The Sports Team: A Good metaphor for thinking about roles and job functions in the age of uncertainty

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6 year old soccer

Who out there has watched their kids play a team sport at a young age. It is certainly a sight to behold, and its alot of fun. Some other truths..

  • No one knows how/when to participate
  • No one is taking accountability outside of coaches and referees
  • Everyone is interfering with each other
  • Teams do score! (eventually)

How many of us have felt like we were working in an organizational six year old soccer game? Some evidence you are in a 6 year old soccer game include:

  • everyone shows up to every meeting
  • everyone is consulted on every decision
  • people come and go at random
  • lots of overlapping and conflicting effort
  • no ownership of outcomes

Table Top

Who out there worked for an organization where management got serious about putting some rigour back into the organization? Likely you ended up with…

  • Individuals ending up with very specific job functions accountable to a very specific task
  • Lots of documented processes, that no one really understands,or follows
  • No one is taking ownership of the end goal, outside of the most senior leaders
  • jobs and roles are hard coded, no one changes their role
  • The puck is constantly getting stuck in the corner, metaphorically got between the space of peoples job description, so overburdened leaders have to pick it up

How many of us have felt like we were working in an organization where we felt like a table top piece*?* Some evidence you are in a tabletop game include:

  • you are told not do do something because it is someone else’s job
  • no one takes initiative to improve things, because it is the responsibility of some other department
  • you get things done by flying under the radar, and begging for forgiveness rather than asking for permission
  • lots of departmental protectionism

True Team

Watching a professional team, or even a team of committed amateurs is an entirely different experience.

  • Team members have positions, but position changed based on the play
  • The team outcomes trumps any concept of role or position
  • Interactions between team members trump individual accountability

Most of us actually have solid experience working in this type of organization, even if it’s an organization that is outside the workspace. Some evidence you are on a True Team include:

  • you dont check if something is in your job description before helping
  • you focus on getting to the outcome, not creating deliverables
  • Specialists and specialization exists, but specialists train and mentor others on the team and level them up
  • Leaders step in to help when required and get out of the way the rest of the time

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