When it is more than just you, it is even more important to stop going from Idea-to-Execution

Let’s just say that it took me a long time to learn from this mistake, or even to realize it was a mistake that I was making.

When you’re just a few people on a team and building something together, it’s easy. Everything is in sync and everyone knows what the other person is thinking. The ideas flow quickly and it’s possible to iterate fast. This is when most people develop the habit of taking an idea and running with it. Let’s test out A, B, and C and see what works (or doesn’t!).

But, as things start to work, and growth starts to happen, and especially as more and more people are brought into the team, this whole idea of going from idea to execution starts to break down. Unfortunately, it’s not really noticeable at first. The team is the proverbial frog in the pot of water that is slowly coming to a boil and you don’t know you’re at a boil until it’s already too late.

I sat in that boiling water for far too long that I’d like to admit. But, I guess I’m admitting it now, so here we are.

At first, I blamed it on everything else. I mean, how could something that works so well in the past and kept us fast suddenly not work? It clearly wasn’t the process, it must be the people I hired! (Or so I convinced myself).

It wasn’t the people I hired. It was me.

Micah Johnson

Preparing for Growth

Dynamics change as team sizes grow and communicating an idea to a larger team is exponentially more difficult than jumping down a new path with a tiny team.

Looking back, I remember coming up with an idea, verbally sharing it in a meeting, and then magically expecting everyone in the company to start executing on this idea. To paint the picture, I didn’t provide any context, no heads-up, no training materials or instructional assets, or anything else that would have set up anyone on the team for success. And because I was the boss, nobody actually spoke up and asked for these things.

And here’s where things get choppy. I would make a request for the team to start doing something with an idea I had, and then I would get frustrated when nobody acted on it. But, to compound matters, the team would get frustrated because they honestly had no idea how to execute the idea I presented.

This is how friction points start, and when left unchecked, how team members can really start to resent leadership. I’m sure you’ve worked at places like this. They consist of two factions: The leaders and the team members. And they don’t get along. All the team members know the leadership is out of touch, and all the leaders know the team members are unable to see their vision.

It doesn’t have to be like this. But it’s going to take a lot more work than you think it should.

Building a Plan Takes Time

Don’t make the follow-up mistake by discounting how much effort really needs to go into implementing an idea across a growing team. Think about it this way: If you over-communicate your idea, your team will tell you and the idea will get executed; if you under-communicate your idea your team will not tell you and things won’t get executed (or they will get executed incorrectly) and the friction will start or increase.

If “idea to execution” doesn’t work, what does? I’m glad you asked. These days there are a few steps that I follow to help make sure the team has everything they need to execute.

Follow these steps to build your plan properly:

  1. Give a heads-up. This is something as simple as bringing up that there might be a change happening and the reason for considering a change.
  2. Get feedback and buy-in. Don’t be the disconnected leader, find out if your idea has legs from the people that will be responsible for implementing it. Will your idea work or does it need to be adjusted slightly? Then, aim for a net positive to get buy-in from the team, and be honest about it. There are going to be changes, but if we’re seeing a net-positive, is it the right time and place to make this change. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. A good leader listens and doesn’t bulldoze ideas through.
  3. Create a proof of concept. Once you’ve optimized the idea, create a proof of concept to make sure it’s going to work before too much time, money, and resources are spent developing something that won’t. Remember, every new priority is potentially a distraction away from other priorities. Picking which ones are the most important is the art behind leadership.
  4. Build a transition plan. If the idea is going to move forward, how will it happen? If it’s not you, someone has to make this plan. Make sure it’s someone with enough subject matter knowledge and skill to lead the planning. Do not leave it up to the “team” to figure it out, they already have their actual jobs to do to keep your company running.
  5. Create training assets. Now that your new idea is being implemented, how will others know how to use it correctly? How will new team members that you bring onboard know anything about it. You need assets that relate to the new system/product/feature (whatever your idea is), and they need to be comprehensive enough to effectively show someone with zero knowledge how to use it and what it’s for. Think of this like a Playbook for your idea. Not sure where to start with creating a training asset? Here’s the Arvo Playbook on how to do just that.
  6. Bonus item: Let it breathe, get feedback, and make small iterative improvements. It’s going to take people using it for a while before they can provide additional useful feedback. Once it’s in place, focus on consistent small improvements (and template everything you can). Don’t forget to update your training materials!