I’ve got a confession to make before I begin this week’s article: I almost failed my one and only required science class in college.
I tell you that because in a second I’m going to sound like a complete science nerd and I feel the need to represent myself accurately.
Have you ever seen a water fountain that shoots streams of water that are so smooth and round that they look like glass rods? Or turned on a hose full blast with no nozzle on the end? You know how water comes out nice and strong and smooth? You can even point the hose into the air and create a smooth arc of water. That’s called Laminar Flow.
Laminar Flow occurs when the velocity and pressure at each point in the water remain constant, and there is no disruption of the flow (that’s the science nerd part I was talking about). In other words, all of the molecules are moving in the same direction at the same time without bumping into each other a whole lot.
Ah, it’s our ideal team scenario, isn’t it? Everyone moving the same direction at the same time, and everybody pretty much stays out of everyone else’s way.
What happens to a hose when you stick your thumb over the end of the hose? That Laminar Flow stops and water sprays all over the place. The opposite of Laminar Flow is turbulence, a concept we’re much more familiar with.
Turbulence in our hose is caused when something disrupts the flow, like our finger. Turbulence on our teams is caused when something or someONE disrupts the flow. You know who disrupts the flow the most on my team? ME! I stick my finger into the flow way more than I should.
I’ve got smart people who will do their thing if I just stay out of their way and let them do it. My job is to point the hose. I’m supposed to be the one who sets the direction of the company and turns on the water. So why do I keep sticking my thumb over the end of the hose?
Here’s how I did it this morning. We had a staff meeting where I sprayed out about fifty new ideas. I completely disrupted the flow and sidetracked us in this case in about fifty different directions. So much for all moving in the same direction at the same time.
As a leader, I need to sometimes just keep my mouth shut and keep the hose steady.
But what happens when someone else on the team interrupts the flow? This can happen when someone’s personal agenda interferes with the team’s agenda, or when a personality just doesn’t fit, or when an individual’s core values or character differ from the organization’s.
If you really want to restore flow, you’re going to have to get that finger out of the water! You’ve usually got two choices. You should always first try to “adjust the nozzle” to bring that person back in line through coaching or counseling. If that person won’t budge, you’ll have to metaphorically cut off the finger that’s causing the spray.
Why is Laminar Flow important to your organization? Picture what happens when you’ve got the hose turned on and a good, smooth, steady stream of water is pouring out. It’s a powerful force, isn’t it? You can clean up a lot of dirt in a hurry. You can move debris. You can even bore a hole in something when you focus the hose long enough in a single area.
Do a couple of things this week:
1. Look for the finger in your flow. Is it you? Is it a team member? Is it a customer, or a vendor?
2. Identify how you can remove or repair the disruption and restore your flow.
3. Imagine the progress you’ll make when your team is turned on and achieving Laminar Flow!
4. Make sure your hose is pointed in the right direction! Remember, Laminar Flow can clean off a driveway or destroy a flower bed. Full-force focus needs to be pointed in a productive direction or you could cause more harm than good.