If I didn’t know better, I would think that K. Brian Kelley (blog | twitter) has been listening in on conversations with my boss.
In his recent blog post Successful Teams: Knowing When to Step Out of Your Role, Brian describes quite clearly a philosophy that my boss has been trying to get across to everyone in the department. We have been using sports analogies, like how important it is to play your position, until the play breaks down (such as a fumble) and then do whatever it takes it to cover each other / recover the ball / win. While we like having very skilled people who could do a lot of different tasks, it is important that you first do your assigned tasks, and only once those are complete, or failure of the larger mission is probable, do you consider walking away from them to help someone else with their responsibilities.
The thing that you cannot afford, especially on a lean team, is the really nice guy who is always trying to help out other people, but in doing so, is never quite getting his own responsibilities taken care of. Yes, if the Running Back drops the football, you want any member of the team in the vicinity to jump on it, whether that is the leading blocker or the Quarterback. But until the fumble happens, you want the leading blocker to focus on doing his job, and block for the Running Back. If the blocker is doing any other job than his primary responsibility, you’re probably going to lose.
This sounds logical enough, but it is really easy to go astray with the best of intentions. This is especially true on a small, tight-knit team, where it is really easy to get sucked into someone else’s task or problem, doubly so if you think you can do it better or faster than them. Now you are really setting yourself up for failure. The right thing is to let the other person do the job, even if it seems less efficient in the short-run, so that you can focus on the tasks which require your expertise. Don’t break formation…don’t abandon your assignment, until it is clear that mission failure is imminent, and even then, as Brian writes, it should be with the agreement of the mission leader.
Thanks, Brian, for putting it so well. This has been distributed throughout our department.