Chief Head-Raiser: leading teams in the age of overload

By Matthew

· 6 min

When everyone is lost in the weeds, someone needs to pull them out.

The Call of the Weeds

Hook Strategy is, by intention, a ‘company of one’.

What this means is that whilst I’ll frequently take on big projects that harness the expertise of multiple experts, it’s not a business made of multiple employees. All roads of delivery and accountability ultimately lead…to me.

This means occasional moments of overload. In those passages of life, every hour counts, and productivity has to be dialled right up to the maximum to get everything done to the highest standard, without compromising other parts of life.

I’ve recently been through one of these phases, and on reviewing my time afterwards I noticed something surprising.

In a time when I was extraordinarily busy, where strategic decision-making about my time was more important than ever, I had gone right into the weeds. I’d spent much more time than ever on copywriting minutiae. On logistics and admin. On the infinite microscopic optimisations of Google Docs.

I’d gone right into the weeds. Where it was comfortable, and where progress was visible (to me, at least.)

And this was a little personal reminder of something that I see in my clients all the time – that as the pressure rises, the call of the weeds gets stronger than ever.

Where the Weeds Grow

The tendency of teams to get lost in the urgent rather than the important; to think about individual tasks rather than collective progress; to be reactive rather than proactive; all of these are universal and evergreen.

However, it does feel particularly bad right now, across all kinds of different organisations. Why is that?

Some hypotheses on why this might be (and I’d love to hear yours);

  • Because this stage of the economic cycle, there’s an edge of fear. Everyone wants to look busy, and productive, and willing.
  • Because there’s a lot of unspoken conflict, incubated by misfiring hybrid working practices. It’s easier not to confront differences of perspective, if you keep your head down.
  • Because notification culture, bred by proliferating bad platform usage, has people in a constant state of reactivity.
  • Because the world seems incoherent. We are at the point of a shift in era, politically, technologically, culturally; and the bigger picture has lost focus.

In pretty much every team I work with, I see these dynamics playing out. The end result is astonishing levels of workload, output, meeting saturation…and relatively low levels of confidence in many teams that everything they are doing adds up to something substantial.

The Team Leader

How do you deal with this if you are a team leader?

Well, to start with, you are at the mercy of all the same forces that you see above.

You may have a slightly higher level of horizon-scanning ability, and access to a little bit of information and perspective that enables you to lift your head over the fog to the horizon. But you are still subject to the same human dynamics as everyone else.

At the same time, you’ve got even more distractions on your plate – fire-fighting intrusions from the outside, and dealing with the granular frictions and frustrations within.

But the progress of your team is going to depend on their ability to raise their heads, and look up. To prioritise where they are going, and what they need to do to get there. To look at their day-to-day with critical eyes, and make big judgements about how they use their time and their energy.

And the person who can do most to help them to do that, is you.

The Chief Head-Raiser’s Guide

So, what can you do, to help your team get out of the weeds, and look to the horizon? Here are some effective practices that I’ve seen in the last few months.

1. Be a storyteller of the horizon

The thicker the weeds, the more you need to describe the destination.

Your starting point is that the members of your team are bogged down in different places, either single or together. It’s tempting to leap in with your machete to clear them, and in extremis that may be helpful. But what’s much more useful is to remind people where they are going, so they can figure out how to get there themselves.

To do that, you need to help clear the incoherence of all the contextual data flying through the air. Give everyone a clear narrative. A clear architecture of priorities. And it needs to be practical enough to enable them to make autonomous decisions about their work to reach a better, shared destination.

Everyone can contribute to this. But the ownership of it rests with you.

2. Continually create space, and give permission.

Life in the weeds builds some muscles up as strong as steel, while others atrophy.

It’s almost certain your team is aware of this – they will say things like ‘we just need to talk more’ or ‘I need more space to think’. But when you hear these statements, they will come with the silent appendage ‘but of course, that’s impossible, isn’t it.’

It should not, cannot, ever be impossible to stop and think or to take time to communicate. As a leader it is your job to create that space, and to give people permission to talk, and to think.

To the most ‘head-raised’ teams, this eventually becomes second nature. But in the short term it needs to be diarised. Time to talk – both about the issues, and about nothing. Space where notifications can be shut off. Awaydays. Discussion groups. Learning.

Think now – how am I tangibly creating this space for my team?

3. Don’t forget the fun.

Up to this point, everything we’ve talked about here has been pretty serious.

But look at those problems above: fear, conflict, reactivity, incoherence. Look deeper at the practical problems – routine, pressure, complexity.

The opposite of all these things is not ‘strategy’, or ‘success’ – it’s fun.

In a world obsessed by hyper-productivity and professional compliance, it’s the fun that gets lost. And this is a huge issue. It’s fun that relieves the pressure. It’s fun that transcends differences and brings teams together.

And it’s a sense of fun that helps you to find shortcuts, connections, and all the things that create the sense of freedom to escape from the weeds.

Are your team having fun? Not necessarily ‘Fun’ – the committee-driven, awayday type of fun…but enjoyable day-to-day experiences of getting to know each other better, of sharing thoughts, of being inspired, of taking a break…?

And if not…what can you do to get things started in a more fun way?

Hook Strategy works with team leaders to help them unify thinking in their teams. We run sprints, workshops and learning experiences which create the right space to get out of the weeds.

If that’s what your team needs, get in touch via

Hook Strategy helps organisations to move forwards with shared strategic clarity. If you are an organisation seeking unified thinking, get in touch at or by calling +44 (0)7780 481717.

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