Want to have teams full of people who perform? Try doing less

Ben Smit
February 21, 2024

Organisations the world over are struggling with “addition sickness”, leading to frustrated workforces and missed goals.

I was reminded of a curious behaviour almost all humans share when reading a recent excellent article from the Harvard Business Review.

Humans are great at adding things on, and terrible at removing things.

Whether it’s a shed full of useless junk or a cupboard full of items you’ll never use again, we have a strong propensity to want more and more, and yet when it comes to clearing things out, we suffer loss aversion and put it off.  

It turns out the same is true within organisations.

Even when we mean well and try to improve something, it’s often done by adding something:

  • a new process
  • another system
  • new responsibilities

This creates the unbridled juggernaut of “more”. The hardest part is that no one individual decides to create this monster, it just forms naturally when several well-meaning people add things over time without someone ever asking, “what should be remove?”  

I won’t cover the article here in detail, it was written by researchers that spent 8 years collecting incredible insights into the problem so I encourage you to read it for yourself, but having spent a lot of time looking at teams that operate effectively across the Teamgage customer base, I wanted to share some ideas that work well.

I’d argue it all comes down to the following key factors.

Ask the right questions

The first and most powerful thing you can do is to ask the right questions to avoid “addition sickness”.  

Measure things that get in the way of performance, or what we refer to at Teamgage as “blockers”. Most people actually want to get things done, but roadblock after roadblock will wear them down to a point of apathy.

Ask questions like “What is blocking you from performing at your best?”, “what is preventing you from achieving goals in a timely manner?” or “how many barriers to high performance have you experienced?”

Think about things like inefficiencies, red tape and unreliable processes. Most importantly, once you have this information, address these issues as quickly and as often as possible.

Have guiding principles

Instead of thinking about rules, start thinking about guiding principles.

Over time rules can become corrupted, “worked around”, perverted and even hated. Part of the problem is that they lose meaning over time. They start out well intentioned, but they often don’t have the adaptability to cope with changes that happen over time.

As a result, you need to add more rules over the top of existing rules to cope with change, inevitably leading to a mess of red tape.

Instead, think about guiding principles. These are the north stars that help people make good decisions and remain focused on the intentions and meanings of the original vision. In turn this prevents the proliferation of rules being added and added over time.  

Instead of “one cookie per person per day”, try “make sure you leave enough for everyone to enjoy”.


Greenfield vs brownfield was a concept first created in the property development industry many years ago.

A brownfield development involves the redevelopment of existing sites that already have development, whereas a greenfield development uses land that has never been developed before.

Organisations have the same considerations – do we develop something completely new to replace something old, or do we rework what we already have?

There is a time and a place for both, don’t get me wrong, but too often I see people choose greenfield by default, when it’s the wrong answer.

The reasons are very human in nature:

  • Greenfield seems easier at first. It’s a blank slate with nothing to weigh you down.
  • It means you don’t have to dig too hard to understand how the previous thing worked.
  • It fits better with our egos - “this is mine, it will be better”.

So what’s the problem?

Well it turns out that the perceived benefits are the problem! The thing is that the old version of whatever you are trying to fix was that way for a reason. It probably had a lot of nuance added over time, and by skipping the effort of digging into those details and changing the thing that exists, you drastically increase the likelihood of missing those nuances second time around, only to end up with addition sickness in the new version.  

You also run the significant risk of now having two things, both the old and the new, running in parallel. Now we have twice as much as we started with!

Instead think about how you can “renovate” existing systems and processes. Spend the time to fully understand what exists, trim it down and tighten it up.

Your teams of people will thank you for it.

Woman smiling in an office

Let's do this.

Discover why 7,000+ teams worldwide drive results with Teamgage.

Logos for seek, DXC, Renault and NEC.