The Squeaky Wheel!

As a parent, the old adage is definitely true…

The squeaky wheel gets the oil.

It stinks. I hate it. I have tried to ignore it – but it seldom goes away. In fact, left unattended it seems to get louder.

The last thing you want to give a squeaky wheel is the power that whenever they are upset – they can squeak and have it taken care of.

But, if you do not nip a squeaky wheel in the bud, it will start to influence the whole team – event the best of them.

So what do you do?

An improv group, like a sports team, like a work team are no different. They all work and excel or flounder under the same dynamic principles of collaboration, respect, and trust.

When there is a lack of those three – they will flounder.

As a leader, you need to know the difference between an oil can and a wrench.

The important thing is to notice the squeak and address it. Some squeaky wheels are actually the only courageous one of a team brave enough to speak out. The others silently cheer them on and hope they lead the way for change.

If this is the case – this is a blessing because it gives you feedback of what needs to be improved. This is when you use the oil can to address the problem and solve it.

Some squeaks are individual and just a reflection of an employee who will squeak no matter what you do. They do not represent the whole team – and applying the oil in this case will actually cause resentment amongst the team.

They need the wrench so that they can be removed.

Okay, enough mechanistic analogies – afterall, we are not robots.

The bottom line is this – teams are made up of people. If you empower and manage a team based on autonomy, collaboration, and freedom – most teams can manage themselves, including taking care of the squeaky wheels.

But if a team feels powerless, you will hear lots of squeaks. You see, when people feel helpless and unable to manage themselves, they protect their own skin, instead of solving problems. Yet, if you make a team accountable to one another, dependent on each other, and they can operate in a way that does not limit their common sense – they will figure it out.


You won’t need to carry an oil can because the team will take care of itself.

If a problem arises from the team that needs your mediating – you will know it is more than just a squeak.

I have performed on improv teams, sports teams, and work teams with squeaky wheels. It’s no fun. Not everyone is a good fit on a team. Some people need to be let go.

But, knowing when to let go – and when someone just needs a little help is the key. Sometimes the squeak is not the person – it is the culture that has been created – and if you just replace the person – the squeak will keep showing up with other people.

If you are not sure between the two – give us a call. We can help!


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