We have long been aware that the scarcest commodity today is people’s attention, and have adopted a variety of coping strategies – from “shouting louder” marketing, to fear generation, to interruption. None of them work for anything other than a brief, unsatisfactory and often counterproductive moment. One of the many unintended consequences is that trying to start something new, whilst maintaining a current activity is extraordinarily difficult. People just don’t have the bandwidth.
This lack of bandwidth directly affects engagement. Engagement requires us to have a strong and visceral connection between what we do, who we do it with, the outcomes we generate and what we value – and that requires having the bandwidth to cope with it. If we are overly focused on one area, and lose sight of the others, engagement is likely to erode.
Another are affected is collaboration. Collaboration has long ceased to be a novelty, and is a vital component of thriving in complex, volatile and uncertain conditions. It is not a “plug in”, but required a whole new way of working.
However, many businesses I see are trying to pile collaboration on top of how they work today. It means that people who are attention saturation point are being asked to attend yet more meetings. the end result is that things freeze up.
The case for making better use of our available bandwidth is overwhelming.
I find the best way (for me) to visualise it is as a flywheel. Getting it moving in the first place requires significant effort. Once it is moving though, the biggest enemy is friction,
For us as individuals, and teams, friction is created by anything that saps energy. Unnecessary reporting, micro management, keeping per projects going beyond their sell by date, fear of being judged, lack of confidence – the list is endless.
But not unmanageable. Becoming agile requires that we work differently. It starts with the right team – skills, trust, vision, commitment and is energised by the projects that inspire. It needs an outcome focus, rather than specific goals, so that we can change tack as needed without being held hostage by no longer relevant measures, and last but not least that we give people room to operate. Probably the biggest single source of friction in most organisations is an obsession with control and measurement. Both are important, but far too often clog up the system.
Removing friction is the equivalent of releasing a brake. Whilst we can’t do much about our individual and collective bandwidth, we can make far better use of what we’ve got. We can use the energy we generate to far better effect. we can keep up with the changing environment, and move faster than our competition.
If we want to thrive on what’s ahead of us, reducing friction is the single best thing we can start to do.