Tag Archive for teamwork

Run, Score and Win: Collaboration in the Workplace

Jean-De-Villiers-scores-a-try-against-Wallabies1There’s a concept of organizational ecology put forth by Franklin Becker and Fritz Steele back in 1995 (Workplace by Design) in which they discussed two different approaches that organizations may take as they work to create synergy and encourage interaction: the “relay race” model vs. the “rugby” model.

Relay Race: Traditional and Sequential

If you imagine a team working on a project the group that employs the relay race model operates by having each function complete its work and then pass it on to the next function.  As an illustration a team may be chartered and roles assigned but the process lumbers along as, for example, marketing conducts research, sends the results to the product design group, which then, only when finished, passes the results along to the engineering group which, when done, passes the information back to marketing. And on and on and on.

Rugby: Speed and Flexibility

In the rugby model however all players take the field at the same time and for the duration of the game.  There is constant interaction as the team moves toward its goal and, as is the case in a rugby match, different players take the lead or employ a stronger approach at various stages throughout the game.  The difference from the relay race approach is striking; in the rugby model the entire team is in the game for the whole time.  All players participate in decisions and understand the status of the match at all times. Constant communication is crucial and not in a “let’s plan an update meeting” type of way but rather in a manner that is ongoing, spontaneous and ever evolving as the dynamics of play change.

The application of rugby to business and HR is one I’ve discussed before; there are components of the game and skill sets needed by the players that have interesting parallels to the workplace.  Skilled rugby players must be constantly aware of shifting conditions; they must have the ability to recognize, interpret and respond to the game all while anticipating the moves that will come further on in the match. Sounds like what we expect from our employees and leaders.

That’s but one of the many reasons I find the rugby vs. relay race approach to collaboration and collocation so fascinating. With the complexity of today’s business environment we recognize that we need to regularly assess, and possibly re-align, how we collaborate within our organizations.  Our “teams” today are often cross functional and made up of highly specialized knowledge workers and experts as well as being diverse and geographically dispersed.  Many organizations are well on their way to optimizing the productivity of such teams whether through the use of technology or understanding the importance of providing opportunities for socialization and connection to enhance cohesion and results.

But there are also departmental or functional teams, sometimes in one geographical location, that need to accomplish goals or innovate effectively through collaboration.  When we dive down into a human resources department, as an example, there are advantages to be found if they adopt the rugby model.  I’ve certainly seen HR Departments running a relay race rather than playing rugby even while working on a shared and critical initiative: Employee Relations conducts research, passes on the results to the Recruiting Group which then adds some components and passes on the information to the Training & Development function which then loops back with Employee Relations to provide more information. And on and on and on.

As Becker & Steele explained, the goal is ʺto bring all the players in the process together as a team at the projectʹs inception.ʺ

I, for one, think there’s a better chance of victory in our organizations when we take that approach.

Or at least we can score a try.


image via http://www.rugby15.co.za

Silos Belong on the Farm (redux)

Silos_on_a_farm_on_the_Oak_Ridges_Moraine_in_2007(While we’re enjoying spring break here at the Schoolhouse, here’s a post from the archives).

I grew up in Wisconsin where, contrary to popular belief, we did NOT all live on dairy farms and raise cows. However, I certainly had quite a bit of exposure to farms – driving to and from my college in central WI and taking regular trips to the outskirts of the suburb in which I lived brought me face-to-face with the pastoral life. And tickled the nose, if you know what I mean.

I saw the gorgeous lush fields, the majestic herds of docile dairy cows grazing in the fields and random chickens and ducks wandering aimlessly. At sunset, if that’s when I happened to be driving past, I glimpsed the setting sun peeking from behind the silos skirting the perimeter of the farm.

Now that’s the perfect place for silos. Because they DON’T belong in an organization.


We say corporate silos exist when we’re working to define isolation in an organization. We toss about the term when we have teams, departments and sub-units operating independently of each other without any connection or communication. They’re often woefully unaware of what others are doing, or, even more dangerously, have no CONCERN about what others are doing.

So how does this happen? How do these silos get built?

