Why I overlaod my team a week before my vacation

Whether we love or hate our job, most of us look forward to our vacation time. A moment we can switch to a different environment and enjoy time with friends and family, or even just read a good book we’ve been putting off for lack of time.

Building up to the day of our vacation it’s business as usual, but in the last week or two before, things always seem to get pretty hectic even if we’re running a small team. To top it all off I have tha habit of calling my team in for a quick meeting to inform them of what the week has in store and letting them know that they’ll be taking on extra work that week and the following weeks because I’m going on vacation.

Why do I do this? It might seem mean or even selfish but it’s actually for their benefit. Let me explain in more detail.

Rewind to the beginning

When I first took over the digital creativity department, I felt like everything was my own personal project and that I had to have control of all aspects. As the team grew, I would hand over work to the team, but keep the responsibilities and more complicated things on my end.

The last 2 weeks before I went on vacation were hectic for me as I would do my usual work as well as all the planning of what would be done while I was away with long documents of instructions, nicely laid out with all the thinking already done. My team wouldn’t have to think for themselves.

This solution, although comfortable in the sense that I knew that the more complicated and administrative work was secure (oh how I was wrong). The problem was that A. Anything that showed up that wasn’t in my plan meant they wouldn’t be able to solve the problem, which meant they had to call me and B. I had a super hectic time before my vacation, and such frantic running around could easily lead to mistakes. This meant that I spent about 4 or 5 years without an actual vacation. I even had a few vacations where I spent every single day on the phone… so where was my vacation? I would get back to the office and it’s as if I’d never left. Sometimes that would mean a bit of grumpiness on my end.

Fast forward a few years

Finding a solution to the problem would need 2 things:

  1. Me confiding more in my team
  2. My team stepping up their game

The reform started as soon as I got back from one of my vacations.

administrative work: I began to confide more of the administrative work to one of my team members that showed a more responsible attitude. Thus he could easily find what was needed or guide the team while I was away.

Problem solving: I began leaving my team members to find solutions to the problems with as little guidance from me as possible. This meant explaining more of the intricacies of the company, but meant they felt more autonomous to resolve issues.

Accountability: I made sure they had more accountability for their actions and decisions. This way they were more careful with their work especially before presenting to users.

These 3 options, although a great start, did not give me a good enough idea of how they could handle my absence and how confident they might be to go solo.

The last reform I presented was a week before I went on vacation. I told them that they would handle the full work load of day-to-day tasks. I would be oversee the work and be taking on some back logged work. This meant that essentially they would be taking on some of my work load too.

I was expecting some discomfort from the team, but their reaction was actually positive. In the week that followed they took on the work load and although a bit more stressed, they felt more confident in handling all the different aspects. If anything really complicated showed up, they would try to handle it and I only stepped in if no solution was found.

For the first time in years I was able to actually go on vacation. The work plan I left for them was much more a simple guide that an overloaded document and they could easily react to any changes in that plan that might arise.

The team’s confidence grew and I felt more comfortable going on vacation and leaving them with the running of the department. The team has grown to be able to work independently to the point where I have been able to give each team member responsibilities and it has given me the chance to work on optimisation of processes and products as well as integrate UX processes which before would have been impossible. On weeks when I am overloaded with work, I now know that I can distribute the work amongst the team if priority dictates it.

Conclusion

Many times we feel we can’t trust that junior team members will do the job right and that they don’t have enough experience to handle the bigger picture. More often than not, the responsibility actually lies in the hands of the team leader. Sometimes we’re lucky and have responsible and experienced team members whereas other times we might have a team of juniors with no experience or even both. The truth is that the leader needs help his team to develop so that each may find his potential.

This isn’t always easy and there are team members that will frustrate us no matter how much work we put it, but in the long run I think it’s worth it and the rewards out way the failures every time.

Why don’t you try a version of this solution on your team? Let me know how it goes! Good luck!

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