WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE, Ohio - It’s human nature to overcomplicate things, and as an engineer, I’m guiltier than most in that regard. However, I’ve realized over the years that if you keep things simple and trust your team, great things happen.
As an Air Force civil engineer, I’ve completed large projects within tight timelines. The best results have occurred when I broke down the overall effort into manageable chunks and assigned those I trust to complete each task.
You start with the goal (i.e., build a facility) and then break it down into small, simple tasks with a deadline and a task leader, which makes seemingly insurmountable projects easier to plan, schedule and deliver. By visualizing your project or dilemma this way, you and your team can collaborate on defining tasks, the relationships between each and the resources necessary to complete them.
I won’t say this solves every problem on a project, but once everyone sees the plan and simple steps to get to the end, the work will flow much smoother — with choke points and solutions discovered in advance. The key component of this work-breakdown process is the people you assign to bring the task over the finish line.
You must trust your team and their ability to get the job done. Trust is a tricky thing. Without trust, you spend too much time micromanaging and not enough mentoring and empowering your subordinates.
There is a good book by Charles Feltman on the subject called “The Thin Book of Trust: An Essential Primer for Building Trust at Work,” which does a great job explaining trust in the workplace. The book discusses how good work suffers from a breakdown in trust and creates an environment of frustration, resentment and resignation.
According to Feltman, there are four dimensions of trust: sincerity, reliability, competence and care.
Sincerity is meaning what you say, saying what you mean and acting accordingly. All leaders are under the microscope and it is critical that your actions align with your statements. If not, you lose credibility and trust, and unit performance will suffer.
Reliability is about keeping commitments and being able to deliver on your promises. If you are unsure of an order or task, request clarification before you commit. Once you make the commitment, you own it and the expectation is to finish it.
The third part of trust is competence, or having the ability to do the task assigned. It doesn’t mean you’re the expert; it means you know what needs done and who to ask for help.
The care dimension puts everyone on the same page by realizing we’re all in this together. Essentially, understand how your actions or inactions will impact the desired outcome. Listen to others, seek feedback and remind the team of the end goal.
Realize that the decision made might not always be the popular one, but the team will understand why it was made. Once you trust your subordinates, they feel empowered to make decisions freely without negative judgment and lead very effective teams.
Once you put simplicity and trust into practice, I’ve found your team will move mountains to accomplish the mission.