I have always enjoyed being a member of a team. Whether it be my family, a team on the athletic field, a command, or an informal group working toward a common goal, I prefer to be an active contributor to a team more than I do working by myself. In fact, I prefer to use the word team as a verb more so than a noun. Yes, I love to be on a team, but I prefer to team with others. The former helps us understand on which side of a competition we are on and where our allegiance falls, while the latter communicates the active coming together to achieve a shared goal regardless of our organizational interests. We see many instances of teams that are unable or unwilling to team and we see other instances where members representing different organizational interests team together to accomplish something. If we look around our neighborhood, our place of business, or read the newspaper we will see individuals acting purely in their self-interests and we will see teams forming to realize selfless objectives. The next time you walk the neighborhood, visit with coworkers or watch the news look for examples, you’ll see plenty.

The government furlough is ongoing and we’re less than a month into it. Civilians across the government are losing 20% of their pay and we are losing 20% of their time. If I stated we were losing 20% of their productivity or contributions, I would be dishonest, because most are finding ways to make productivity the priority. Though I believe the furlough is a travesty on many levels and it clearly demonstrates our nation’s leadership is not a team, nor are they capable of teaming together, it does provide us with an opportunity. An opportunity to be OK with letting the things we do that really aren’t that important break.

We in the Department of Defense have a proud “Can Do” spirit. We take great pride in doing what it takes to get things done. We will make the sacrifices necessary to accomplish the mission. As necessary and commendable as those traits are, sometimes a team must be willing to let things break. I am not advocating that we act out of protest and break things on purpose as a means of proving a point. Instead, I am embracing the idea that there are things we should no longer be doing, there are “good ideas” that we should not be executing, and there are people who have completely lost touch with the value of time. I am reminded of my time as a Plebe at the Naval Academy. That year was all about breaking us down, forcing us to commit to priorities, driving home the value of teamwork, and helping us to realize our limitations. By design, none of us were expected to do everything we were being asked to. We had to decide what was most important and then let the other things break. Choosing poorly could be a ticket back home.

This furlough is no different. We cannot expect ourselves to accomplish everything we want and we should not expect ourselves to do everything we once did. We must, however, commit to our top priorities, we must team beyond organizational boundaries, and we must let our effectiveness trump any and all efficiencies.  Over the last month, I have seen people make more effective use of their time (e.g. fewer meetings, fewer social calls), I have seen teams truly prioritize their main efforts, and I have seen more than a few things once thought of as important fall off the table. It is my hope that the end of the furlough does not mean a return to normalcy. Instead, I hope by the time it is over we have established a new normal. A normal that is mindful of time, respectful of true priorities, and grounded in teamwork. Overtime should be the exception and not the norm, those lines of effort that break during the furlough ought not to be repaired, and the money we “saved” need not be spent.

As difficult as it is to watch, sometimes there is goodness in letting things break. We shouldn’t break anything on purpose, but we should care enough about our top priorities that we protect them from inadvertent breakage. In my work center, we are in the process of committing to what we are no longer going to do. We are listing the lines of effort that we must be willing to let break in favor of doing what is most important.

Sometimes the best way to commit to what is truly important is to walk away from those things that are of lesser importance. Sometimes we need to let things break…

  • Where are you willing to accept risk in your life?
  • What ought to fall off of your list of priorities?
  • What are you willing to let break?