Millipedes cause train wrecks - Ginette Gagnon

Millipedes cause train wrecks

Did you know that millipedes can cause the derailment of a train?

Yes, really—it actually happened in Perth, Australia, in 2013.

Turns out the millipedes seek moist areas, so they’ll sometimes hang around railways (and roadways) that are wet. When a train runs over a bunch of millipedes, it creates a slime that makes the tracks unsafe. Trains have derailed because of this problem.

Obviously, one millipede isn’t going to make a difference. However, when there are a large number of millipedes, they do indeed have the power to disrupt the railways.

That’s the kind of traction that organizations need to succeed. And that’s why organizations create teams. People are grouped together to produce an outcome that would be unattainable otherwise.

But does it suffice to bring together talented and well-intended people for them to work effectively and reach the target?

I bet your experience tells you not. While teamwork is critical to organizational success, it is difficult to make it efficient.


Working together means pursuing the same goals

The success of a team depends first on a common understanding of the results to be achieved. If the target is not clear, then your team will take any path, which will lead anywhere. That goes without saying.

However, if you ask the following questions to your team members, would you be satisfied with their answers?

  • How well do they know the company’s objectives?
  • How well do they understand the team’s objectives?
  • To what extent do team’s objectives contribute to organization’s objectives?
  • What is the contribution of each team member to the strategies and goals?
  • How well do team members understand the impacts of their day-to-day decisions on each other?


How to immobilize a team

Imagine that your employees have a poor understanding of the goals and strategies of the team.

You find that a given member of your team makes good decisions, according to her skills and interpretation of the objectives. Yet, another member of the team makes other decisions, according to his own context. And so on.

What are the probabilities that each of these decisions taken independently will lead to the common goal? Pretty low, would you not agree? Instead, the risks are high that such decisions will immobilize the team—and potentially explode under pressure.




How to achieve common goals

It is therefore essential that the objectives and strategies are clear and known to all. It is also essential that people understand the impacts their decisions have on each other. Only then will the team converge towards a common target.



Areas of reflection:

  • How clearly are your goals, strategies and key success indicators communicated to your team? What more could you do in this area?  
  • What processes are in place to ensure that team members work consistently and in a coherent manner to achieve the common target? 
  • What meetings do you hold regularly to allow you to review progress as a team? To discuss the risks and challenges of each team member? To make consistent decisions?  
  • What are the performance indicators which can help manage misalignments?  

Building a team is not enough to achieve exceptional results.

A clear target, aligned strategies and tactics, and adequate communication, validation and monitoring processes are essential to ensure that team members are all working towards the same target over time.

That being done, there are still many levers you can rely on to improve your team’s performance.

To find out more, here are additional articles: 

  • On how to build trust, an essential ingredient to team performance
  • Proven practices to improve teamwork

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