Leadership Lessons from a Cracked Rim

A car's wheel rim

I was driving the other day when I got a warning from my car’s information system that one of my tires was low on air.  I have run-flat tires and my car constantly monitors the air pressure so it can let me know when I don’t have enough for safe operations.  I found the nearest service station and filled the tire.  About a week later it happened again so I drove to a tire shop to find the leak.  It turned out that the rim was cracked.  This prompted me to take my car to a specialist who fixes rims.  I was surprised when I was told the problem wasn’t the wheel but my run-flat tires.

The wheel cracked because I have 20” performance wheels and tires.  There are spokes on the outside of the wheel but not on the inside, the part facing the car, and that is where the wheel broke.  I thought the wheel broke because there is no spoke supporting the inside of the rim but the wheel specialist told me otherwise.  The run-flats are designed to be driven with no air pressure so they have no shock absorption, no give.  In other words, they work great on race tracks that are smooth and well maintained but can break in the normal wear and tear of everyday driving.

Some high-performance teams can work in the same way, when things run smooth, they hum right along but as soon as they hit some bumps, something breaks.  In order to prevent or minimize the damage, you need to build some cushion into your team, here’s how.

3 Ways to Build in Shock Absorption

  1. Anticipate problems – don’t wait to find your weak points, plan on them. Ask yourself “what’s the worst thing that can happen?”  No matter how remote, plan in advance.  Our military does this all the time.  Not only is it helpful to have a contingency plan ready to be implemented, the act of planning makes you better at planning so if something comes up you haven’t thought of in advance, it is easier for you to develop a plan on the fly.
  2. Cross-train your team – cross-training solves a couple of problems. First, it minimizes your reliance on any one team member.  If you’ve ever been held hostage by an employee who is the only one who can perform a critical task you know how disruptive it can be.  When you cross-train team members this can’t happen.  Secondly, when there is a surge in demand, you can re-allocate resources.  This allows you to either eliminate or minimize those speed bumps.  Finally, cross-training provides context for how each job interacts with others.  Frequently team members don’t fully understand how their job performance affects someone else on the team.  Cross-training is one way to drive the point home.
  3. Practice for contingencies – Once you have your contingency plans and cross-training completed, run some emergency drills. While you are already ahead of the game with the plans and training in place, you don’t want to wait for a real emergency to find out what you missed.  Run some drills where you intentionally fail some aspect of your business and have your team adjust.  Then do a debrief.  Look at what went right and where there is room for improvement.

There is an old saying, fail to plan then plan to fail.  This applies to the unexpected as well.  Put your contingency plans in place and have everyone work the problem.  This will put in the necessary “shock absorption” you need to keep your high-performance team running at maximum performance, even on rough roads.

Email me and let me know what kind of problems you anticipate and if you have plans for dealing with that situation.

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