Three Signs Your Team is Entrenched Versus In a Rut

Let’s face it.  Humans are creatures of habit.  We like our routines…and some of us more than others.  I was in a meeting with a client recently and we were creating a leadership skills inventory for their leadership team.

As we talked, the conversation shifted to address how difficult change would be for this particular group.  Many of the leaders are long-tenured as well as “home-grown” in the business. 

We both acknowledged the common dynamics of changing behavior when I mentioned how easy it is to get in a rut as a leader.  To which he replied, “Sometimes I think my team is more entrenched than just a rut.”

Hmmm.  Interesting thought, which became the inspiration for this week’s blog focus.

First, let’s review some quick definitions.  Webster defines these two terms as follows:

  • Rut:  a fixed, uncompromising mode of procedure
  • Entrench:  to dig a deep ditch or gulf for defensive purposes around oneself

Ruts are common but how often is it more accurate to say we or our team has slipped into an entrenchment when it comes to the willingness to change?  Consider these three warning signs:

Trench #1:  “Validated” Excuses
Comments such as “we’ve always done it this way,” are the standard warning signs for a rut.  But take the context of this statement to the next level.  When someone is entrenched in their way of thinking or behavior, responses to any feedback you give them will begin with the words, “yes but,” followed by their “validated” reason why they must think or behave a certain way.  Their mindset is firm and the likelihood your feedback will be received is highly unlikely.

Trench #2:  No Failures
The second warning sign for entrenchment is to observe a person’s failure rate.  This may sound strange but it is a great indicator.  Have we tried anything new lately?  Are we willing to possibly fail in the attempt to wow a customer or solve an employee issue?  Messing up is actually a sign of progress.  But when thinking or performance has gone beyond the “I just show up” mentality, the willingness to take these risks disappears.   

Trench #3:  Lather.  Rinse.  Repeat.
Many aspects of business may be routine so to speak.  Payroll has to be run every two weeks.  And customer complaints are commonplace in most service organizations.  We come to expect these tasks.  And just like washing hair, you don’t even have to think about it.  Entrenched performance will consist of the mundane, predictable aspects of the job.  It is absence of innovative conversations or intentional problem solving sessions where employees are encouraged to ask the “why do we do this part of our business this way?” with the intent of improving the organization.  Entrenched thinking doesn’t really care to ask these questions because let’s face it, the answer will more than likely produce more effort or work.

Ruts are human nature.  Everyone falls into them from time to time (in many areas of life).  Be on alert.  The longer we stay in that rut, the deeper it becomes until one day we can’t dig out because it’s become a trench.  Keep your shovels handy.

2 thoughts on “Three Signs Your Team is Entrenched Versus In a Rut

  1. I really liked this comparison between entrenchment versus being in a rut. I also thought it was really interesting that Webster used the word “defensive” to describe entrenchment. It couldn’t have been more spot on!

    I hadn’t thought to examine a persons or companies failure rate. This was really insightful as a preliminary research measurement for prospects and myself! Thanks for the great post.

    1. Thanks for your comments Joel! After comparing these two dynamics I wonder how many leaders out there are really more entrenched vs just a rut. Glad the failure rate metric is helpful!

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