By Simon Hartley, Founder of Be World Class.
During the last few years I’ve been working with a number of corporate Executive Leadership Teams. In a recent session, a few weeks ago, one senior Director said, “We’ve got some great strategies… just too many of them”. Of course, they are not alone. I’ve come across a lot of people, teams and organisations that are simply trying to do too much. They have too many messages, too many initiatives, too many action plans and they’re not all tied together.
Experience tells me that if a team is trying to do too many things, and not everyone’s efforts are fully aligned, we end up using far more energy than we need to and getting less return than we deserve.
A few months ago I delivered the opening Keynote address to a Global Leadership Conference for a major corporation. The theme of the session was “The Habits of World Class Teams”. (I’ve included a really great illustration of the session that was actually drawn by an amazing artist from Toronto whilst I delivered the address).
During the session I shared an experience that I’d had, which illustrated the power of synchronicity. Here's an excerpt from Chapter 3 of “Two Lengths of the Pool”, (pages 32-34) which helps to explain it.
The Power of Synchronicity
A few years ago I took part in a CPD (Continual Professional Development) day with the English Institute of Sport. It is always beneficial for practitioners to understand the athletes’ experiences. On this particular day, we (the team of sport psychologists, physiotherapists, strength & conditioning coaches, performance analysts, bio-mechanists and physiologists) were taken to the rowing club and thrown into some boats. I’m 6 feet tall and a former rugby player. I’m relatively strong and well built, so I thought that rowing might suit me quite well. Towards the end of the day it was time to put our experiences into practice and race each other. We were put into pairs and given a two-man boat. I was paired with one of the strength and conditioning coaches, Tom. He was a pretty similar build to me, so we thought we had a decent chance. We found ourselves pitched in a head to head against our physiotherapist and bio-mechanist. Both girls were about 2 feet tall and about an inch wide. They weighed in at around 4 ounces wet through. Tom and I started to think that we had this race in the bag.
I learnt a very powerful lesson that day. Tom and I pulled for all we were worth, but the boat hardly moved. We heaved and we grunted. We put in enormous effort, but struggled to generate any speed because we didn’t manage to synchronise our strokes. Across the water, the two girls synchronised perfectly, and their boat sped off up the river. Occasionally Tom and I managed to get our blades into the water at the same time and the boat surged. Then we’d miss a few and lose the momentum. Of course, we were soundly beaten. Tom and I got out of the boat exhausted. We had put in an enormous amount of effort but, because we weren’t synchronised, a lot of it was wasted.
I don’t remember much from my Maths lessons at school. However, I do recall my teacher talking to us about vectors. A vector quantity is, as I remember it, composed not just of size but also direction. If you add a number of vectors together, you can see the overall distance travelled. For example…
If you add 3 meters, plus 4 meters, plus 3 meters, you’d expect to get 10 meters. However, if the three distances are all taken in different directions, you could get a lot less.
Imagine that these lines don’t depict meters. Imagine that they illustrate the efforts of your team. Are you synchronised? Are you all pulling in the same direction? Where are your vectors taking you? Are you going where you want to go, or are you heading off course? How much of that energy is actually propelling you forwards, and how much is being directed sideways, or even backwards?
The irony is that if we were synchronised, Tom and I could have put a lot less effort in and made the boat move a lot quicker.
Are You Doing Too Much?
Simply knowing that ‘less is more’ doesn’t always stop us from doing too much. The challenge is often greatest for people that are extremely diligent and professional. I have found that the best professionals want to do everything possible to be as good as they can be. This tends to be the trap. When they try to do everything possible, they end up doing too much and becoming ineffective. This is exactly the situation that double Olympian, Chris Cook found himself in. After a few years of working very hard, Chris started to show signs that he was becoming a ‘stress head’ (technical term, sorry). It was at that point that we were struck by a realisation. Chris Cook was a 100 meter swimmer, in a 50 meter pool. He had a very simple job; to swim two lengths of a pool as quickly as he could. When we understood his job, in the simplest possible terms, he became incredibly effective.
Of course, it’s not just athletes that fall into this trap. A few years ago I began working with a CEO, who ran a global I.T. business. He was getting frustrated because he continually set goals for himself but found that he wasn’t achieving them completely. Our solution was to help him understand his “Two Lengths of the Pool”; to know his job in the simplest possible terms. We also identified his “5 Keys”. Rather than trying to do 200 things, we identified the top 5… the most important 5… the 5 were the most significant and had the greatest impact on his performance… the 5 that allowed him to deliver his “2 Lengths”. Now he’s focused, has a clear strategy and has become infinitely more effective.
This simple principle applies to athletes and business people, individuals, teams and global organisations.
To find your Two Lengths of the Pool, visit http://twolengths.be-world-class.com/twolengths.html