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Don’t Be the Bottleneck to Your Team’s Performance

Child and Nelson Mandela

Category: Leadership

Don’t become the bottleneck to your team.
Understand how you can easily turn from being the greatest asset in your business to being the greatest problem.
Identify the indicators and see what steps you can take to prevent this happening.

Would your team’s performance suffer if you got hit by a bus tomorrow?

No doubt it would. And no doubt you know what you should do to mitigate against this risk. You should develop your team to become leaders themselves. That’s what you’re supposed to do as a leader, isn’t it? You should delegate more work to them.

So why don’t you?

Because you don’t have the time, right? You’re manically busy. You’re dizzy even thinking about your To Do list. You’re being pulled in every direction possible – clients, boss, direct reports, admin, spouse, children, friends – never mind your own exercise plan.

Each item on your list is like a paper aeroplane flying around your head. They’re really distracting. Finally, you get some time to focus on one. And just as you’re about to land it, your boss interrupts you with something else. And the one you nearly landed? It remains like an itch on your ankle, when your leg is in a cast, just beyond where the pencil can reach. More distraction. Wrecking your head.

Mitigate the risk, delegate

So how do you manage your time more effectively? You know the answer to this too, right. You need to prioritise more, create urgent vs important lists. Again, you’d delegate more. You’d go to fewer meetings. You’d create non-negotiable time in your diary which can’t be interrupted.

So why don’t you?

Why is there such a gap between what you know you should do, and what you actually do? The gap between your expectations and your results?

Before you took on leadership responsibilities, you didn’t have this issue. You just did what you were supposed to do.

Delegating and prioritising your workload are two skills that you can develop as a leader. You just have to be intentional about it. Because without focusing on both areas, you deprive yourself, your team and your business of growth.

Balancing being a leader and a producer

Last week I started with a new corporate client, coaching a senior leader in the business. It’s an international property finance business and “Paul” is a star player.

In very typical fashion, he was asked to run the business on the back of his ability to close the right kind of deals for the business at the right times in various market cycles. Massively valuable. Now he has to continue to produce on the deal front as well as lead his team effectively.

Getting that balance right is notoriously tricky. As Marshall Goldsmith titled his book, What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There

You can easily become the bottleneck

Paul has developed a habit of arriving into meetings with the answers to the questions he poses. He has already thought about them. So why waste the time waiting for everyone else to debate things when he has the answer?

Without changing, his team would be conditioned to submit to his dominance in meetings. The opposite of what is best for them all. And this is a team of high-achieving, top-earning, intelligent professionals.

Paul knows leadership is about empowering others, he doesn’t need to be told this. So why doesn’t he do it?

The same reason you don’t delegate as much as you could. And probably you’re not as effective at prioritising your workload as you’d like.

Because it’s hard to see the picture when you’re in the frame.

Paul is still thinking and behaving like the deal guy, not the leader. And he knows he is. It’s not easy to change habits that have brought you success, is it? Unlearning what has served you well.

Are you a bottleneck to your team’s performance?

If you’re a bottleneck to performance then you’re creating problems for yourself and others. It’s only going to get worse. So you need to take action right away.

Ask yourself if any of the following sounds familiar to you:

  • Taking time off creates more work for your return
  • Delegation leads to lower quality output – puts you off asking anyone
  • You do most of the talking and nearly all of the decision-making in meetings
  • The client only wants to deal with you
  • You’ve created structures and processes that were designed to demonstrate the value you add. Maybe they now restrict you. Or maybe you see them as making you irreplaceable so you still protect them. They don’t – they make you a problem.

If you’ve inadvertently become a bottleneck in your business, you’re better off knowing it now. Because there’s a blockage about to happen. Soon. It’s only a matter of time. And it will be quite clear to others who caused it.

Simple steps to mitigate becoming a bottleneck

  • List the top three responsibilities of your role (think of the long-term success of the business)
  • List the three things/areas you do/work in most
  • What are the major differences?
  • List three ways you intervene in the business which prevents others developing
  • Ideally, what would you be doing differently?
  • Ideally, what behaviours and qualities would you see in others?
  • What actions can you take to bridge the gaps?

Start to implement the actions right away. Then review the actions, preferably with others, and plan forward with improved insight.

Act – Review – Plan – Act – Review – Plan

The cyclical way to improve anything in your life. (The 4 best questions to ask of yourself in your review are listed below – at the bottom of the 10th Step).

Here is a well-defined 10 Step process to follow (not just a one off) to translate your newfound good intentions into tangible, effective leadership behaviours. Make it your own, please. Adapt it as you see fit.

  1. Take responsibility. Tell your team you’ve inadvertently created a problem, but you’re aware of it and you’re doing something about it. They’ll respect you for it. Things are about to change. You appreciate their patience and commitment to improving the team dynamic.
  2. Choose a business matter that isn’t going to make or break your team’s year, but that is relevant and important.
  3. Present the outcome you want to reach and ask your team to come up the best way to get there. Encourage healthy debate whilst remaining respectful of each other.
  4. Be curious. Facilitate the discussion by asking more questions. Help them move forward instead of you driving them. Ask open-ended questions beginning with What and How.
  5. Upon consensus, explain what you like most about the suggested plan
  6. If you feel it is missing a trick, explain where your concerns lie (in relation to the outcome being reached or not) without making suggestions on how to fix it.
  7. Ask the team to fill the gaps – then let them get on with it without making suggestions.
  8. Allow members step forward and take responsibility for designated actions/tasks.
  9. Decide upon a review date.
  10. In advance of the meeting, send each contributor the following questions:
    • What went well for you?
    • What didn’t go so well?
    • What was missing altogether?
    • What will you do differently next time?

In the follow-up meeting, you could plot results against expectations and analyse as a team where improvements could be made. Careful not to blame anyone, simply encourage them all to take responsibility. You took responsibility, and you will continue to do so. Remember, it’s your responsibility to help them learn from mistakes. That’s where their improvement is most effectively sourced. Embrace the mistakes!

When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. 

So where you previously saw reasons to do it all yourself, a different perspective will provide reasons to do the opposite. That will create more time, more resource, more engagement, more intelligence, more productivity, more agility and more profit.

When you’re ready to discuss how to create more choice and control in your team and your business, then get in touch today to have a productive and meaningful initial consultation.


About The Author

Jasper WalsheI coach leaders, executives, teams and groups of millennials in highly skilled professions to strengthen their leadership skills, engagement and performance. I create bespoke coaching programmes to help busy, fee-earning professionals focus on their best approach to navigating the challenges and opportunities that change brings on a daily basis.
Grab my free paper on improving Leadership, Engagement and Performance here!

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