One of the biggest ways you can help your team is to frame whatever challenge lays ahead.
That’s what a leader does. You put the specific challenge in its big picture context. You set a goal so that everyone knows what needs to be done.
You probably also set a timetable for when it needs to be done. And you may discuss a strategy for how it can or should be approached.
But do you ever frame the work in terms of opportunities to learn?
Many times, us humans like to do more than feel like we are moving a pile of rocks from point A to point B. We’re funny like that.
Even if the job is to actually move a pile of rocks from point A to point B, we want to know things like who wants us to do that? And why is it important?
On a high functioning team, we probably also end up discussing strategy. Is it better for us each to move as many rocks as we can? Or should we setup a line to relay rocks to each other?
When you emphasize learning opportunities, you can explore even more ideas. Like, should we take time to build a cart with wheels to help move the rocks?
That sort of analysis might seem crazy if there were not that many rocks.
But what if there were a lot and points A and B were far apart?
What if we calculated that it would take 8 hours for the team to do this by hand, but they could build a cart in 4 hours and then move the rocks on the cart over the next 2 hours?
Hmmm… seems like maybe that would actually be worth it. The team could build the cart and beat the original time estimate.
But what if something goes wrong and they’ve just wasted a bunch of time on cart building rather than just getting the work done in a simpler way (carrying rocks)?
Or what if it actually took 10 hours with the cart? Seems like that plan should be shot down.
Or should it?
What if that cart can be used again for similar projects in the future?
What if the lessons learned from building the cart could be applied to other tasks in the future?
What if the fun and excitement of learning and meeting the challenge creatively increased everyone’s job satisfaction?
What if the teamwork helped to maintain or cultivate a positive team culture?
Time and energy spent learning may not always pay off right away. But many times it will pay off over the long run (sometimes in huge dividends).
A committed team can learn from a short-term failure. And the recovery can be a team building exercise.
As teams develop stronger commitments and higher aspirations, building in learning can become a powerful secret weapon.
Teams that learn well, adapt to new challenges and develop creative solutions better than other teams. They also build stronger connections to each other through tighter collaboration and better support mechanisms.
As a leader, the framing you use to present challenges and opportunities is a way to help manage meaning.
Give some thought to how you might include learning in that approach. You might be surprised by how much further you team can go.
And remember, you can start small. Maybe a small experiment will help you learn if this might be worthwhile for you and your team.