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Unlocking Team Potential: Minimizing Interference to Maximize Performance

The fastest path to performance is to cut out the static.

In a world where distractions are as common as opportunities, the ability of teams to focus on their goals without interference is a significant predictor of success. When interference—be it bureaucracy, unclear goals, conflicting priorities, or flawed assumptions, cloud the path, even the most talented groups can struggle to achieve their potential. For leaders and organizations aiming to enhance team performance, the crucial step is to identify and remove these barriers. Not only is this a crucial step - it has the potential to improve performance at a fraction of the cost of other initiatives.

The True Cost of Interference

Interference manifests in various forms, each acting as a barrier to efficiency and focus. It can range from the excessive meetings that eat into productive time, to the multitude of conflicting directives that leave employees puzzled about their priorities. The impact is not just a delay in achieving results but also a decline in motivation and engagement. When teams are constantly redirected or bogged down by procedural hurdles, frustration mounts, and energy wanes.

Research in organizational psychology shows that reducing interference is not just about streamlining processes—it's about respecting and freeing up mental space for employees. This mental space is crucial for creativity and innovation and for performing tasks with competence and enthusiasm. “You can’t push a stream to flow, but if you remove the blockages it will flow faster by itself.” Adam Kahane, Facilitating Breakthrough.

Discernment as a Core Leadership Skill

Discernment is a pivotal skill for leaders aiming to reduce interference and foster psychological safety. To judge well - to identify what is truly important and what is noise is a harder skill to develop than you might initially think. Leaders have a significantly larger amount of noise to clear up. 

The question becomes: Do you as a leader clear the static or pass it on to your team?

Leaders with strong ability to discern are adept at navigating complex situations and making decisions that align with the core values and objectives of the team. They recognize the subtle impacts of their decisions on team dynamics and morale, carefully choosing actions that minimize confusion and align efforts. These leaders can effectively prioritize tasks, delegate appropriately, and communicate needs in a way that enhances clarity and reduces the burdens that impede team performance. This skill not only helps in cutting through clutter but also in preserving the integrity and focus of team efforts, which is crucial for maintaining an environment where psychological safety is built, maintained and repaired.

Identifying the "Static"

To cut through the noise, the first question leaders should ask is, "What is the static?" This metaphorical static could be anything that distorts or distracts from the team's primary objectives. By identifying these elements, leaders can start to clear the airwaves and enhance clarity. Don’t skimp on this analysis, in-fact, be ruthless in your pursuit of what is distracting you from your main objectives

A personal friend of mine was asked to develop career development paths for each of their team members, and make salary recommendations. They made those recommendations and HR promptly ignored them: including the recommendations for career trajectory. They were comparable to market rate but above company average. Total time in meetings, emails research, survey review, etc. more than 45 hours. And it was summarily dismissed by the very people who asked for it. In a standard work week the average employee will work about 5 hours per day or less. At the least this was a distraction for more than a month.

This brings up the topic of how Human Resource Business Partners (HRBPs) and business leaders can consider this issue, "What are we asking leaders to do that may be distracting them?" It's essential to scrutinize whether the tasks and responsibilities assigned to leaders serve the primary goals or merely create more noise.

Just because a leader can be asked to do it doesn’t mean they should.

5 Strategies to Reduce Interference

1. Streamline Communication: Opt for lean communication strategies. This means fewer, more focused meetings, and clearer, more concise directives. Ensure that every piece of communication adds value and is necessary for progress. Develop and maintain channels of communication. For example: email is for non-time sensitive information, slack for immediate support on complicated and easily answered questions, Meetings are for complex problem solving, learning and fielding support on emergent challenges. Notifications should be off for most of the day unless the task and challenge requires back and forth between members. If you can’t state why you value someone's opinion - don’t

disrespect them by abusing their time and inviting them to a meeting. A nice golden rule - if you can’t write down why someone would add value to a meeting, don’t waste their time.

2. Prioritize and Delegate: Encourage leaders to set clear priorities and delegate tasks effectively. This not only empowers more team members but also ensures that leaders are not overwhelmed with tasks that could be efficiently handled by others. To delegate effectively you need to offer ownership over the assignment. To avoid micro- management, discuss at the outset what stage of completion it makes sense to meet and re-align or offer support. 20% and 80% are good benchmarks - it also gives you a good chance to discuss what 20% and 80% even look like. This also helps people avoid perfectionism, overworking in the wrong direction and opportunity to tap into resources on the team other than just the leader. 

3. Simplify Processes: Regularly review and simplify processes. This could mean reducing the steps required to get approvals, cutting down on mandatory reports, or eliminating redundant meetings. Each process should be justified by its utility, with all else being reformed or removed. It is human nature to be additive, more clothes, more business, more steps. But when it comes to work this can become a heavy burden. Leaders that help simplify have teams who get more done. Its not easy or hard - it requires intention.

4. Promote Autonomy: Allow teams the space to make decisions and take actions within a defined framework. Autonomy is a powerful motivator and can lead to faster and more creative solutions to problems. You as a leader are welcome to choose the “hills you die on”. So choose wisely. Practice being less certain that your way is the right way or the best way - just wait and see how another approach might turn out. You will gain more respect and trust by guiding new discoveries than directing people to follow old patterns. Make “the way we’ve always done it” a call for change instead of a call for consensus.

5. Feedback Loop: Establish clear and constructive feedback loops. Feedback should be timely and aimed at helping team members improve rather than merely pointing out faults. Positive feedback encourages a focus on strengths and fosters an environment of continuous improvement. This is the least common practice amongst teams. They simply don’t invest time in learning. In the example from #1 Meetings are for complex problem solving, learning and fielding support on emergent challenges. Learning is complex and the more perspective we have the better. Set specific time to share learning, learn how to facilitate dialogue and watch your team gain traction. It will likely feel a bit clunky to start - keep going that means you’re trying something new.

The Link to Psychological Safety

Interference not only clouds strategic focus but also undermines psychological safety within teams. When leaders constantly shift priorities, overload employees with conflicting tasks, or emphasize bureaucratic adherence over meaningful work, it can lead to a significant erosion of trust. This degradation of psychological safety occurs because team members may feel their contributions are undervalued or worry that taking risks could lead to negative consequences if the goalposts keep moving. In environments where interference is rampant, employees are less likely to ask questions, share ideas, or report problems for fear of exposing themselves to criticism or non-recognition in a chaotic landscape.

Addressing interference is not just about clearing a path to better performance; it's about nurturing a culture where psychological safety allows creativity and innovation to flourish. Leaders play a crucial role in this process by setting clear, consistent expectations and minimizing unnecessary distractions and conflicting demands. By fostering an environment where team members feel secure and valued, leaders can unlock their full potential, leading to improved resilience, quicker problem-solving, and a stronger competitive position. Reducing interference, therefore, is not merely a strategy for enhancing efficiency—it is a foundational practice for building a thriving culture where both people and ideas prosper.

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