In case you haven’t noticed, your team is probably drowning in emails, buried in meetings and struggling to deliver the critical outcomes you and the organisation need from them. Much of the work that comes their way is urgent, and they probably spend much of their week reacting to the latest crises. And while you would like to think that your team is the gold standard in responsiveness, the constant bombardment of urgent work will eventually take its toll on their morale and on the quality of their work.
As a leader or a manager, you have a responsibility to your team to protect them from unnecessary urgency. A part of your role is to act as a shock-absorber or buffer that will dampen the urgency being driven by other parts of the organisation – from stakeholders, from senior management and from clients.
This is a contentious idea, as many would see your role as a conductor of that urgency. That you should be communicating the urgency to your team, and ensuring they get on with the job with a sense of urgency. But I see this leading more often than not to senseless urgency, rather than a sense of urgency. And remember, in many cases the urgency is not real, or is unreasonable. Your job should be to evaluate the request and work out if the urgency is real or not, or if it is reasonable or not. If it is false or unreasonable, you may need to push back, negotiate or simply ask why?
A manager I worked with recently was an urgency conductor. Many requests and issues came his way from the leadership team in the organisation. He invariably passed these urgent crises straight to his team, pulling them off whatever they were working on. His team were in a constant state of anxiety, and felt that they could never plan as their week and day was always rearranged at the last moment. They did not feel that many of these issues were truly urgent. They felt that other more senior managers made things urgent either because that was how they got stuff done, or they left things until the last minute and then made the request. Their manager responded to their seniority and let them away with this, and expected the team to suck it up. Not surprisingly this was a high stress, high turnover team.
So, what can you do to cushion the urgency a bit?
- Always ask when work is needed by before accepting it (not when they want it)
- Push back on unreasonable deadlines
- Make sure you know what your team has on their plate already
- If something is truly urgent, ask why it is urgent. What could have been done differently?
- Fight to protect your teams’ time – it is their most precious resource
- Remember that you are not working in ER (unless you actually are)
What can you do differently this week to dial down the urgency for your team?