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Bottleneck #2: The Team Member Bottleneck

Back in March I spoke at Todd Herman’s 90 Day Year Live event in La Jolla, CA on Breaking the 4 Bottlenecks That’ll Keep You From Scaling Your Business. This blog series is drawn from that talk.


Business owners usually call me pretty much when they reach a crunch point in their scaling. That’s the niche I serve. They’ve figured out the really hard stuff (well, from my viewpoint it’s the hard stuff!) like creating a product that people love and getting it to market, and getting rave reviews. To put in 90 Day Year-speak, their Marketing & Sales pillars are firing on all cylinders — and it’s actually that success that is creating breakpoints in other parts of their businesses, typically over the Operations pillar.

Are you facing a similar problem-set? If your small business has successful products, you’ve cracked your market, and things are selling — you’ll need to take a good hard look at your team, and your tech and your operations. This series will help you identify the bottlenecks in your business – and help you square things away so you have a solid foundation on which to scale your business.

Bottleneck #1 — Technology/Software Bottlenecks
Bottleneck #2 — Team Member Bottlenecks (below!)
Bottleneck #3 — You’re Missing a Kitchen Manager (coming soon)
Bottleneck #4 — CEO Bottleneck (coming soon)


The 2nd bottleneck I want to talk about is a team member bottleneck. Many of us are all too familiar with this one.

What does a team-member bottleneck look like in your business?

Here’s 3 common ways that it appears:

1. You have a team member who is just not reliable. They blow-due-dates with enough regularity that you can’t count on anything being done on schedule. Sometimes the slip is only a little bit (with an accompanying “close enough, eh?” shrug) but that complacency also leads to some spectacularly blown dates, usually when you can least afford them.

Blown due-dates creates shorter windows for the rest of the people who need to touch the work after them — and an inability to manage the project effectively. Ok (if annoying) for a smaller business with less going on. But this is a practice that will absolutely hinder you from scaling.

2. Radio-silence! They just stop communicating (usually at the worst time) or the way they communicate just isn’t working

3. It’s just easier to work around them. How many of you have have worked with people where you thought “I could give this to them, but it’s just easier to work around them or do it myself.” I call this phenomenon “having to pre-chew” everything. Sorry, that’s a gross metaphor, but I use it all the time and I just can’t stop doing it. It’s like when the mother bird has to go FIND the food, CHEW the food, PRE-DIGEST the food and THEN she can give it to her chicks for them to eat. All the burden is on you to figure out what their work is.

This isn’t necessarily someone who is trying to dodge responsibility – it’s the lack of expertise or judgement to be able to take a medium sized outcome-goal and understand what they need to do to make that come about.

Ok, so what do you do if you have a team member bottleneck?

1. Stop ignoring it and stop working around it. I can tell you, the rest of your team knows it and resents it, whatever brave face they’re putting on. Sure maybe dealing with “people problems” are not your forte, but your business cannot scale with this unresolved. And as you delay, you’re increasing the burden on the other team members to compensate for this. That is not a recipe for success.

To start working the issue, you’ll need one further diagnosis: is this a process problem or a performance problem. BOTH will need to get solved because neither scales, so tackle them in this order:

2. First, assume it’s a process problem and tighten up your documentation. Sanity-check your processes, document them, and make sure people are trained. This includes how to communicate with the Project Manager and each other, and how to handle and communicate problems and road blocks.

Then hold them accountable for the getting the assigned work done by the assigned date. You’ve either solved the problem — or you’ve made it obvious it’s a performance issue. You have to solve these process problems anyway prior to scaling, so you’re already ahead of the game.

3. Address the performance issue by having a frank discussion and a written performance plan. Give them specific metrics to hit and spell out the consequences. Be crystal clear on your expectations. As it plays out, be prepared to follow-through on the consequences. You (and your team) will breathe a sigh of relief when you do.