Three Rules For Moving Fast As A Team

Anyone who has taken other people on long outdoor expeditions can attest: there are some things you have to do on every single program you run, and some lessons that every group needs to learn for themselves.

Over the course of a summer spent teaching almost entirely with one other instructor, we challenged ourselves to distill our understanding of group dynamics to three simple rules that we could teach any group - from military veterans to MIT freshmen. Our hope was that these rules  would serve as an easily referenced framework for group decision making.

I’ve found these three rules - developed over a summer of sea kayaking coastal Maine - to have broad applicability to leading an organization as well.  In particular, I have found that following these rules can help all teams move much faster than they would have otherwise.  They’re also listed in order of importance.

1. Don’t be dumb.

This is obviously a bit glib, but it’s a sentiment deeply rooted in risk management.  The nature of dynamic environments is that you’ll certainly face many situations where you have to make decisions with serious consequences with incomplete information. It probably sounds a bit like your job, huh? You never know the one right answer.  But you always know the wrong answer.  Avoid it like the plague.  

Imagine you’re in a key customer meeting and they fire you.  It’s unclear how you can save the relationship, but there are a bunch of things that will make it impossible to do so, like yelling at the client, offering a price cut you know you can’t afford and will later have to rescind etc.  Don’t be dumb and you’ll avoid the worst possible outcomes while buying yourself time to explore your nearly infinite alternatives.

2. Everything takes longer than you think.

Period.  End of story.  You think it will take 2 weeks, plan on 4.  Think one draft will suffice? Plan on 3.  I can count the exceptions in my own experience on one hand.  Whatever you’re doing, it will take longer than you think and this has important consequences.  

Your new website will take longer to launch than you think, but how will this impact the launch of your new capital campaign, which will in turn delay important improvements for your customers? 

Start earlier than you think you need to and you just might meet your deadline.  

3. Ask for what you need.

There is a big difference between asking for what you need and asking for what you want.  In a culture where people ask for what they need, requests are taken seriously, because they are serious.   

Will a second monitor improve your productivity by 50%? Ask for it.

Do you need your cubicle mate to turn down their music? Ask for it.

Do you need your board to be open to new revenue streams? Ask for it.  

Worst case scenario you’ll be told no, but along the way you’ll build trust amongst various stakeholders, gather input, and focus more of your time and energy on what’s most important.