Lesson 2, Expanded Capacity: Some adjustment may be needed.

Translation: Just because you CAN do more doesn’t mean you can do it easily (or well).

There’s a walnut tree on our farm that has a new scar on its side. Yep. Short version: I hit it with a trailer load of hay.

Longer version: Back in May of this year, we got the spring hay crop harvested and stored. Our routine is this: Gerald gets the hay cut, raked and baled, then I drive the tractor while he and a helper stack the hay on the trailer. When a load is full, we go to the barn where the bales get transferred from tractor to storage in the barn.

It is hot, hard work, made both easier and more challenging this year because of the newer, bigger tractor added fall of 2019.

If you read The Challenge Chronicles #6, you’ll recall  the bigger tractor, a 44 hp (“horsepower” for those who don’t speak tractor), replaced the 35 hp tractor that was underpowered for running the baler. Over time, the strain on the smaller tractor destroyed its transmission, requiring the upgrade to the new 44.

The larger tractor operates the baler with much less strain – yay! But – it is a bigger machine. More intimidating. The climb up into the driver’s seat is farther. The tires are bigger which means watching the turn radius closely so the rear tires don’t rub on the trailer being towed.

The tractor itself is wider and longer, making the navigating of tight places…tricky.

One of those tricky places is the paved ford where we cross  into the south pasture. The ford features crumbling concrete edges and a tight turn making it easy to drop the trailer’s tires off the slab and into the creek bed. Not catastrophic but a massive pain if a 16 foot-long trailer piled high with hay requires jacking up to get it lifted from a creek bed.

On the trip out while the trailer was empty, I made the turn with no problems, narrowly missing the trees flanking the drive-through to the pasture.

The return trip to the barn with the first load of hay was another matter.

In my focus to avoid dropping the trailer off the slab into the creek bed, I completely missed seeing a (nearby) walnut tree. I swung the tractor just a leetle bit too wide in setting up for the turn across the ford and – BAM! – slammed the running board of the tractor into the tree, stalling the tractor in the process.

No terrible damage was done, although I do hate having traumatized a tree. (It is also possible I blistered the air with a choice word or two.)

After backing the trailer away from the tree, I handed the tractor over to Gerald to navigate the ford because, frankly, he’s better at it.

The moral of this story: Expanded capacity comes in really handy – AND – it may take some settling into, some practice in learning how to function optimally from within the new capability that comes with capacity.

The corresponding lesson learned: When a new capacity is suddenly accessible and not the result of a gradual growth process,  such as capacity resulting from the acquisition of a new tool – something external to the self –  we need to grow the corresponding internal capacity required in order to optimally utilize the acquired external capacity.

Remember the lawnmower story (Challenge Chronicle #6)? I had to learn (develop the capacity through new knowledge and motor skills) to operate a riding mower first, and then a 35 hp tractor. The upgrade to the 44 hp tractor, especially after 13 years of practice on the 35? Precipitated the need for me to develop personal capacity related to operating a larger piece of farm equipment.

How to translates for non-farm life:

  • If something isn’t working well in your organization (or your life), check to see if what you need is external capacity (new tools, systems, processes) or internal/personal capacity – or both.
  • Remember that just because you invest in some snazzy new system or equipment, the people tasked with getting the job done may need to develop capacities that help them lean into new ways of doing the tasks.
  • Conversely, simply asking people to work harder and do more when what you need is a systems, tools or process upgrade is unreasonable and a great way to demoralize and burn people out, causing a talent drain on your organization. The result? Your best people –  the ones who can – will leave. Then you get into that costly cycle of attracting, recruiting and training new team members, only to find they, too, don’t stay long because there is a limit to how much heart, soul, dedication and personal capacity can compensate for lack of systemic capacity.
  • Throwing training at a problem, thinking that will help with internal capacity development? Won’t.  At least, not training by itself. Internal capacity development generally takes time, practice, understanding and reinforcement. Trying to use training alone, training that can’t address across-time human development, is like trying to mend a broken bone with a band-aid: A waste of time and money and likely to lead to additional damage.
  • When it comes to building new internal capacities and learning how to inhabit new external capacities, people WILL make mistakes.
  1. Give your team ways to fail productively, to make those mistakes and then harvest the learning.
  2. Better yet, as part of an ongoing, intentional capacity-building culture, help your team identify opportunities for failure, those most-likely instances in which mistakes can show up during learning curves and new situations.
  3. Facilitate conversation to identify which mistakes are tolerable and which aren’t.
  4. Co-create a process for responding to mistakes/failures that is, in itself, a capacity-building approach.

Invite others into a conversation on capacity-building related to navigating challenge and change, and addressing mistakes. And watch to see how this process actually helps people develop capacity for planning, strategic thinking and collaborative thinking….just to name a few.

If you are interested in learning how to build capacity in your own life or in a high performing team, or in having key conversations facilitated, contact Lyn.