From Paris Marathon 2008

In the past decade, I’ve met many entrepreneurs asking their team to be as dedicated to their job as they are.

When I hire someone, I want them to be at 200%, 24/7, 365 days a year. If I send them an email at 2:00 AM, I expect an answer within 10 minutes. That’s the way you build a great business.

They all failed.

I experienced that state of mind, and it didn’t turn well. Employees of the company would stay awake late to be sure they would not miss an email from the boss. They wanted to be the first ones to answer to show how reactive and motivated they were. The ugly truth was, none of us was working efficiently building a great company. We were slacking on the Web late at night, checking our email from time to time, just in case something would happen. After one year, we all stopped pretending, and an incredible percentage of the team divorced.

Building a great team is hard. Keeping it is harder, and an important turnover is already a failure.

Quoting Richard Dalton on Twitter,

Teams are immutable. Every time someone leaves, or joins, you have a new team, not a changed team.

This is even more true for small teams where losing someone with specific skills can make the whole team at stake.

When one of my guys had to take a 3 months sick leave, I had 2 options. The first one was to divide his projects to the whole team, putting more pressure on them, asking them to do extra hours and working during the weekend so we could finish all the projects in time as expected. The second one was rescheduling the less critical projects and explaining my management why we would postpone some of them, and why it was OK to do it.

Would I have been in a huge corporation where the Monday morning report meeting is a sacred, well oiled ceremony with all your peers looking at each other, expecting them to fall from their pedestal as the leader gets mad at them for sliding their projects, I might have picked up the first option.

Forcing the whole team to work harder because of one of them missing would have been a huge mistake with terrible results. You can’t expect a team already working under pressure to work more to catch up with their absent pal projects without getting poor results and ressent towards the missing guy. Even more, this would have lead to someone else leaving for a sick leave after a few weeks, or leaving at all, destroying the team and all the efforts done to build it during more than one year.

As a manager, your first duty is to make sure the whole team succeeds, not to cover your ass from your management ire. For that reason, I decided to reschedule our projects, because the “always at 200%” team on the long run is a myth. And a planned failure.

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