The Blind Pass: Teamwork in action
Watching the English Premier League (EPL) this season has been fantastic. New records have been set and others soon to be broken. The exhibition of play and teamwork has been outstanding especially by the teams in the top four including Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool. One record that may fall by the end of the season is the most goals scored in a single season. Luis Suarez of Liverpool FC has already scored 22 goals in just 16 appearances. The reason? He is well supported by his team with unselfish play and Luis can be counted on to play his position.
When a player is moving the ball down field, he may be challenged by a number of defenders at one time. To keep the ball in play, the player may need to blindly pass the ball to where his team mate is expected to be. This has happened time and again with the Liverpool club when players such as Steven Gerrard or Phillippe Coutinho are moving the ball forward. They can count on players like Luis Suarez or Daniel Sturridge to be in their position, blindly pass the ball to them, allowing them to take a shot on goal. Of course, the players receiving the ball need to be counted on to fulfill their role and they have done so exceedingly well. Hence, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge are currently 2 of the top 3 scorers in the EPL.
Most organizations today are global. Complementary personnel needed to finish a critical deliverable may not be in the same office, but rather, in different locations across different time zones. There are instances when a blind pass is critical in order expedite the expected deliverables.
There was one instance when a sales person needed a data sheet on one of our products. The existing one was horribly outdated. The sales person was in Europe and the key subject matter experts were located in various regions with one in Asia, one in Europe, and other in the United States. In order to expedite getting the product data sheet completed in time for the presentation, it was going to require a tremendous amount teamwork including communication and cooperation.
I proposed that I create a new draft of the data sheet, have each of the SME’s review it and provide comments and feedback by following the sun. This is exactly what happened. I completed an initial draft and performed a “blind pass” to my colleague in Asia. They provided their comments and feedback and sent it to our colleague in Europe. They incorporated their feedback and sent it to the colleague in Chicago. By the time it got to me, it required some tuning but we were able to get it produced into a final format that day and over to the sales person in time for their presentation. The net result? The sales person had a successful meeting and was well positioned to submit a proposal to the customer.
What makes teams great is the ability of individuals to apply their own unique skill sets while fully supporting the other members of the team. In this case, there was an excellent combination of skills that included technical depth as well as the ability to define and articulate essential value propositions. The team members also showed great flexibility through a temporary adjustment of their priorities to support the needs of the business. With personnel scattered across different locations, it is essential for companies to leverage the “virtual” team.
Corner Office Wisdom:
As individuals face challenges in meeting customer demands, they should be able to count on the support of their team members and their expertise. Critical to that effort, each individual will need to be flexible to adjust their priorities in support of the overall goals of the organization.
Cross-training: A lesson from the World Cup
Watching the World Cup qualifying tournaments has been really enjoyable. It is always great to see individual talents performing at the highest levels. But what was even more enjoyable was seeing the teamwork demonstrated by the players. The teams that gelled the best were the ones that were the least selfish and supported their team mates.
There are many times in the momentum of play that the player with the ball has an opportunity to take the ball down field. As he does so, he will need to temporarily “switch” positions with another player. For example, if the player is a defender or a mid-fielder moving the ball down field, he might suddenly occupy the space of a different player, perhaps a winger. The winger will need to switch positions and pull back to cover for the midfielder. To do this successfully requires great communication, cooperation and common skills between players. If the winger does not fall back, the result will be too many players bunched up in an area of the field. This will leave gaping holes in the defense should the momentum of play shift and go the opposite way.
In one of my roles, I was leading a software development team. It consisted of a Sr. Engineer under contract, a tester, a student-intern, and me, also a Sr. Engineer. We had a tremendous amount of work to do to get our delivery completed. Each of us had individual roles and assignments. After working an extensive amount of overtime, we completed the delivery. Then my group was combined with a second group. It also included a mix of Sr. engineers, testers, as well as a person who handled the massive amount of process paperwork required by the customer.
In our first meeting together as a team, we compared notes and realized the new group had worked even more overtime than my original group. They were really tired and on the verge of burn-out. Looking at the dark circles around everyone’s eyes, we determined there had to be a better way.
We decided to review the process used to get things done. We determined that there were a number of bottlenecks in the way each task was accomplished. The biggest issue was that people were so focused on their own role and assignment that they did not know what the others persons did. We discussed how we can tear down some of the walls between roles in the team and focus on how we can work together better. The results included:
1. Cross-training and developing skills among some of the team members to expand their abilities.
2. Allow them to grow and take on additional, more expanded roles.
As a result, we were able to “switch” individuals between roles and directly assist one another when needed. With the combined adjustments of increasing the skills of the team, increasing communication and cooperation, we met our deadlines with very high-quality, high-morale and minimal overtime.
Corner Office Wisdom:
There are times when process improvement also requires skills improvement including cross-training of individuals in the organization. By improving the skills of the team as a whole and encouraging cooperation, the team will operate with greater efficiency and higher quality in completing their deliverables.