Archives for posts with tag: team development

In previous blogs I have threatened to metaphoricalise the Ashes and the lessons that this most arcane and wonderful sporting occasion brings to the world of work; this is that blog.

First up, just in case we have any readers from countries where cricket is not played, you have my undying sympathy and a quick explanation: the Ashes is a series of cricket matches between England and Australia; each match lasts up to five days and there are five matches – known as test matches – in the series. England recently won the last series 3-0, and if you want to know more, look no further than here

Any road up, there are many, many things that can be learned from embracing the wonder that is test cricket in the world of work. There is the lesson of finding and working to your strengths – for example, it is important to keep a cricket ball dry so that a bowler can make it move in the air when he bowls; to this end, England captain Alastair Cook is in charge of polishing the ball because he doesn’t sweat as much as other players.

There are different players – batsmen, bowlers, and different types within each type – there are opening batsmen and middle-order batsmen; there are fast bowlers and spinners – and even leg and off spinners.

Cricket, in short, is the perfect example of the notion of diversity being strength – everyone has their own skills and needs to perform to their best to deliver this strength in order for the team to succeed. But as well as individual strengths you need team-work; for a bowler to be successful you need the fielders to be in the right place at the right time and do their part; a batsman can only build an innings if he builds partnerships with other batsmen.

Cricket also tells us that you need the right people at the right time – you need to have have the right team to make the most of conditions; if the sky is overcast and cloudy, you need your swing bowlers; sunny on a dry pitch and your spinners are the best option.

Thus it is in work; if you have a change project you need people to kick it off, get it started and underway; these are the opening batsmen, making a start and laying a foundation for others to build upon. Their success is key to enable later success and you need the right kind of people to do this – doers, planners, people who can manage stakeholder and establish a vision and path to the future.

Once the foundations have been laid, then it is up to the middle order to really get things done and deliver the project; these are a different kind of person than the openers; they build on previous success, use the relationships the openers have built already to ensure success, they consolidate and they take things on.

A rich vein indeed, for the sport-minded business person to mine; in this blog, however, I want to focus on two things that happened in this most recent Ashes series, and specifically in the final test at the Oval.

First was the decision by Australian captain Michael Clarke to declare at tea on the last day and set his team the challenge of bowling England out before they could reach the winning total. The decision was sporting; it was in the spirit of the game, and set up for the spectators a spectacle, a thrilling denouement to a great game and a great series. For me it showed courage and a sense of fair play, and so two great aspects that leaders need: the courage of their convictions and to take risks, and a sense of fairness and reason to temper that courage so that it doesn’t lose perspective and become rash or foolhardy.

The second thing was a decision made many months before the match, in a committee room by a group of bureaucrats. This meant the match had to end with only four overs – 24 balls – to be bowled and England needing only 21 runs to win the game and claim an unprecedented 4-0 series victory. The light was worse than it had been at a previous point in a previous match, and because of the bureaucrats the umpires had no choice but to end the game; there was no room for common sense or in the moment thinking, only an arbitrary line marked in the sand by officious suits.

This ruling robbed the crowd of a fitting climax to the match, and England of a likely victory, but it also robbed the umpires of an opportunity to exercise common sense and manage in the moment, in the now.

The lesson here that while we all need rules in a business setting, they should not be so arbitrary and hard and fast that they prevent a sensible and reasonable decision be made to take an opportunity; bureaucracies stifle organisations because they limit thinking and discourage decisions being made in the moment.

Had the umpired been free to make up their own minds, then the courage shown by Michael Clarke to give the watching public a real show would have been vindicated; as it was, it was lost, denied by bureaucracy.

Have a think about your leaders in your organisation – are they courageous? Fair-minded? Do they balance what it right for themselves with what is just right?

Think about your organisation, about its rules and regulations (and remember these can be unwritten rules, not just the “official” ones). Do they prevent the courageous and fair-minded leaders from leading in the right way? Do they allow common sense to prevail and let people manage in the now? Can your organisation learn a valuable lesson from the strange and wonderful world of cricket? I hope it can.

Advertisements

Hands up if you’ve heard of the Monkeysphere?

OK, hands down, you look silly staring at the screen of your computer/phone/tablet/other as-yet-to-be-invented device with your hand in the air, like a primary school child needing a wee.

The Monkeysphere is based on neurological research. The theory says that there is only room in a primate brain for around 150 other primates. Beyond that, and primates (chimps, lemurs, people) can’t really keep track.

If your organisation is bigger than 150 people, then those people may, therefore, struggle to engage with it. They stop seeing it as a group of fellow primates and more as an amorphous, intangible mass.

Some companies have a maximum operating unit size of around 150. If they get too big, then they are split up. Gore and Semco are two examples, and there are more.

Most other companies can’t (or won’t) do that – but it is impossible to operate in large groups, and most organisations operate in smaller units, breaking down to a team.

I’ve worked in teams of 2, and teams of 20+. My personal view that anything bigger than 10-12 is too big, anything less than 5-6 is too small. Whatever their size, however, the important thing is to make sure that they operate as a team.

After ensuring personal effectiveness of all your people, team effectiveness is most important in delivering organisational effectiveness. Again, a personal opinion, but one based on many years of experience, study and research – an informed opinion (rather than a humble one).

Anyway, the tools and techniques used to measure personal and organisational effectiveness and culture can also be applied to teams. You can check how effective they are, show them, and then work with them to help them get better.

One tool I have used with great success is based on a survival simulation. Your team is put in an imaginary situation where they are presented with options – they are then given a timescale to decide about the various options and say how they would act. They record their answers individually and then as a team.

You then run a questionnaire to check the experience of the various members of the team – and it’s also important to observe how they went about things.

After this you give them the real answers – prepared by an appropriate expert. From the differences between their personal and team decisions and the “right” answers you can see how effective thy would be – as a team or as individuals.

I like the survival simulations because they are usually fun, and are relatively safe. You can run business simulations (or even use a real example, although it is tricky to get a “right” answer and check the effectiveness), but these tend to be a bit too close to home and people are less likely to make any decisions, in my experience. Survival situations are less prone to people worrying about getting the wrong answer and looking daft.

The feedback you get back is rich. Even without using the full tool, good observation can give really useful insight. In one session I ran, every member of the team but one huddled together at one end of the table. The individual at the other end then criticised the decision making, saying “you did this, you did that” – “you”, not “we”. They were meant to be a team, in it together to survive. Just pointing out that behaviour caused a number of pennies (and the odd jaw) to drop, and helped that team make a breakthrough.

Like all development, teams need to work, re-visit their development and make sure that changes have been made and are still effective. It’s a process that should continue through the life of the team, and especially as new members come in and out. My take on teams is as follows.

1) In teams, diversity is strength. Everyone should bring their own strength to the group, and everyone should be willing, able and ready to use the strengths of others to make up for their own weaknesses. Tools such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator ™ are great for understanding how people like to work and how you can galvanise diversity.

2) Dialogue always beats debate. Dialogue is about bringing ideas together to make something new and better with those ideas. Debate is about one side proving its view of things is right, and the other side is wrong. Imagine how our country would be if we had parliamentary dialogues, rather than debates.

3) As a team, you can do things by consensus, or by consent. Consensus means everyone has to be happy with everything, which can lead to a more contented team, but also to watered-down and less effective solutions. Consent means giving permission for people to lead the team in a certain direction, even if not everyone is convinced that is the way to go. What you lose in comfort you can gain in innovation and effectiveness.

Looking at team effectiveness in these areas is a great way to start to build a team development plan, and then check the progress of the plan once it’s in place. If you fancy a go, give me a shout.