Pulling Teams Out Of Ruts with Amanda Todorovich

Andy Cook on February 13, 2018 · 3 minute read
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Ruts aren’t just bad for employee sentiment, they’re bad for business, too. If employees don’t feel inspired to do their best work, your business will suffer the slow death of mediocre outputs. The only way out? Taking a step back to recalibrate for vision.

When Amanda Todorovich took over the content marketing department at the Cleveland Clinic, operations were less than optimal. Her team of 26 operated essentially as a ticketing system for their organization of 50,000 staff.

The creativity of her team members had been snuffed out by a corporate process that didn’t suit them, and Amanda could see the signs of feeling stuck in a rut everywhere:

  • Stressed employees constantly knocking at her door, overwhelmed and discontent
  • Tensions rising among coworkers at every instance, especially when projects and deliverables were involved
  • Team members that preferred to isolate themselves in their grey cubicles rather than collaborate with others

Churning out content by random requests without a greater vision or purpose, the creatives on Amanda’s team were starting to burn out. Innovation, engagement, and experimentation—the things that make great content exciting—were nowhere to be found in the content creation department.

Until Amanda did something radical. Right in the middle of a deluge of work and unfulfilled requests, she took her team on a day-long retreat in the woods. Why? Because Amanda had realized something crucial amidst the burn-out:

“I knew I had to get them out the office. I knew I had to get them out their cubicles. And I needed to let them be the creative people that they are, and flex those muscles, and come back from some time away refreshed, and energized, and ready to tackle our crazy Q4.”

And the experiment worked. When the team members returned to the office the following day, they felt supported, excited, and creatively challenged again. And it showed in the amazing work they put out.

Amanda’s strategy behind the retreat wasn’t to give her team a break from the pressures of the office. Her intention was to give them something far greater than that. She wanted to give them a vision. She wanted to give them the ability and freedom to function from a sense of purpose.

“That time and that opportunity for us to come together as a team, to be inspired, […] the ability to have that mental space and to think about projects and to talk to each other and really come back empowered to be creative sparked so much more productivity and a lot of really cool ideas that we ultimately ended up implementing[…]. It’s such a valuable experience. ”

No longer tied to urgent and erratic requests, the content marketing department could begin to operate on the higher objective of creating useful content for the healthcare sector that impacted people’s lives in a real way.

The work your team does may be nothing like the work Amanda’s team does. But if you hit a rut of constant repetition, mindless following of the “guidelines,” and low morale, you need to put together a strategy that gives your team the same three things Amanda gave her team on that radical retreat:

  1. A message from you, the leader, on why the work you do matters. Leadership buy-in plays a crucial role in disseminating purpose and vision through the team. You should never underestimate the effect that your words and actions have on team members.
  2. Space and permission to vent frustrations so you can work out true solutions to your core issues. The second retreat Amanda designed for her team the following year had a very different structure from that first one. That’s because her team had a different set of challenges to solve that year, and the retreat’s structure had to respond to that.
  3. The opportunity for team members to connect both with you and among themselves. In moments of crisis and concerted effort (such as when pulling a team out of a rut), human connections play a paramount role in helping team members feel heard, understood, and valued.

In this episode of Org Uncharted, Amanda walks us through the tell-tale signs of teams in ruts and the crucial steps for getting out of that danger zone. Along the way, she shares her tips and strategies for getting your team back into a happy place of excitement, productivity, and innovation. She also explains why she designed her first team retreat the way she did and how you can create the right structure for a strategic retreat with your team.

Click play to hear Amanda’s experiences and advice, and don’t forget to subscribe to Org Uncharted on your favorite podcast player for more insightful conversations with innovative business leaders of all walks and stripes.

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👋🏾 CEO at Tettra. Tall & bearded. Loves cooking, reading, learning new things and helping others. Previously worked at HubSpot and cofounded Rentabilities.