Out of all the responsibilities of a leader I am convinced one of the most important things a leader does is to remove whatever barriers exist that keep others from excelling in their work. Too often a team member fails to achieve his or her goals because there were obstacles they could not overcome. There are some barriers only the leader can remove, and if we fail to remove them we cannot hold others accountable for their inability to get around them.
For 11 years I worked on a factory assembly line. One of the jobs I had on the line during that time had only one person assigned to the station I worked. For most of the models we built one person could do the job, but if we changed to another model it required more than one person. Most shifts we would produce several models, and if there were more than 3-4 of the problem model on the line at one time it was impossible for one person to keep up. Invariably, I would end up finishing my work while in the next station which prevented those people from being able to do their job. Quite often 15-20 of these difficult models would be scheduled in a row which made it very problematic.
When I saw on the schedule that several of this model would be coming at one time I would ask for a swingman to assist me. Sometimes there was no one available. I began to ask for an additional person to be assigned to the station but was told that time study didn’t permit more than one person.
One Saturday while working overtime we had a large run of this particular model. The person sent out to help me turned out to be an official in our union. After he struggled to keep up he requested more help. The next person sent out was also a union official. Two more units went down the line, and they asked for more help. The third person was sent out who also was another official from our union. The next week my supervisor told me that another person was being added to the station! However, it was too late. I had already transferred to another station. Two weeks after I left they had three persons assigned to that station.
When leaders fail to remove barriers it demotivates team members. That’s why I left that station. I was fed up with the unrealistic expectations of our supervisor. For weeks he had told me time study didn’t allow for more than one person, but after getting three union officials trying to do the job I was doing by myself it took less than one week to add another person, and two weeks later they had three persons doing that job. There was no doubt he could have added another person when I first asked.
His refusal to remove this barrier cost the company a lot of money in lost production. When too many units of this model came through at one time many of them went through my station unfinished. This required them to go to a holding area to have the missing work completed. If I got too deep into the next station they weren’t always able to finish their work either causing more work to be required in the holding area. Every unit that was not complete when it came off the assembly line cost the company more money to complete.
Before you get too upset with your team members for failing at their tasks be sure they are not trying to overcome barriers that only you can remove. If you are unable or unwilling to remove them, don’t expect your team to excel. If you’re not sure if they are struggling with barriers in your organization, ask them. You may find out they’ve already told you about those barriers, but ask them anyway, and then do something about them. Both they and your bottom line will appreciate it.