Are You The Bottleneck?

By Wendy Turner-Hargreaves


Could you be the bottleneck in your business?

We all like to think that we’re the engine powering the whole machine and that may well be the case, but the chances are that if you work in your business rather than on it you could be blocking the flow. It’s not something you’ve done consciously. You’re probably not even be aware of it. But there could be a wave of potential shored up behind you, and the chances are it’s because you find it hard to delegate.

I’m not going to talk about delegation. Bigger and better experts on that subject have covered it expansively elsewhere. What interests me, and what I look for in our organisation and its subsidiaries, is the potential element.

Firstly, let’s look at where the bottlenecks might be. Where are the points of congestion in your business’s productive system?    

  • Is it a decision that only you can make?
  • Is it a skill or part of a process that only you can do?
  • Is it knowledge that only you have?
  • Is it a relationship that only you can nurture?
  • Is it something only you have always done and enjoy doing?

The last one is tricky, and I have an example of this in our business.

Every year we organise a skiing trip for all of the Fidelis team. We spend four or five days together somewhere beautiful and just enjoy each other’s company. Traditionally the trip has always been organised by Guy Bartlett, my fellow co-founder. If you know Guy, you’ll know how much skiing is his passion, how hurtling down a mountain fills his soul with joy. This year one of our Operations team, Hayley, has suggested she organises the next trip, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that Guy is beyond devastated. Even though the task is hugely time consuming, even though the decision makes perfect sense, even though it frees Guy up to do one of the other hundred things he has to do; devastated.

I look at like this this though:                      

  • What effect will the responsibility have on Hayley as a team member? How will it help her growth and confidence? What other skills might she bring to the team?
  • Could the experience be even richer led by someone different with different skills, making different, perhaps even better, decisions.
  • As a creative visionary in our business, what else could Guy be focusing on rather than speaking to travel agents and herding cats?

What potential could Guy be blocking, in himself, in Hayley and in the team beyond? 

This is just a small example of a bottleneck and it’s not something which majorly impacts our business. But if we look at the other four examples in my list, there are some business-critical blocks which have a much greater bearing.

The most significant effect is that if you don’t unblock them, if you don’t release the cork, you will never be able to leave your business. Cold, hard fact. If your business can’t operate without you how will you ever take holidays, retire or sell up?

Then there’s the issue of what you and your business are missing out on. The potential. Maybe you do have an amazing relationship with your largest client, but who’s to say one of your management team wouldn’t bring something new to that partnership and grow it in other ways? Maybe you do have exceptional knowledge in one area of your business, but you had to learn once. Who can you empower to have that knowledge too and how would that affect the rest of the business?  And why are you making that critical decision? Is it really because no one else can decide or is it because you can’t let go and allow someone else to have some control?  

It’s not easy being at the helm is it?

In our experience at Fidelis, we’ve found that business owners can more easily make the transition from leadership to executive spectatorship by exiting their business gradually. We call it ‘Glide Path’, a slow and seamless graceful exit which has the future growth and wellbeing of the company at its heart. The beauty of this is that it also gives the business owner time to mentally and physically detach while still being around to guide and nurture the next generation. 

There’s more about Glide Path here if that interests you:

One last thing.

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘do what you’re good at’ but often we choose to ignore how powerful this is, for ourselves and in other people. We use this simple tool to look analyse what we do in our roles:

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Maybe you’ve always done the wages, but are you good at it? Do you like doing it or just tolerate the task? Is there someone else who loves doing it, who could do it better?

Should Guy be organising skiing trips or just hurtling down mountains?

By simply switching around tasks within your team it puts everyone in flow, doing what they’re good at and what they enjoy. It’s a powerful little tool and I encourage you to give it a go. You might be surprised by the outcome and find that others can take on some of those tasks that you’ve defaulted to doing over time.

You may find it releases the blockage – you.


At Fidelis, we are always pleased to hear from business owners who are looking to sell or exit their business. Wherever you are in the process, for a confidential, no obligation discussion please get in touch.

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