The Consequences of Growth: 3 Vulnerabilities

Published: November 21, 2018

Like the sprinter who discovers his shoelaces untied in the middle of a race, sometimes we’re moving too fast to fix a critical problem. Such is the challenge of rapid growth. The demand for our services outpaces our ability to add resources. We enter triage mode. Everyone focuses on the highest priorities and agrees to neglect less important needs. Over time, this takes its toll on a team. What would happen if the sprinter stopped to tie his shoes?

In most cases, growth is a good problem to have. It means business is thriving. We are producing goods and services that solve problems for our customers. Word-of-mouth is fueling our reputation and we’ve become a magnet for recruitment. In a perfect world, we would carefully cull the candidates and filter them for culture alignment and role fit.

Unfortunately, we don’t always have that luxury. The talent pool is thin and the urgency to meet demand is pressing. Sometimes, having a pulse is the sole criterion. If we’re adding people at breakneck speed, we can fall prey to compromising our standards. There are three key vulnerabilities in this situation:

  • Insufficient attention to mission/values fit.
  • Lack of clarity of workplace rules, roles, and boundaries.
  • Inattention to the impact of change on the workforce.

Insufficient attention to mission/value fit

Workplace culture does not build and sustain itself. It takes deliberate investment and regular re-investment to ensure words and actions consistently support the common direction of the team. Under stress, teammates are most likely to lapse into behaviors that unintentionally undermine the culture. Leadership should pay careful attention to day-to-day examples of mission and values, acknowledging positive examples and responding to negative influences with accountability.

Lack of clarity of workplace rules, roles, and boundaries

Everyone wants to know what is expected of them. Knowing when to stay in your lane and when it’s okay to change lanes is tricky during times of rapid growth. Knowing where my work ends and yours begins is necessary for healthy communication and effective collaboration. The ground rules are in flux when a team is in the middle of a transition. Role clarification is the task that brings resolution to this tension. Structure solves chaos.

Inattention to the impact of change on the workplace

We are not machines. Change is a primary stressor for living things. Like plants and animals, humans respond to the stress of change with dramatic physical and emotional reactions. Our systems are designed to protect the status quo and we all have different capabilities when it comes to adapting. Some teammates need to complain. Others throw all their energy into resistance. A rare few embrace their new circumstances and lead the way forward. Most workplaces must manage the whole spectrum of coping ability. The resisters consume the most energy from the ecosystem. The embracers fuel the movement forward.

These are good problems to have. Whenever a team is forced to process change, anchor mission, and clarify roles, it means the group is evolving. This must be done with intention since the default position is to ignore the impact of growth on team wellness. So, as you focus on winning the race, make sure your shoelaces are tied.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.