How to build muscles as a team

What I’ve been learning

I injured my finger a few weeks back and had to splint it full-time for 6 weeks straight (facebook post with more details). I couldn’t bend the first knuckle at all. This week I was able to begin bending the joint again.

It was hard.

While I knew it was ok to exercise, it hurt and I couldn’t do everything I wanted to do. Now, 5 days into exercising my finger back, I’m at around 30-40% movement. It’s painful work and some days it’s easier just to put it back in the split and not think about it. But I know I need to put time and effort in so that I can use it in the future.

It’s been a first-hand less in how hard it is to rebuild muscles.

Having muscles as a team is a common analogy for a team skillset. Leaders will say, “Yeah, we don’t have very good muscles for [insert activity here].”

Examples I’ve heard include:

  • experimentation

  • meeting management

  • clear and compelling communication

  • fast decision making

  • focusing on user value (outcomes) vs building solutions (outputs)

I realized this week how helpful this analogy actually is.

boy standing near dock

How can you help your teams build their muscles?

  • If you haven’t done something for a long time (or ever) it’s going to be rough at first. There’s often an initial dip in performance when making a change.

  • Exercising a single muscle is hard enough for someone recovering from an injury. Building muscles as an entire team takes coordination and motivation beyond “hey, we should do this.” That’s why the best leaders spend a substantial amount of their time getting a team aligned and communicating to keep them on the right track, especially when making a big change.

  • Building muscles takes time. It’s a struggle but that means you’re growing (see this article about what it takes to build actual muscles, spoiler alert: lots of pain and work). New team habits won’t form overnight.

  • Expecting perfection for a new skill will result in discouragement and team members falling back into old habits, figuratively putting the splint back on.

  • Get help. Rebuilding muscles in your body works much better with coaches, trainers, physical therapists, doctors, etc. Too many teams try to do this without any expert help and end up wasting time and energy.

The shaping of team habits is a powerful way for leaders to impact their organization. Remember to get help, practice patience, and be realistic when you’re building new muscles as a team.

What I published

The product manager IS NOT the CEO (LinkedIn Video)

Get Aligned at Work (LinkedIn Video)

In response to the question: What else should be on a list of analytics needed for growth?

In response to the question: What does the future of work mean to you? (Thread)

What have you been learning about?


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