members need to feel completely free to openly challenge each other. I’ve heard too many times that people “can’t challenge him/her, they’re on the same level as me”. To me that is a copout and according to Joseph Grenny, the sign of a mediocre team at best.

At that job, with that team, we were high performing – we had reduced our backlog by over £1m in just over 4 months. We had produced a record tonnage for a single week, higher than anyone in the organisation could remember achieving in years. We were able to do this because we were open with each other – we challenged each other & we held each other to account. And no, it wasn’t always a “telling off”, that was a rarity.

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