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Covid-19 has presented quite a few upgrades in challenges in the realm of leadership. One of those is finding the right pace, a sustainable pace. We all know when the strings are so tight they can snap. But we never think it will be us.

Most great leaders occasionally burn the midnight oil themselves, and they also run the risk of creating an unsustainable pace for their team. Carey Nieuwhof says, “Being a leader in regular times can be a challenge. Being a leader in a crisis can be a complicated challenge. Successful leadership in regular times is hard enough. Trying to figure out what to do during a global crisis is CRAZY!” I agree! But it is also necessary. One of the first pieces of the puzzle is to create a sustainable pace for yourself and for your team, and clearly communicate expectations surrounding it. How can I create a sustainable pace? Long term successful leaders say, “Lead today in a way that you will exceed tomorrow.” Most leaders lead in a way that will cause struggle tomorrow. Let’s look at a few things that will help us.

First, realize the cost of not working at a sustainable pace. Bob Hartman from Agile Leaders points out the likely results of not working at a sustainable pace:

  1. Defects will increase. Tired teams let more defects through.

  2. Work output will decrease. Tired teams do less work in more time!

  3. Morale will drastically decrease. This may lead to employee turnover at a most unfortunate time in the project.

  4. The blame game will become common. (Not our fault you didn’t say X. I said X. Did not. Did so…)

  5. The team starts to abandon good practices for those that “seem” faster.

Be committed to good reasons for a sustainable pace.

  1. It helps avoid burnout.

  2. Too many deadlines make “crunch time” continual. Cohesion and morale are at risk. Maintaining a sustainable pace helps keep team members stay motivated for the full life cycle of a project.

  3. A sustainable pace serves the customer with increasing productivity and quality.

  4. A sustainable pace allows for time to think of better and more creative solutions to issues that arise.

  5. A sustainable pace instead of a constant push forward allows the team to fix fundamental issues as soon as possible rather than tacking on extra hours to make up for what has been lost.

  6. Maintaining a sustainable pace empowers teams to do their best work.

  7. Pressure causes a waste of valuable time, money, and energy.

Find out what causes team pressure. Of course, some pressure is acceptable, but if you have the feeling that you are always working under pressure, that should be addressed. Agile Leadership suggests questions to regularly ask your team:

  • Do teams get enough freedom to do the work in the way they think it should be done?

  • Are team members allowed to make occasional mistakes and learn from them?

  • Is it one or two persons who are under pressure, or is it everybody on the team?

  • How is the morale of your teams?

  • Do team members feel happy when they come to work and when they go home?

Take action when you find pressure is too great. If too much pressure due to a large workload is really hampering the team, the team should take action.

Possible actions are…

  • Investigate which improvements they can do to increase the team velocity.

  • Work on establishing stable teams, capable of delivering quality and maintaining high productivity.

  • Prevent multitasking/task switching as much as possible.

  • Monitor work in progress to make certain the project is not getting hung up unaware.

  • Plan time for team members to relax and blow off steam after having had a busy period.

  • Focus upon happiness in your teams, making sure team members have fun while doing their work.

When you work at a sustainable pace, your team will be happy and never burn out. What that means, however, is your team must find a working pace (40 hours per week or so) that is sustainable and healthy for the long term. Effective work depends on team members who are in the “zone”—creative and energized throughout an entire project or initiative. They work in sprints, not marathons. It means you monitor crunch time when a deadline is looming and your team is pulling heroics to get things done. Sometimes it works, and the team is exhilarated. But it often results in a team crash, leaving those involved exhausted, demoralized, and underappreciated.

Keeping a sustainable pace at work is key to keeping team members happy and engaged while producing their best work. Regularly check in on the team mood. And remember, team satisfaction is a moving target. Monitoring pace and workload and making necessary changes is the way to ensure everyone stays on top of their game.

“A sustainable pace is achieved through proper planning, commitment to goals at all levels in the organization and collaboration and communication up, down, and across the company. Focusing on the value delivered rather than the framework in which your work is done will help to keep your team happy and working well together.” – Aline Leadership

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