Fire Drill

Poor planning on your end does not constitute an emergency on mine. This is a paraphrase of a wonderful quote I heard from Rory Vaden. I have lived this at times. I’m sure all of us have been in situations where we had to pull together as a team and produce nothing less than a miracle to get a deliverable complete on time.

This can create a great sense of accomplishment and team work. However, when done on a regular basis, it induces quite the opposite. Asking teams to perform heroics day in and day out while compromising their priorities to make the next deadline (and the next and the next) is one of the quickest ways to have knowledge seep right out of your company. These employees tend to get sick, start producing lower quality deliverables, and eventually just walk out.

A few suggestions to combat this come to mind:

1.  Stick up for your team. Be the voice of reason to leadership. Don’t tell them what they want to hear; tell them the truth.

2.  Create a new schedule. If you have the authority, re-plan the work effort to be more realistic.

If your hands are tied:

3.  Create sacred time. An example would be to insist once a week that the team get out the door by four.

4.  Give your team permission to take off when something important comes up. Teams that are working 55+ hours need to know it’s OK to leave during the day for a few hours to see a kid’s play, go pay their car registration, take the pet to the vet, etc. Ensure they don’t feel like they are tied to their desk for ten hours.

firefighter teamwork

5.  Let them work from home. If it’s possible, let the team work from home more during tight deadlines. This will allow them to save the commute time, and also, if there is downtime during regular work hours, maybe they can accomplish something personal. When the work picks up, they can give it their all without divided attention.

6.  Recognize, recognize, recognize. If you can’t do anything to change the deliverable schedule, ensure the team knows how much you appreciate them. If you have a budget, buy them meals, give them gift certificates to take their special someone to dinner, go clean their house! If you don’t have money…go clean their house yourself! Or, at minimum, say thank you, write them notes, or recognize them on a call.

It’s important to protect your team as much as possible from fire drills. Some are inevitable, but most are a result of poor upfront planning. If you find yourself in a fire drill, first ask if it’s necessary (maybe you can push back), and then do your best to let your team know how much you recognize and value their contribution.

Jana Axline is president and leadership coach at Axline Solutions and author of Becoming You. Through her leadership musings she inspires audiences to grow as leaders and ultimately achieve who they were created to be. For more information visit Axline Solutions.

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