Teams beat individuals every time. And the most effective teams are made up of uniquely strong individuals working interdependently to complement and leverage each other’s strengths. So, interdependence is a good thing. Right? Certainly. But it comes at the cost of having to devote time to helping each other. As the size of the team grows, people spend more and more of their time servicing each other and less and less time focused on their own jobs. Break that cycle by adding a garbage collector to shield the rest of your group from the internal service requests.
Probably easiest to understand with an example. How about a sales team? One manager and four sales people. Hard to argue that we want the sales people spending as much of their time thinking about and interacting with their customers as possible; and we want the manager spending as much of their time directing and developing the sales people as possible.
But sales is not an island. It’s part of the overall interdependent corporate team. Other groups need help from sales.
- Design needs competitive insights from sales so they can stay ahead of competitors’ innovations.
- Production needs long-term sales forecasts to know what to manufacture.
- Marketing needs insights from sales to help it optimize pricing and promotions.
- Distribution needs short-term sales forecasts to know what to ship.
- Customer service needs insights from sales so they can better meet customers’ needs.
- Management needs forecasts to guide overall resource planning and needs information from sales to help explain what happened to the board, analysts and investors.
Not surprisingly, these requests distract sales people from their time with customers.
There are a couple of options:
1. Accept this as a cost of doing business.
2. Have the manager handle all the requests.
3. Add a garbage collector to the team.
If we accept this as a cost of doing business (which most organizations do,) we have to add more sales people to compensate for each sales person’s distracted time.
If we have the manager handle all the requests, we deny the sales people the direction and development they need.
That leaves us with the garbage collector.
Here’s how it works. We bring in one person to field ALL incoming requests and handle them as best they can. They’re going to fail. There will be too many requests for one person to handle. The other groups will be underserved and mad.
But the manager and sales people can focus on their jobs and deliver superior results. The one, overwhelmed person makes everyone else in the group more effective.
Play it out. If every one of the groups described above (design, production, marketing, sales, distribution, customer service and central management) had their own garbage collector, those seven people could spend all their time throwing and collecting garbage. And the vast majority of the organization could focus on doing their real jobs.
This is not a theoretical construct. I did this in most of my roles at Coca-Cola. We designated one person in the group to handle “outside” requests. They knew their job was to protect the rest of the group. We kept them in the role for six months or so at a time and then rotated them out so they could get back to doing real work. It was good for them (for a while) because they learned. It was good for the group’s productivity.
You may not want to go to this extreme. And you may not want to have them listed in the corporate directory as “Garbage Collector.” But every one of you should be exploring creative solutions to let your people do the jobs that matter most.
If you are running a group within a company, your job is to deploy your people to deliver your objectives. A huge part of enabling them to do that is shielding them from distractions. Help them focus on solving their problems by empowering them to say “not my problem” as appropriate.