The Fragility of Efficient Teams

I was stunned.

On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization tweeted “There is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with intl. travel and trade.” The news of the virus ravaging Wuhan, China did not show enough “evidence” for the WHO to take any action, exposing the world to systemic risk.

This was the day I took a hard look at how I have ensured redundancy in my life and my business. Fortunately, my methods had built-in inefficiencies that helped my business thrive during the crisis. Without my habits and systems in place, my life and business would have greatly suffered.

When facing systemic risk that exposes you to ruin, there is only one thing that matters: survival.

Efficiency is Overrated

As a society, we’re addicted to optimization and efficiency. We try to reach maximum efficiency in all of our systems, unknowingly cutting out the safety nets and exposing us to massive risk.

Imagine a highly efficient world. A world where we import a majority of our products from a foreign country, say China. For the sake of efficiency and to maximize profits, we slowly cut out all other avenues of imports. This decreases overall costs, improving the efficiency of our system. This is great! The products supplied by China are then used by every business, large and small. Because of the low cost of China-made goods, local businesses that would make these products go extinct. Now we have a beautifully efficient streamlined system that provides maximum efficiency, decreasing costs and improving profits.

Imagine you have a team of five people that run your business. Screw versatility, we want efficiency. To reach 100% efficiency, you train each person to be highly specialized, only capable of performing one task – nothing else. No one bothers to learn any other task because that would take away from time performing their own.

Imagine nature decided to produce a human with maximum efficiency. She creates you with one kidney, one eye, one lung… you get the point.

If you optimize for 100% efficiency, over time you’ll be shown where all the risk was hiding. And risk comes fast.

As a leader in your organization, it’s your responsibility to always protect your most important assets. These are your most basic resources needed to deliver the minimum viable product. You need inefficiency and redundancy in these basic resources.

Without a doubt, your number one priority is the health, safety, and well-being of your people, your most important asset. Without your people, you lack the synergy that drives the productivity, problem-solving, and creativity of your organization.

Building Redundancy in your Team

How do you build redundancy within your team?

Develop their skills, compound relationships, and maximize safety.

Though specialization is important, multi-functional and adaptable employees with a wide range of skills is essential. If your lead specialist takes a sudden unexpected leave, you must have someone who is familiar with the details. Learning an important role from the bottom-up is ideal, but not when errors can have devastating effects like during a crisis. Start building redundancy in skills across your team through a system of coaching and feedback.

Compound relationships through consistent communication, accountability (both ways), and honesty. These must be intentional habits. Trust in times of uncertainty gives you the discretionary effort you need for the business to survive. Without it, you have a team filled with fear and doubt, unwilling to be proactive. Your valuable time will be spent convincing others to take action. If you’re lucky enough to gain some conviction to step forward, they will do so with heavy feet.

Maximize safety by prioritizing risk reduction. If you’re allergic to peanuts, you don’t work as a taste-tester at the peanut factory. If you need to produce an error-free product, like a prescription bottle of Adderall for a misdiagnosed child who’s just bored, you don’t allow the presence of other drugs contaminating your workstation. Focus on environments, processes, and behaviors that put your people and business at risk. Simplify the complex through subtracting obstacles and distractions.

Simplify the Complex, Optimize the Simple

Optimization and efficiency isn’t all bad. It’s when buffers and inefficiencies are completely removed for the sake of cost reduction and speed. As a rule of thumb: simplify the complex, and optimize the simple. Avoid optimizing the complex.

The COVID-19 crisis exposed the fragility of highly-optimized complex processes. We can’t make the mistakes by sacrificing redundancies for unseen risk. Any risk exposed to you through time will give you 100% certainty of that experience. Embrace inefficiency. It may save you from ruin, or at the very least, give you peace of mind.

Thank you for reading!

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