By Janet Ramey
Anyone who’s ever watched young children play soccer (or for those outside the US, football) has seen it happen. First the team swarms the ball, little legs kicking in all directions. One player might break away, the rest follow. Coaches try to put the team back into position: the goalie, midfielders, forwards – but as soon as the ball starts moving, the chaos begins again. Some children get frustrated and start to yell; others become overwhelmed and sit down on the field; and a fair few continue to relentlessly chase the scrum to surround the ball.
If only such confusion was strictly limited to the pee-wee soccer pitch. Too many times, GBS teams find themselves failing to communicate, missing key passes and plays, clustering around the ball, all while leaving their true goal exposed.
“In football, the worst blindness is only seeing the ball.”Nelson Falcão Rodrigues
What are the signs?
When roles are unclear, collisions, overlaps, and gaps often follow. Here’s a few clues to you might see:
Offsides. Is the team making hands offs and connecting process steps accurately and intentionally? If not, look for the cause of offside mistakes. In the short run, these missteps may not cost your team points, but they make you look like you’re not ready to play in the big leagues.
No quality shots on goal. Is the team missing deadlines? Not quite hitting KPIs? Failing to delight stakeholders and users? Look deeper to discern why your team’s shots aren’t landing as intended.
Double-teaming. When stakeholders are getting covered by multiple players on your team, you’ve got a problem. Just as in soccer, putting two players on the same target sacrifices the integrity and efficiency of your team by doubling the effort and risking mixed messages.
Failing to mark the stakeholder. Leaving key stakeholders uncovered (or under-covered) opens the team to risk. By losing track of where your stakeholder is playing, you may miss the opportunity to score.
Flopping and fouling. Finger-pointing is a never a good sign. Whenever the focus shifts from solving problems to assigning blame, it’s time to step back, focus on shared goals and reset understanding of who does what.
How does this happen?
At any point in the lifecycle, teams can lose focus on who does what, to whom, when and why.
“When people succeed, it is because of hard work. Luck has nothing to do with success.”Diego Maradona
In startup GBS organizations, leaders and teams may feed on the urgency and excitement of building something new. That rush can lead teams to race forward, assuming both team members and stakeholders have a consistent and shared understanding. Counter intuitively, now’s the time to go slow to go fast. Clarifying roles sets the team up for success by avoiding missteps and allowing for speed in coordinated execution.
When new members join a successful and stable team, it can be tempting to think they will gladly step into well-established patterns and learn through osmosis. Rather, they look for opportunities to display their capabilities, often drawing outside the lines of the existing role. Better to take new members joining as an opportunity to learn which differentiated skills and experiences they bring and evolve and lift the team to take advantage of those capabilities.
As the team matures and evolves its offerings and services, the roles that once worked may no longer be fit for purpose. Job roles can change, some suddenly and significantly, as process and technology improvements both automate and augment the work. Failing to plan for the shift in skills, capabilities and roles at an organizational level leaves the team exposed and unprepared to deliver value.
How to fix it
Once you recognize the problem, take action. Leaders make things worse when they delay or blame their teams for “not getting it” i.e., not reading their minds. Instead, try these tactics from “the beautiful game”:
Keeper’s in charge: When the stakes are high and the ball is in play near the goal, the keeper’s job is to communicate who covers whom. In the business world, this role belongs to the leader.
Call a time out. Take the team off the field and get focused. Where are the points of overlap or gap? Where are we misaligned? What needs to be clarified?
Mark up. The responsibility assignment matrix (RACI) is a tool to help get the team aligned. Done correctly, RACI can facilitate decisions on what needs to get done and who owns what.
Consider “subbing.” Depending on the situation, substituting players or changing positions in the team can be the right move to change dynamics and strengthen the team. But make sure that the subs are suited up.“Substitution is a true test of strength. The real performance of a player is seen not only during playing time but also and more especially when the player is substituted.”
Do a drop-ball to restart the game. Reset play and keep the business moving.
GBS leaders, it’s up to you to give your team the structure and the playbook to be successful. With persistence and focus, global business services can – like soccer or football – truly be a beautiful game.