manual brakeHave you ever driven your car with the emergency brake on?

Newer cars won’t let you drive with the “parking brake” on without beeping at you or flashing lights on the dash. Some older cars, though, will let you drive on.

It’s a humbling experience. You get in, start the car, fasten your seat belt, look both ways, then proceed to your destination down the road.

The car doesn’t respond right, though. Acceleration is slower. Braking is amazingly quick – not as you typically expect. There are funny noises – unusual ones – coming from underneath the car. If you keep driving, those squeaks get louder. There may even be smoke coming from your wheels.

This just won’t do. You have to release the brakes to get the full benefit of your car’s abilities – it’s motor, smooth and safe handling, etc.

I find a lot of organizations operate with their emergency brakes on. Teams, departments, regions – even whole companies – find themselves “driving” a “vehicle” that doesn’t respond right.

In organizations, it’s not just one brake that causes problems. It’s many brakes.

One brake might be the absence of common goals. If people compete against each other, the overall organization suffers. Individuals may meet or exceed their goals but people don’t help each other. They may withhold information. They may cheer others’ mistakes and failures.

Another might be unclear goals and strategies. If leaders don’t know the right path, they’ll stumble – so their teams will stumble. If players don’t know exactly what’s expected of them, they’ll struggle to contribute.

Another brake might be micromanagement from bosses. Leaders don’t delegate authority or responsibility to talented, engaged team members. Leaders must touch every decision, no matter how small. Team members who are fully capable of making decisions independently are not allowed to use their brains. They are pawns, awaiting the decision of leaders above them.

Distrust is another big brake in organizations. If you set me up to fail, over and over again, I’ll not trust that you have my best interests at heart. If you promise to get me that report by noon today but that deadline passes with no response from you, I’ll not trust your word in the future. If you give me that report on time but it isn’t of the quality the project demands, I’ll distrust the quality of your work moving forward.

Other possible organizational brakes are lack of respect . . . unfair practices and policies . . . favoritism . . . fear . . . and more. The list goes on and on.

All of these brakes inhibit aligned effort, employee engagement, great service experiences, and consistent results and profits.

How do you know if you’ve got any of these brakes operating? Engage with players. Observe. Ask. Don’t defend – listen and learn.

Fix the issues that are raised. Don’t ignore them – repair them.

Then, proactively create a high performing, values aligned workplace with an organizational constitution – so the brakes are never on again.

What brakes are on in your organization? How does your team stay on top of brakes – and eliminate them quickly? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © terex – Dollar Photo Club. All rights reserved.

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The music heard on my podcasts is from one of my songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005-2016 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). I played all instruments, recorded all tracks, and mastered the final product for your listening pleasure.

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers: Good Comes First (2021) and The Culture Engine (2014).
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