Set the Rhythm – Get Better Results

drumming to rhythmAll organizations, including yours, have natural rhythms that ebb and flow throughout the day, week and year. These rhythms determine how work gets prioritized, the way in which it’s done, the effort expended, the time to completion and, ultimately, the degree of success in realizing original intentions.

Recently, I worked with an experienced and highly regarded chief marketing officer (CMO) who felt frustrated with the slow pace that key priorities were being realized. A recent hire in her new company, she had a strong sense of urgency to address some long-standing problems and drive needed change.

While this senior leader strongly believed that her team members were the primary source of her frustration, those same team members during narrative 360 interviews consistently mentioned the challenges and struggles they faced in trying to meet this leader’s expectations. Despite their best efforts, they felt thwarted by the CMO’s approach.

It turns out that, in her push to move her agenda forward, the CMO had virtually ignored the prevailing rhythms of the company. By rhythms, I’m referring to the patterns of ‘flow’ by which work gets accomplished. For example, rather than advance each priority in a similar way, with equal emphasis and with similar pacing, there needs to be more variety and flexibility in the way works gets accomplished.

As a leader, it’s critically important that you leverage existing team and organizational rhythms to your advantage. If you’re attempting to adjust those rhythms to realize key changes and improved performance, as is so often the case, it’s even more important to understand what currently exists and how best to leverage organizational flow.

Here are five key suggestions to better understand and leverage your team and organization’s rhythms:

  1. Deepen Understanding
    Deepen your awareness of how the work of your team and organization gets identified, selected, prioritized and completed. Seek to understand how decisions are made and key actions are implemented. Key questions to ask yourself include:

    • What are the key events in the lifecycle of my organization that impact how and when work gets accomplished (e.g., earnings calls, performance reporting, program and product launches, strategy and business planning, board meetings, regulatory compliance audits)?
    • Who are the primary drivers for this work? This might include internal stakeholders and/or external constituents such as investors, clients, business partners, suppliers or regulators.
    • How do current work demands and workflow determine the scope and scale of commitment to identified priorities by your team members?
    • Have I initiated a regular method of realistically monitoring the rhythms of my own work and that of my team?
  2. Sharpen Focus
    Leaders often tend to expand their involvement and engagement in work that’s peripheral to their primary mandate. This creates additional pressure and challenges for the team leader and team members as well as for the broader organization. You can’t effectively regulate your own rhythm, and that of others, if you’re heading off in multiple directions. Consider the following questions to gauge your focus:

    • Am I focused on my own core responsibilities and setting realistic boundaries in terms of involvement in areas that might overlap with other leaders’ responsibilities?
    • Do I get drawn into, and then overinvolved, in problems and issues that are outside the scope of my portfolio?
    • Do I stay within my spheres of control and influence and avoid involvement in issues that, while of real interest and concern, are primarily ‘owned’ by others?
    • Do urgent and immediate challenges and issues constantly overwhelm the rhythm of me and my team to the detriment of accomplishing key priorities?
  3. Enhance Clarity
    A high-energy and action-oriented leadership style may be misinterpreted as a ‘do it now at all costs’ message to others. Similarly, a leadership style that’s too relaxed and ‘laid back’ may lack the necessary motivation to see key priorities addressed in a timely fashion. To see how you’re doing in terms of clarity determine:

    • Are you being sufficiently concrete when conveying information and plans?
    • Do your people understand the on-the-ground implications of a proposed decision and course of action, not just the higher-level purpose, vision and outcomes?
    • Are you able to fill in the white space and connect the dots more completely in terms of how certain actions are addressing a particular challenge or issue? Can you share more details of the thinking behind your actions and include background rationale?
    • Are you able to show how specific decisions and actions fit together to create a bigger strategy for change to realize a longer-term vision?
  4. Strengthen the Team
    Staying on top your team’s capabilities, capacity and motivation is crucial to ensure your people have the resources and skills to advance key priorities in the face of varying workloads and timeframes. Reflect on the following:

    • Is my team’s overall rhythm out of sync with the abilities or motivation of certain members?
    • Do we have clearly articulated methods to prioritize our work and, conversely, are we in agreement on our criteria for deferring or eliminating work?
    • How do my team members typically respond to higher workloads or new and unfamiliar work demands?
    • Do individual team members have the latitude to set an appropriate rhythm for completing their own work effectively?
  5. Adjust Expectations
    Significant stress for you and your team is often generated by your own internal, and perhaps unrealistic, expectations of your team members. Or perhaps you’re not applying enough motivation to accelerate specific key priorities. To effectively leverage and manage your team’s rhythm, you’ll want to take be acutely aware of your expectations of others. To do so, you’ll need to determine the following:

    • Do I tend to be impatient and establish unrealistic or unnecessarily tight timeframes for completion of work by my team members?
    • Am I too ‘relaxed’ in my approach to the completion of key priorities by team members?
    • Are the standards for work expected of my staff too exacting given the scale and scope of all that they have on their agenda?
    • Have I established some way of regularly monitoring team member progress towards their key goals and priorities?

Take the time to better understand the rhythms of your own organization – you’ll realize higher employee satisfaction, improved teamwork and greater levels of success.

rowing to the rythm

About The Author

Scott Borland, Founder & President of CYGNUS Management Consultants Inc, , is a recognized expert in helping executives host strategic conversations and obtain high impact feedback. He brings insightful perspective and proven strategies to strengthen the alignment between strategy and leadership behaviour. Scott has presented frequently at regional/national conferences and is a regular contributor to online journals/blogs. Follow Scott on Twitter or add him as a connection on LinkedIn.

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