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03 March 2019

Building Shift Tempo

‘Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.’ In a military context, this applies to individual weapon handling, securing a building or commanding an armoured fighting vehicle. It gives the plan the best opportunity to remain synchronised and gives space for each team member to think clearly. Most importantly it generates tempo. A team with good tempo will absorb internal friction and give leaders time to make good decisions, driving your team to move faster than your competition.

The inability to generate good tempo in the workplace costs many hours of productivity due to poor handovers, isolated decision making and poor Pre-Start meetings. Teams lose sight of the overall mission and vision and each day is just about surviving the chaos until the end of the shift. Often, teams point towards KPIs that drive this behaviour and the effort to 'just get to work' is often counterproductive. Generating and maintaining good tempo in industries and workplaces that are 24-hour operations with multiple crews and shift rotations is difficult, but can be key to winning the shift. There are many factors that go into generating good tempo, but it cannot be confused with physically moving fast. Speed will be a result of good tempo, but generally speaking, it isn’t an input.

How can we build tempo at the frontline leader level?

Be deliberate and set the conditions for success – Often it is our inability to synchronise time, space and purpose that kills tempo and it requires a deliberate approach to address all three. Ensure you receive a good handover by asking questions and confirming assumptions before planning and rehearsing the Pre-Start. Avoid blaming the other shift and take responsibility for a substandard handover and seek to understand how your team’s tasks for the day link to the overall mission and prioritise accordingly. Don’t finish the Pre-Start until you have confirmed that your team understands what a good day looks like and how to get there.

Adopt a default coaching approach – By immediately giving your team the answer to every question, you will create an environment where they don’t have to listen or make decisions. It will take time in the short term but use their questions as an opportunity to build context and understanding of not only their job, but how it links to the overall mission and vision. A good place to start is ‘What’s your recommendation?’.

Physically being in the best spot to lead your team – Conduct deliberate analysis as to where the best place for you to be is. A good place to start is three common tempo killers. Friction, Failure and Transition.

Friction – Where do your team regularly encounter friction? It may be a person, organisation, process or procedure. Get ahead of it and smooth it or remove it.

Failure – Where is the plan brittle, unclear or new? Physically place yourself in that spot and make order out of chaos if required. If your team works through it themselves you are already in a prime spot to provide positive feedback and timely recognition.

Transition – Is your team moving to a new site or somewhere they are unfamiliar with? Transitioning between projects and priorities also leaves your tempo vulnerable. Being there also allows you to confirm assumptions and understand the daily challenges that your team encounters.

Finish Strong – The day or shift is not over until you have prepared for the next one. A deliberate approach to setting up the next crew, or even setting up yourself for the next day is imperative. Start with these three.

Prepare a thorough handover – Don’t handover assumptions as facts by not confirming actual progress states of your work.

Capture lessons learnt – Gather information from your team and discuss your observations in order to close short learning loops. Set rules with your team to ensure that this is not used as an opportunity to blame the night shift.

Give feedback – Consolidate good performances through positive recognition to not only your team but other teams that have assisted in your success.

Recommended Reading

Left of Bang by Patrick Horne captures lessons from the United States Marine Corps Combat Hunter program. The skills learnt in the combat hunter program are not relevant in most workplaces but the notion of being as prepared as you can left of bang (time before an event or incident) in order to maintain tempo right of bang (time after an event or incident) applies.

Written by : Ben Horton