Try Giving Less of This to Improve Team Performance

Maybe it is the Christmas season? Maybe it is the end of the year? Maybe folks I communicate with are just feeling burned out? Whatever the reason, I sure have noticed a lot of people this year saying things like:

“Let's take that up next year, I just don’t have any more capacity this year.”

“Our people are really feeling stressed with everything going on right now.”

“There are just a lot of priorities on people's plates at this point in time.”

“I am feeling a little under-valued with everything going on right now, there just is not a lot of recognition for the simple things, like no one says thank you anymore.”

I am not sure how the people under your leadership are feeling right now as you read this, but are you? Are they feeling:

  • Overwhelmed?
  • Under-appreciated?
  • Stressed (for whatever reason)?

New Term/Old Concept

A relatively new area to hit the leadership literature is the concept of job crafting. In addition to top-down, hierarchical job expectations, many organizations are leaning more on the individual worker to “craft” their job by changing everything from the tasks they accomplish to mapping the important relationships they need to accomplish the goals they need to meet to be successful. This idea of “job crafting” actually has been cited in leadership studies as being aspirational, motivational, and allowing the individual to self-actualize and find meaning and purpose in work.

Job crafting has been cited as increasing work productivity, employee engagement, effective problem solving, and overall employee performance.

Before I even knew it was called “job crafting” I always thought of it as “just do what you need to do to get the job done." Be responsible. Be accountable. The folks at Nike would say, “just do it.”

The Research

An article in the most recent publication of The Leadership Quarterly (the Bible of Leadership Studies) by Elizabeth Solberg and Sut Wong took on the question of what employees perceived as their ability to craft their job in the context of work overload.

In English: If I have work overload, do I feel I can do what I need to do to get my job done?

Turns out, job crafting is often classified as a proactive behavior and reflects traits such as self-initiation to bring about any needed change. However, it also turns out that job crafting is not necessarily anticipative. Most scholars view job crafting as a behavioral response to one's current work situation. Rather than being future oriented and strategic about what work we have, most of us will just react to the load we currently face. It really is the “tyranny of the moment” that is a key factor in our ability to be able to craft the job into what we need it to be.

The Findings

There are two really important points that come out of this study as it relates to job demand and role crafting. When employees are feeling the overload of work, their perception of the chances for a positive resolution and their leader’s need for structure are two very important factors.

As always in leadership studies, there is more than one variable that must be considered. When studying the leader it usually goes without saying that studying the follower is critical. When thinking about employee performance and work overload, the literature will support this idea.

The Employee

If your organization is going to face work overload from time to time it is a good idea to ensure you have people on your team who can both adapt to and initiate change. It turns out that proactivity in times of work overload requires both adapting to and initiating change that is needed to relieve the work overload.

The follower does have to have some skill or trait in their overall ability to be able to manage change. There is an accountability and expectation that rests on the shoulder of the follower that when work overload is occurring they can cope with it, manage it, and change what needs to be changed.

Point taken. Followers need to be accountable.

The Leader

Turns out that follower accountability is only half of the story. The other half of the story is how much control the leader exudes.

According to Dragoni and Kuenzi (2012), leaders engage in leadership behavior consistent with their own goal orientations, producing a work climate that influences their employees to adopt aligned goal perceptions. The research by Solberg and Wong shows that the more controlling the leader is, the less willing the follower will be to exhibit autonomy and make changes that are needed to alleviate work overload.

The Lesson

If folks in your organization are overworked and feeling stressed, maybe it isn’t the holidays to blame. Maybe it isn’t all of the end of the year tasks. Perhaps it is your need to control as a leader. If our need for structure across all time and circumstance is consistent, then in times of heavy workload, your workload is going to increase even more. Why? Because in order to get things right, the followers are going to need you to think for them. If as leaders we want to feel less stress or have more time to think and create, then perhaps letting go of control might be just the gift to give yourself and those on your team this holiday season.


What can you as a leader do to loosen your control reigns? What value would giving your team more autonomy have on the overall effectiveness of your team?