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Hamster Wheels don't build Resilience - Only Burnout


Give a new team a task and what do you think they do? The chances are very high that they will immediately 'dive into task' in terms of getting the 'job done'. There might be the odd team member who highlights that they actually need a plan (which is good) but more often than not very little attention is paid to the processes that the team needs to put in place. There may also be no discussion as to what the required behaviours and attitudes are needed to be displayed by the team if they are to complete the task, efficiently and effectively for the best outcome. I have observed many teams over the years who when given a written brief containing the task and the 'rules' around completing the task, simply head off and start getting 'hands on'. Some even don't fully understand the brief and end up frustrated as they are constantly pulled up for 'breaking' the 'rules' or don't get the result they were aiming for. I recently was a judge in an 'Outstanding Teamwork' competition and several teams that were up for the award simply didn't follow the brief as to what was being judged. They didn't win.


The dangers of the 'hamster wheel' are numerous. Firstly there will be little focus as a result of a lack of clarity and understanding as to what is actually to be achieved. Secondly, confusion and frustration will reign, as working practices ( underpinned by undesirable behaviours and attitudes) are undertaken on an 'individual' basis with very little cohesion between the team members. Cliques form and division within the team occurs. Thirdly, there will be no real emotional attachment to the team's purpose - everything is focused on the task at hand and management may spin the wheel faster and faster as initial results don't bring the outcomes originally desired. As the wheel spins faster and faster then sharing of success doesn't happen - it may not even be recognised. Challenges are by-passed and the wheel is not stopped to allow problem solving to take place or any form of performance review to take place for that matter. If the hamster falls off the wheel then they are replaced by another hamster. Anyway, it's good to be seen to be busy and to be seen to be doing all we can. Eh no. It's dangerous and ultimately the team will fail.


Here's some tips to avoid the 'hamster wheel' and build resilience.


  1. Simply don't get on. Before the team starts any task ensure that the team fully understands what the task is asking the team to specifically achieve. Ensure that everyone knows the 'brief' in terms of what the specific goals are, what 'rules' apply and any 'restrictions' that are in place. Build a plan to achieve the task.

  2. Stop. You may have a plan but how are the team going to work together so that the plan can be executed effectively and efficiently? What are the 'needs' and 'expectations' of each team member as to what behaviours and attitudes need to be demonstrated? What are the strengths within the team - who is good at what? Allocate roles and responsibilities accordingly and ensure full understanding across the team so that mutual peer support can be built and sustained.

  3. Review: Build in reviews so that progress of the task can be assessed and changes made to the plan. Have formal review dates but build in flexibility so that when a challenge is encountered the team can immediately 'down tools' and analyse the challenge and come up with solutions. Too many teams, firstly don't have a formal review process, but also some teams stick to set dates as opposed to being flexible and responding quickly. Being responsive builds resilience.

  4. Reward. Ensure both effort and results are recognised and rewarded. It can be as simple as properly listening to the team and also as simple as two small words - 'thank you' and 'well done'. These can produce huge motivation. Make sure the team members are valued and ensure that success is recognised and rewarded in whatever ways are possible.

  5. Get Support. At lot of teams battle on' without even thinking about gaining support from senior leaders and management. Some have a very closed mindset to senior leadership and this can be totally counter productive. Identify the team's senior stakeholders and gain as much support as you can for the team and for the tasks in hand. Consider a senior sponsor who can support the team. After all most (if not all) senior leaders need your team to be successful as their goals depend in part on your team being successful.

The 'Hamster Wheel' can be a very dangerous place to get on. Don't let it happen. There are others ways to build 'fitness' and resilience so that the team can complete their goals and thus fulfil their purpose.


If you would like to know more about our 'Resilient Partners' team development programme then simply message me through LinkedIn or via email at allan@resilientpartners.co.uk . Alternatively call me on ++ 44 (0) 776 416 8989

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