Something remarkable happened during the
course of a recent workshop. It was a
"CorporateTheatre" - 'Leadership through 'natural' Teams' workshop
for the senior leadership team of a high profile micro finance company. We were doing an exercise which involves
intense competition between teams at increasing levels of challenge, constant
change requiring instant realignment of roles, stringent discipline and
penalties for breach of rules, ratings, and great uncertainty. The exercise involved several rounds at
increasing levels of difficulty and scoring potential, each of which had to be
led by a designated leader. The rules
dictated that the designated leader could not be repeated, which meant that the
team had to choose a different leader for each round. The performance of the team and their score
for each round depended to a great extent on the performance of the leader.
One particular team which had been doing
very well, topping the ranking till then, selected a good performer for their
critical final round. The other
competing teams also sent up their best performers for this very challenging
round, and scored well. Finally when the
turn of this particular team came up, though the leader did a good job, the
team could not understand what they needed to do and ended up scoring no points
at all. This dropped them to the last
position in the rankings. The
disappointment was obvious on their faces and the team looked crestfallen.
At this point, I announced a 'killer' round
at a very high score which could change all the rankings thus far, and asked
the teams to select their leader for this final high stake round. They were given the option of sending up
anyone they wanted, including those who had come as leaders earlier. To my surprise and delight, this particular
team chose the same person who had come up in the earlier round where they had
failed and plummeted to the bottom of the table!
I asked them,
"Why have you selected this person as
your leader for the 'killer' round, when you scored nothing under his
The answer was,
"We failed in the last round not
because he did not perform, but because we did not understand."
They went on to perform brilliantly and
Can you imagine the power of this attitude
at the workplace? - The willingness to
accept responsibility for failure! The
ability to recognize and value competence and commitment and not just results!
The strength to deal with failure and disappointment, think clearly and
objectively, and move on to super performance and success!
We did not change people. We did not teach them to accept
responsibility for failure. We did not
tell them to become more accountable. We
did not ask them to drop their egos. All
we did was to create an environment where they could experience the basic
instinct of 'natural' teams to commit to a collective success, while at the
same time, being able to recognize the value of ‘star’ performance.
As described several times in various other
posts in this blog, the 'human animal' is genetically programmed to hunt,
survive, and WIN in packs. The challenge
of leadership is not to lead teams.
Instead, it is to define destinations, the parameters of successfully
reaching there, the collective rewards involved in reaching, as well as the
rewards for star contributors to the success of the journey, and then empower
the team to lead along the way, according to who knows that part of the journey
best, irrespective of designation or hierarchy. The 3 Pillars that create this
'natural' team environment are also defined several times in the blog.
In other exercises that are part of the
workshop, the team also experiences the need for a leader to take charge, even
autocratically when needed, when the situation calls for it.
What never ceases to amaze me, after having
worked with thousands of teams across a wide variety of Organizations and
cultures, is that at the core, the instinctive behaviour of people is almost
exactly the same. For change and
transformation to happen, we need to work at the core and the periphery will
take care of itself. Once the core has
been addressed, all that we seek in terms of integration, communication,
collaboration, creativity and innovation, time management, resource management,
situational leadership, adapting to pressure without stress, all these become
available as instinctive behaviour, as attitude, and not as technique.
This may sound idealistic to those who have
not experienced it, but more than 37,000 participants as well as serious
research have validated the power and the possibilities of transforming the
environment instead of trying to transform people!