Sometimes there’s an element of control. Managers, for example, who wish to build their kingdom and then protect their turf. So they do things such as create convoluted processes which they then enforce. No one understands WTH anything accomplishes but everyone learns they better do it anyway.

Occasionally, organizations inadvertently create silos by hiring lots and lots of subject matter experts who all control their spot on the board game. They don’t overlap nor are they encouraged to do so. Byron stores everything about subterranean particles in HIS brain, and Janice retains everything about cosmic toaster crumbs in HER brain…yet they never connect to bring an idea, goal or vision to fruition.

You know you’ve worked in a silo when you’ve had to approach projects or new tasks with little to no idea of the scope or impact. You’ve BTDT when you’ve worked diligently to complete assignments only to find out that no one really needed the end result. You’ve built and maintained your own silo when you don’t pay attention to organizational initiatives other than those within your own department or function.

So BUST down those walls. Build some cross-functional teams; get out there and talk to each other.  Leaders – don’t let your managers build internal kingdoms.


image – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

If Not Now, When?

I heard a marvelous story the other week from a friend (we’ll call him Joe) who also works in HR.  A story that, to my mind, perfectly reflects what we’re really trying to get at when we sit around and wonder whether our employees are ‘engaged.’

Joe’s organization recently faced some business challenges.  Nothing devastating or extraordinarily frightening but the type of situation where the company needed to make some immediate adjustments to get past some sudden and unexpected bumps in the road.

Being a fairly large and geographically dispersed organization, Joe and the rest of the Senior Leadership team knew it was important to communicate early and communicate often.  Which they did.

There was no finger-pointing or blame; there were no ‘what ifs.”  They kept the message on point, factual and honest.  They outlined immediate steps and promised to keep everyone informed as circumstances changed and plans were altered.  They didn’t require employees to do anything but keep doing their jobs in order to maintain a successful track record.  They did, however, let it be known that ideas, suggestions and questions were welcome.

And then an amazing thing happened.

Employees trickled into Joe’s office with proposals and initiatives. They offered to forego benefits, trinkets and rewards if it would ‘help.’  They gathered together into problem-solving teams (on their own!) and brainstormed.

They rallied at the regular all-hands-on-deck communication meetings where they laughed and joked and found comfort in a shared experience.  They reminisced and found that they were recapturing the joy that, for some, may have been long forgotten.


Textbook engagement behavior, am I right? Employees demonstrating positive emotional attachments by showing care and concern for their organization, their coworkers and, presumably, their own jobs.

Did it take a crisis (however manageable) to bring forth this heightened level of buy-in and ownership?  These were, per Joe, some of the same employees who for years had appeared to just go-through-the-motions; kvetching and complaining and feeling slighted.

I hate to think it took a moment of standing on the precipice for people to unite.  But perhaps that’s human nature.

I guess the question then becomes how can Joe’s company retain this “all-in-it-together” mentality when the pain point has passed?  Kind of sucks to think of taking advantage of a tough moment, but if they don’t do that now…then when?

The Power of Many. The Power of One.

Last week, in the manner that these things occur, there was a picture making the rounds on Facebook that poked fun (in an amusing way with just a dash of profanity) of the old cliché “there’s no ‘I’ in team.” 

Which reminded me how much I’ve always truly disliked that saying.


It goes without saying that assembling a group of individuals with unique talents that compliment each other can unleash all sorts of things – idea generation, innovation, a little-bit-of-friction (in a good way).  The collective group could quite possibly get more done in a shorter period of time and accomplish things that an individual could not achieve on their own.

But you know what I’ve always found to be the undeniable truth?

That team is made up of a bunch of ‘I’s – as in INDIVIDUALS.

And each of those individuals must make a purposeful and conscious decision to bring themselves into the group.  Each person must be committed, engaged and invested in moving the work of the team forward.

I daresay that if any one person belongs to a team and believes that the power of the group trumps their own INDIVIDUAL power, then that team is doomed. The team may not fail – but I may not hit its full collective potential if all the individual members check their ‘I’s at the door.

There’s a great deal of potential and ability in many.

There’s a LOTof capability and power in one.