Imagine for a moment you work in an organisation where people no longer respond to their e-mail. One where it has become ‘normal’ to have to send messages two or three times – then pick up a phone and call people – to get a response on some issue you are working on.

Or, if that is too much of a stretch for your imagination, how about imagining that you work in a place where all the meetings start like clockwork, five to fifteen minutes late, then run over time.

What? Oh.

You do work there?  Sorry to hear that.

The good news? You are not alone. The bad news? It sounds like there might be a challenge with standards where you work.

For over the past nine years, our work with GTD® has been producing transformational results for individuals. Our clients report a powerful impact on their ability to prioritise, focus and move forward on things that matter to them.

After years of positive feedback we were very clear on the individual benefits of using GTD. It took a bit longer for us to notice that when we did this with a significant number of people in a team, department or organisation, that things started changing for the whole organisation. The sum of the individual changes became greater than its parts when the GTD practices became part of how team members communicated with each other and an implicit part of the organisational expectations.

This was remarkable, particularly because we didn’t set out to try and change the whole organisation, but it started to happen as we hit a tipping point of GTD users. This got us thinking; what if we could target those results? What if we could predictably produce transformative results at the organisational level?

We believe that there is a way to offer clear, simple and granular guidance about working standards, in a way that will have a dramatic impact on organisational results – and on the experience of working in the organisation.

It is worth noting at this point that we are not talking about ‘culture change’. With GTD we are focused on a specific part of organisational culture, which we are referring to as Working Standards – ‘the way we get things done around here’. This is about how people make themselves effective, or not, as teams; rather than all aspects of organisational culture, such as values, history, etc. It is on changing what are considered ‘normal’ team standards in the domain of execution that we believe we can make a transformative contribution.

What are the current standards for working with each other toward agreed objectives in your organisation?

To take the examples from the opening paragraphs, is it normal in your organisation to expect a 24 hour response time on e-mails that you send, or is it normal to have to chase people for things you’ve asked for? Is it normal to start meetings on time, with a clear outcome for the meeting, or that people show up consistently 5-10 minutes late with no clear idea why they are in the room? Those are what we call Working Standards.

These are simple things. So simple that one might ask why a senior leader would worry about such things. Surely these things are unworthy of the attention of senior leadership, no?

Well, yes, actually. These things are simple, but they are not unimportant.

On an individual level for instance, learning to touch-type seems beneath consideration for many leaders of a certain age. No surprise then that they find it impossible to keep on top of the flow of communications coming at them. They can’t keep up because they are trying to hunt and peck their way with two fingers through their day, which is like trying to sprint with a broken foot. Not smart.

Similarly, the organisational costs of a lack of awareness about the cost of getting simple things wrong at a team level doesn’t mean those costs don’t exist, and the costs of poor e-mail management and low standards for meeting hygiene – to name just two components of working standards – are huge.

Here are just some of the things our clients have told us they experience when they hit a tipping point of GTD users in their team or department:

  • Shorter email response times
  • Meetings starting on time, with clear outcomes
  • Meetings ending (on time) with trackable accountabilities for agreed projects and next actions
  • Leaders delegating sooner, and in larger chunks
  • Managers knowing what their team is working on
  • Teams being clear on what is expected of them
  • Better quality, quicker conversations about capacity and prioritisation between managers and managed
  • Getting clear on what is current by regularly getting inboxes to zero
  • More confidence in prioritisation decisions, based on regular reviews of all commitments
  • Greater ability to respond to the unplanned and unforeseen, without going into overwhelm or paralysis

When GTD is implemented on a team or departmental level, it enhances the likelihood that the organisation can use what it knows by making individuals and teams more responsive. Once people have a system for getting on top of their workflow, many of the bottlenecks to organisational information flow are removed or reduced.

At a team level, working in this way is where the benefits of collaboration can show up. And collaboration is key to mastering the dynamic and chaotic environment that organisations now operate in. In our view, an approach that not only creates space for individuals but enhances responsiveness across the organisation will lead to more and better collaboration.

And all of the above can also contribute to some less tangible things, like getting home in time to see family, and being more present when there. It isn’t a huge stretch to see how the above can start to drive things like higher employee engagement scores, and fewer sick days in the organisation.

Sound utopic?

It’s not. With a systematic approach, those results are predictable and reliable.

How to do this in a way that is sustainable and lasting? How to make these outcomes part of the normal expectations for how work gets done in the organisation?

I’ll use my next few blogs to explore…

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