Checklists Over Rulebooks

“It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.” — Melvin Oliver and James Young

Anyone who’s joined an existing team knows that it’s challenging to find your groove: unspoken rules and team habits govern how the work gets done, and until you crack the code, you’re bound to make a few missteps. While this reliance on implicit knowledge is frustrating for new team members, it can be downright dangerous to organizations—without established policies and procedures, it’s all too easy for a critical step to be forgotten, leading to larger problems down the line.

We’ve seen a lot of teams try to overcompensate by documenting everything about their work, from how to run a meeting to how to store files. But all too often, this results in an intimidating document with a steep learning curve, which leads to everyone ignoring it. Or you’ll see the opposite problem: due to rapid market changes, team members have to spend so much time updating the document that it becomes more of a hindrance than a help.

That’s why instead of an all-inclusive rulebook, we suggest clients think in terms of checklists: compile the actions that are easiest to forget, but that will have the greatest impact. In the operating room, for instance, the simple step of introducing everyone in the surgical team led to a 35% reduction in complications and deaths.

Your task as a leader is to identify, codify, and repeat those key actions within your own workplace. Of course, you may not be able to determine what’s necessary and what’s “nice to have” overnight; it will take testing and practice. To review how you get work done, hold a brainstorm and review:

  1. What are our current policies and processes, both implicit and explicit? Ask the team to conduct a mini-project retrospective in order to capture process and policies based on past work. Be sure to create a safe space for candid feedback.

  2. What errors are we trying to solve for?Remember that the goal isn’t to perfectly document every step in the process, but to ensure that the most repeated and yet most impactful steps are documented. Create policies and processes just for these critical moments.

  3. How are we sharing our policies and processes? The most efficient policies in the world won’t help you if everyone’s not on the same page. Adopt a transparent system of record so that it’s easy for anyone to get up to speed. This can look like a Google Doc, a Wiki, an employee handbook… whatever format works best for your team.

While you should be using your policies and processes on a regular basis, we recommend reviewing them:

  1. During the Team Retrospective, which asks team members to reflect on and amend the team’s policies.

  2. During the Project Retrospective, when team members reflect on the overall process of work.


Subscribe to our weekly newsletter for articles like this in your inbox

slack (2).png

Discuss this on Slack

NewsletterBud Caddell