Lately I’ve found Google Maps to do a pretty good job of predicting how long drives are going to take, with traffic. That’s a huge plus in terms of planning, predictability and figuring out the best routes, and I’ve wondered for a while why traffic data has been available but estimated drive times have consistently been way off the mark. My one remaining feature question is why Google or other maps applications don’t let you input the time you will be driving to get an estimate. Obviously there will be idiosyncrasies on any given day, but they have all the data to tell you what normally happens on a given route at 5pm (though perhaps it’s not worth the trouble to store it all).
All this said, I do find occasionally that there are still big glitches, like yesterday when I drove to the airport for what was predicted to be a 38 minute drive on a route I never take – and which would have been 38 minutes had it not been for a tiny half-mile stretch on one exit that alone took more than 15 minutes. That 50% variance on the drive to the airport makes a big difference.
That got me thinking about the pace at which complex work gets done in organizations. The obvious, big piece is about the overall flow of traffic: how quickly does your organization move in its default setting? This has to do with culture and norms and expectations, and I’ve never worked anywhere where we couldn’t do things faster most of the time.
However sometimes the slow doesn’t come from the overall pace of thing but instead comes from choke points, snags where everything grinds to a halt even though the general pace of things is otherwise brisk.
When these choke points happen, the first thing we need to do is name them. “Hey, we got stuck in this situation – this always happens to us.” Just that conversation – saying out loud which situations get you stuck – will itself be powerful.
And once that moment has been named and recognized, there are two (likely intertwined) things we can do. The first just builds off the naming and says, “It’s really important for us not to grind to a halt here, so we’re going to consciously ignore the thing that has stopped us (the approval we need, the great counterpoint someone has made, the risk we are running, the unwillingness to make a big final push with a hard deadline) and just decide to finish.” The active, shared decision that acknowledges a good reason to stop but says, “let’s push on apace” could itself teach everyone involved whether the stop sign was there for a good reason. And it might have been. Or not. If you try it a few times you’ll find out. (Results will vary). Key to making this work will be a real postmortem that brings in all the relevant folks, to get everyone to discuss what happened and what was good/bad about taking this new approach.
The second, deeper intervention is to use choke points as opportunities to have courageous conversations about what is really going on, to address deeply held beliefs or behaviors that are holding your organization (and its people) back. These conversation involve taking risk, being open to loss, confronting deeply held beliefs about what behaviors help your organization succeed. They’re called “courageous” for a reason.
Either way, it all starts with the decision that being ground to a halt, repeatedly, is no way to get from here to there.