abstract downward spiral

Off-track suggestions pulling you into a rabbit hole of needless work?

There’s no shortage of important work to do – both at home and in your job. So, the last thing you want tossed your way is unnecessary work. Nobody likes needless activity, right?

But this is easier said than done. I’m sure you can easily recall getting pulled into something that did not add value – at least not in your opinion.

From a workplace perspective, here’s where I think part of the problem lies:

The past couple of decades have seen the rise of The Group – self-directed work teams, participative decision-making, etc. These work formations and processes definitely have many benefits; they also have drawbacks. In my observation, one unfortunate byproduct of group interaction is that needless activity gets added in the name of innovation and collaboration.

Add to that dynamic Americans’ love affair with Taking Action and you have a recipe for non- value-added work.

The “people equation” looks like this:

Inclusiveness + Compulsion to Act = Making Things More Complicated

For example, consider the story of Clarice and Sebastian, two department leaders at a large multinational corporation.  Once a month, Clarice and Sebastian participate in a 15-person global conference call for their division.  As Clarice gives her update, Sebastian offers a suggestion.

Sebastian: “Clarice, regarding [topic she is discussing] have you ever considered doing XYZ? If you did this, then you could  . . . [Sebastian goes on to describe the process he would us to resolve the issue Clarice is reporting on.]

There are a few possible responses that Clarice might offer in reply to Sebastian.

A. “Sebastian, that’s a very interesting idea, let’s schedule a time offline to discuss it further.”

B. “Sebastian, I hear what you’re saying. Here’s the reason why we’re not moving in that direction . . .”

C. “Thanks for your feedback Sebastian.”

Response “A” is very inclusive and action-oriented. It’s a valid response if Sebastian has offered a workable solution. But what if his solution doesn’t hold water? Then, Clarice could offer up response “B”. However, she may hesitate to do so in a large group conference call, because her company stresses “thinking outside the box” and “inclusion”. Response “B” might be seen as shutting down innovation and collaboration, even if the solution offered is not feasible.

And what about response “C”?

This response requires no action from Clarice other than a polite acknowledgement of Sebastian’s comment. This response is a wise one IF Clarice already knows for a fact that the solution being suggested has been tried, or absolutely won’t work.

When determining how to respond to a comment that potentially adds work to your team’s plate, ask yourself this question:

Is the person making a direct request or a suggestion?

A suggestion sounds like: “Clarice, have you ever considered doing XYZ? . . .”

A direct request is: “Clarice, can we meet to discuss how your team could improve the ABC process?”

In the phone conference example above, Sebastian was offering a suggestion. Because his comment didn’t explicitly state a call to action on Clarice’s part, she has the option of simply saying “Thank you” and moving on. To do so requires discipline, especially if the corporate culture encourages “collaboration”.

Well-meaning colleagues are full of great ideas that will ostensibly help you do your job better.  Making the distinction between a direct request and a suggestion can help you avoid getting sucked down the rabbit-hole of wasted activity. It’s not a responsibility-shirking move, but rather an astute practice to help keep your team focused on their goals.

You may also enjoy: Use This Conversational Tool to Avoid Getting Swamped.

Updated in 2019

Image credit: bikerboy / 123RF Stock Photo


9 Questions to Help Your Team Create Vision

April 9, 2019

Think back to the last project you led. How did you begin? Were you successful getting people on board, or was it more like herding cats challenging than you’d planned? No matter what you’re leading, getting people to line up behind a vision is the first order of business when you take on a new […]

Read the full article →

How To Gain Buy-In From Your Team

April 8, 2019

When my daughter was in elementary school I chaperoned a group of second-graders on a field trip to the ArtPrize exhibition in downtown Grand Rapids. Picture this: ten 8-year-olds, excitedly dashing around parks and gardens, in and out of exhibition buildings. They were so excited to experience the art displayed throughout our city. Naturally, their […]

Read the full article →

Adult Learning and Training Workshops – It’s Not an Oxymoron

April 3, 2019

Adults like to learn. No, really, it’s true. If you’re skeptical of this statement, it’s most likely because you’ve shown up to facilitate a training session and felt like you’ve walked into some sort of hostile takeover situation. There is a way to help turn things around: respect your learner’s adult-ness. By doing this, you […]

Read the full article →

Use This Conversational Tool to Keep From Being Swamped at Work

April 2, 2019

Do you ever feel like you should say “no” to a request at work, but the “correct” answer is “yes”? For example, let’s say you’re at a team meeting, brainstorming ideas for a new marketing campaign. And some of the ideas are great ideas. . .but all of them fall in your area of responsibility. […]

Read the full article →

Life Outlook – Are You Seeing Donuts or Holes?

March 29, 2019

Food for Thought: Optimism is a choice – you can choose to see donuts or holes. Look around you – work to see if you can find a baker’s dozen of donuts today. Updated 2019

Read the full article →

How to Encourage Your Team’s Bold Ideas

March 26, 2019

Are you looking to help your team launch innovative ideas? Then listen up. Your efforts to help them might actually be diminishing their creative brilliance, one “helpful” suggestion at a time. Branding expert Sally Hogshead wrote about this phenomenon when describing how well-meaning people pose the biggest threat to a team’s boldest ideas. Innovative ideas […]

Read the full article →

Autonomous Employees Still Need Leaders

March 21, 2019

Humans crave autonomy. When a baby savors that first taste of independence as she crawls away from Mom and Dad, the die is cast: the desire chart one’s destiny is strong. When it comes to autonomy in the workplace, companies have come a long way from the highly regimented scheduling and oversight of industrial-era offices. […]

Read the full article →

Follow #WorkHuman 2019 This Week

March 18, 2019

This week, Globoforce (recently renamed as WorkHuman) hosts its 5th WorkHuman Conference in Nashville. If you’re reading this, you’re probably not in Nashville. But that’s OK. You can still follow the goings on from wherever you happen to be. Follow #WorkHuman on Twitter. Check out the WorkHuman Facebook page. Listen to WorkHuman Radio podcasts. Read […]

Read the full article →

Gen Z: The Challenges and Opportunities with New Talent from a New Generation

March 11, 2019

This post is brought to you by Mitrefinch, an HR software company that provides workforce management solutions for small – midsize companies. Gen Z is made up of people born between 1995 and 2012. While the youngest Gen Zers are still in elementary school, the oldest of this generation have college diplomas in hand and […]

Read the full article →