I was recently invited to give a ten minute pre-lunch speech to a network group on any topic I chose. That certainly gave me plenty of scope – in fact, so much scope that I wasn’t quite sure what to talk about. I mulled over what thoughts or experiences I could usefully share with the group that might add a little value to their lunch. I also considered what was going on in the world at the time, and the nature of the audience. Having decided to discount economic doom and gloom, I plumped on the Olympic Games for an audience of business owners and managers.
One thing I have learned throughout my career, and in life, is that regardless of whether you’re self –employed and working alone, or part of a big multinational team, absolutely nothing is achieved without other people.
The poet, John Donne, put it much better: “No man is an island, entire of itself”. He goes on to say: “…for I am a part of mankind”.
This was not intended to be heavy stuff for lunchtime, just a statement of fact. We work through other people in lots of ways. I asked the audience to “think about some aspect of your work that’s causing you trouble or frustration right now. It’s probably something that you don’t like (or even avoid doing). What is it about the task that doesn’t go smoothly for you?”
This brought me on to my Olympic metaphor. I held up an object and asked the audience to identify it. They quickly recognised it as a relay baton.
If you watched the Olympic relay races, you already know lots about what they’re doing, even if you’ve never run yourself. Our lunch group turned out to be quite expert although there wasn’t an athlete among them. Consider these questions:
- How many people on a relay team? Four.
- What positions do they take up? They have specialists located at the start, running the bends and sprint finish.
- When do they pass? The receiver starts running before the baton holder arrives, and they make the handover within a specific distance.
- How do they pass? They hold the baton in a particular manner so the handover can be smooth and efficient.
- The must stay in their lane at all times.
Relay races are all about team, communication and trust – they’re all about people. In fact, they function in the same way our work processes do. So if collecting money, dealing with problem staff, or making a sale is your challenge, think about the whole process. Are you in reactive mode (always fire-fighting), or have you planned the approach?
Do you deal with clients whose missed deadlines or inaccurate information cause you problems, and then complain if the job goes over budget. We all suffer this in different ways in our own business. What is it that we do to fuel the problem (are we contributing to our own pain, or adding to other people’s)? Do you pass the baton, or toss a grenade?
Back to the task you have difficulties with. What can you do to make it better? Are you giving the right information, in the correct format, to the appropriate person? How is your timing? Most importantly, how do you communicate with the relevant people? Do you run from the bank manager or landlord, send emails or leave voice messages when you know you should really talk face to face? Ask yourself three questions:
- Am I making the situation more difficult for myself (dropping a grenade), or for others (tossing a grenade)?
- How do I benefit by allowing the current situation to continue? (Be honest).
- What impact would better communication have on the result?
If the challenge seems too big and overwhelming to manage, break it down into small steps. What are the first 3 things I will do? (If I don’t know what to do, who do I know that does – maybe step one is to ask for advice). What’s the last thing? How will I know I’ve completed the task?
And finally, if you think the end goal always has to be top of mind, ask a sprinter what he thinks about before the race. Usain Bolt spends more time positioning himself correctly in the blocks than he takes to run 100 meters. He focuses on the appropriate action at the right time.
“Thuas maith is leath na hoibre” – A good start is half the work.