by Peter A. Arthur-Smith, Leadership Solutions, Inc.
“A team comprises 6 – no more than 7- people who join together to accomplish a common, highly-prized objective that is important to all of them and their organization. A successful action team is usually two.”
Leaves were abundant a couple of months back – at Fall’s first sign – on the sidewalks of Washington Square Park, New York. Yes and you guessed right: this article was drafted at that time, although its contents are still quite pertinent. Those leaves are still the daily clean-up chore for a gaggle of six park-workers; probably people being rehabilitated toward a more productive life. Your writer noted the clean-up progress every-other-day as he took an early morning, fast walk around the park’s perimeter sidewalk – he estimates somewhere around a half-mile per lap. He calls it his local gymnasium!
On that memorable morning, he noticed unattended swathes of leaves on the park’s north side, which were creating a slippery mess due to recent rainfall. But on the south side, near the park’s administrative offices, surprise-surprise, the sidewalk was totally shipshape.
Needless to say, he bumped into the group of six clean-up ladies, adorned in their bright green t-shirts, where he congratulated them on their job well-done on the south side. They smiled with pride, which gave him the opportunity to enquire about the other three sides. “Oh, yes!” they chorused. “We will!” Two days later, on his alternate day walk, everything was spic-and-span on all sides.
What is the moral of this everyday story? Those other three sidewalks had been looking pretty neglected over the prior ten days, which served as an extra prod for him to nudge those ladies that particular morning. It seemed, only by shedding light on the issue, were those lovely ladies going to rise to the challenge. No doubt their supervisor was stuck in front of his-her computer screen; filling out the stats on the number of leaves that fell, the ratio of dry leaves to wet ones, how many staffers refused to pick up a broom, and how many office staff refused to speak with street staff! All vitally important management information!
Your writer has been reflecting on this park clean-up matter ever since. As he put his drafting-pen to paper, to draw attention to this particular teamwork issue, he couldn’t help thinking about how this seeming lack of initiative by those ladies is one key emblematic issue of organization management: where staff appear insufficiently engaged or empowered to take obvious steps. He started to think about alternative approaches. How often do you experience something similar within your organization?
Our next question usually is: “What can we do about it?” And that’s where putting on that Park Supervisor’s “hat”… using a job title so common in many local government organizations… raises all sorts of thoughts. To start with, we should change that role title from supervisor to Park Team Leader. That way, depending on the person wearing that “hat,” we may well change his-her thinking from one of modeling an administrative, inspection role to more of an anticipatory, people-focused one. Where:
Administrative – reducing time spent on bureaucratic paperwork and counting every blade of grass cut in the park. Our obsession with counting is tiresome and yet amusing, and takes leaders away from interacting with their people.
Inspection – reducing time spent on looking over people’s shoulders and pointing out what they’re doing wrong.
Anticipatory – looking ahead to tomorrow or next week as a prelude to positioning things for ongoing park success.
People-focused – engaging available staff, so they willingly meet their fair share of everything that needs to be done.
Besides, that park lead-person will find leading much more gratifying than supervising – most of us normal people would see it this way, although some people are just born to be bossy. This leading view is spot-on in conjunction with the viewpoints shared above and below:
» Taking advantage of collective versus individual action – You will recall there were six ladies in that south-side park gaggle; all buzzing around adjacent to the park office, where they would wish to be noticed. How about, with my Park Team Leader’s hat on, if they were encouraged to break-up into three teams of two – known as work-pairing?
It was clear that they were enjoying being part of that gaggle, which reinforces again the social nature of human beings. To now send them all off on individual clean-up assignments around the park would be a form of purgatory. How about, instead, breaking them into pairs; especially with other group members they would enjoy teaming-up with? Now let one pair be responsible for the north-sidewalk, another pair the east and west side-walks, and the
remaining pair for the south-sidewalk. Pairing, after all, as many articles have been written about it, is a particularly effective size team for getting things done; as this writer has proven over many years.
Such paired-ladies, or men, or man and woman, would take great pride in keeping their sidewalk domains clear of leaves and other weekly debris, as well as likely relish working with each other. You could equally allow them to switch into different pairings, just to enjoy other team members, too. Their domains would most probably be pristine and they would show great pride in keeping them that way. So how about looking at other park areas for similar treatment? Now that would be something worth sharing in that every-day management, computer reporting system!
» End of individual efficiency models – Would this be the end of such models? Individual efficiency models were likely developed over 100 years ago; designed for long production lines, where people were banned from talking with each other for fear they would waste valuable time. Can you imagine how life-sterile that was and still is in certain parts of the world? That’s when people were just regarded as being pairs-of-hands: as famously defined by Henry Ford when he was quoted as saying; “Why to do I have to hire the whole person, when all I need is a pair-of hands?”
Rich Sheridan, President of Menlo Innovations in Ann Arbor, Michigan, would go out of his way to convince you of the enormous value in pairing. His software programmers constantly work in rotating pairs with huge advantages, which far outweigh the individual efficiency model cost. Take a look at his book, ‘Joy, Inc.’
Having argued for this enlightened approach, this writer uses pairing all the time in executive development projects to the considerable advantage of his clients. To get the most out of such pairings, participants expect the following:
» A clear purpose with clearly defined human and numerical outcomes.
» They need a framework of working principles and values that feel conducive to them.
» Have sufficient know-how, or the possibility to retrieve the right know-how, will be important to them.
» Be allocated enough resources or be allowed to pursue essential resources at their own volition.
» Receive regular respect and reinforcement will also help keep their tails up.
» Wherever you can, give them an objective read-out on their respective communication preferences – that way they can better understand how to partner with each other…contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
And so, ‘Falling leaves in the Park,’ or whatever work context you find yourselves in, is a great way to work more effectively and naturally with your people. Don’t forget, done right, collaborative effectiveness trumps individual efficiency in so many areas. It just requires a little more thought, in terms of positioning and leadership to take full advantage of it. But then, anything worth doing requires more than traditional passing thoughts … like, “That’s the way it’s always been done.”
Put your work-pairing and 6-7special project teams in place soonest. You won’t regret it.
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