Articles

Necessity is the mother of invention

In Productivity and motivation on March 14, 2011 by Tim Aikens

Or so goes the saying.  It can also be the mother of a leap in performance and productivity.  Everyone has seen the disaster that struck Japan last week and my sympathies go out to the people of Japan.  Fortunately the Japanese army and a number of international support teams are now working to alleviate distress and start the long road to recovery.  The people in these teams are remarkable.  They achieve amazing results. often with little equipment and frustrated by the devastation all around them.  Yet they perform wonders, often in a short space of time.  These organisations and their people have interesting attributes that ‘normal’ organisations might well benefit from.  Here are a few of them, not in any special order.

Training. These special teams all have extensive training in their roles – even at the lowest level.  They know what to do and how to do it well.  A recent publication about productivity in the construction industry cited poor or insufficient training as one of the main causes of low productivity compared to other countries.

Teamwork. The people in these teams are developed and trained to work as a team.  Not only are the teams highly effective, they are also innovative, able to move away from standard procedure and use their initiative when demand dictates.  ‘Management’ is often a long way away and decisions need to be made quickly.  Increasingly in the business world, the concept of ‘self managed teams’ is being used to build teamwork and the effectiveness of individual teams.  Responsibility and accountability is being pushed downwards in a lot of successful organisations.

Motivation. The circumstances and nature of the individuals in emergency teams mean that they are highly motivated from the moment they arrive.  It is difficult to contemplate how most other organisations could generate and sustain a similar level of motivation.  But pause a moment and think of the key motivators.  Each individual knows they are doing an important job in a constrained situation.  Often life and death is dependent on their work.  They are working with like minded individuals and support one another.  They all have a determination to do a good job and see results.

Preparation. The team arrives as fully prepared as they can be.  Not only in terms of training as noted above, but also in terms of equipment, planning and especially preparation to deal with the unexpected!

Leadership. There is good leadership at ‘head office’ to make sure the teams get to an emergency quickly and properly equipped. There is also good leadership on the spot to lead the teams.  The leaders are recognised and supported by their teams.

Of course, not all such emergency teams are perfect, but in general they deliver quite remarkable results very quickly.  People I know who have worked on disaster teams return home completely exhausted, both mentally and physically.  They need a rest before returning to normality.  Working at this pace  would be unsustainable in any normal environment.  The question is how can such effectiveness be translated and sustained in a more mundane business or organisation on a day-to-day level?  There are a number of ways of translating these aspects into an ‘ordinary’ organisational situation and I will have a look at this next week.

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