Project phase, organisation size and specialisation

A friend shared this great analogy* for how teams work at different project phases.

Early phase: Golfing Buddies (2-3 players)

In the early phase of a project you and a partner or two (if you have any!) do all the work. You do a lot of your work together with quite a lot of crossover, share tools, might carry each other’s golf bags. There’s camaraderie, little need for planning or job descriptions, and most things you face can be worked out informally as you go. You need to do the work of compensating for your weaknesses yourself.

Intermediate (small) phase: Basketball team (5+ players)

There are more players and each has a position and you start to benefit from specialisation but you interact a lot and in many ways are still basically interchangeable. Plans and strategy matter, but tactics are king. You’re fast and responsive.

Intermediate (large) phase: Rugby team** (15+ players)

The team is getting bigger. Everyone still plays together but there is definite specialisation and team members stop being able to cover each other’s positions. Communication and chains of command become increasingly important and plans become harder to change. Danger of silos and factions.

Mature (large) phase: American Football Team (40+ players***)

There is very deep specialisation and there are clear teams-within-the-team – whole sets of players can play in the same game but never play together. Planned plays and frequent stops for communication are the norm. Management and support structure becomes increasingly important – and expensive. Danger of suffocating bureaucracy.

*Results from Google (like this post on LeadStrategic) suggests that this analogy comes from Larry Osborne‘s Sticky Teams – Osborne also has ‘Track Star’ as a category for solo performers.

**My addition.

***I’ve been a bit fast and loose with the numbers on teams: basketball and rugby teams will have substitutes that take the number of players higher, and American football teams only field 11 players at a time, but have separate offensive, defensive and special teams that all play during different phases of the game.

A little bit extra

A few percent over or under makes a big difference in the long run.

  • A little bit less on your plate each meal – three times a day
  • The biscuit you don’t eat – twice a day, every day
  • The run you don’t skip even though you’re taking your kids to the park later and will get some exercise then anyway
  • The little bit of unassigned time that helps you catch up on emails and makes you feel in control of your inbox, rather than at its mercy
  • The tiny moment it takes to say hello to people properly and read the mood when you enter a room
  • The one-line email saying thanks that makes an exchange feel complete
  • The tip you gladly give when you’re not sure you should because it’s a better mistake to make
  • Allowing five minutes to put on your shoes

What are your little bit extras – to add and to avoid?

Friction (2): emotional friction

This is a different kind of friction: the uncertainty, delay and discomfort that comes from lack of trust or understanding. Like bureaucratic or procedural friction, emotional friction slows us down and makes things more difficult than they need to be. It takes many guises:

  • The extra time we spend second-guessing and explaining ourselves because we’re worried someone will take what we’re saying the wrong way;
  • The time we spend crafting a treading-on-eggshells email to a customer or colleague or skirting around an issue;
  • The things that really need to be said that we avoid saying completely because we’re desperate not to offend, or can’t stand upsetting others (the relationship is too fragile to take it);
  • The energy we waste worrying about how we sounded or looked, or what people thought of us (whether or not anyone cared);
  • The work we lose (in terms of time and quality) to distraction frustration, disappointment, heartache, and hurt when trust breaks down;
  • The opportunities lost because we (or they) couldn’t listen or properly consider an idea because of the (noisy) emotional elephants in the room;
  • The energy loss that comes with dreading the next conversation / message / arrival at the office;
  • The knock-on damage to our health and other relationships (we’re snappy, distracted, less generous) that emotional stresses cause;
  • The small problems that grow way out of proportion to their importance because un- or mishandled as a result of emotional avoidance;
  • The decisions that get left unmade because they touch on painful issues.

Emotional friction has causes on both sides of any relationship (in intentions, words and actions, and how they’re perceived), and it usually needs teamwork to solve and avoid it.

So what, Sharky?

  1. Recognising emotional friction – in yourself and others – is the first step in being able to address and minimise it.
  2. Once you’re aware of the negative impact of emotional friction, you’ll learn to see it coming – to spot energy drainers, time-wasters, unpleasant customers as they enter your life – and politely say ‘no thanks’ at the door, because they’re not worth it.
  3. You’ll also better understand the value of enthusiasm, a positive attitude and healthy sensitivity to others (as opposed to technical skills) when you’re hiring or building partnerships.
  4. When emotional friction is bringing you to a standstill, recognising the emotional component (yours and theirs) can help you separate the problem from your feelings about the problem, taking out some of the heat making it easier to see a way forward. Talking about how your’re feeling can help.
  5. Understanding how vulnerable we are to emotional friction forces us to talk about it in our team, and be explicit about the culture we hope to build, and how we hope to get there – and to acknowledge that this takes a long time.
  6. Seeing the waste that emotional friction causes pushes us to be more direct in our communication, speaking frankly and cutting problems off early rather than living with the ongoing friction for months or years.
  7. Understanding the importance of how people (you!) feel eliminates any last excuses for sloppiness or rushed-thoughtlessness in the name of ‘busy-ness’ or ‘being professional’ and motivates you to invest in slack.

How to set salaries

Some ways of thinking about setting salaries:

Market Rate

You pay the lowest price that the market will bear. The bigger the market (the more appropriate candidates that you can reach), the lower the price is likely to be. This is commodity pricing: an average sort of price to attract average (or cheapest possible) candidates.

Market-plus

You pay the market rate plus a bit, fishing for better-than-average candidates or at least that your recruits will work better for you as a result of higher pay.

Market-minus

Sounds silly, but it’s quite common in the world of non-profits. You pay a little below market rate to filter out people who are in it for the money, as opposed to those who value the work itself, share your vision, are committed to the cause.

A living wage

You come at the pricing question the other way round – not “What’s this job worth?” or “What’s the lowest wage I can get away with paying for this work?” but “How do I think members of my team should be able to live?” This could end up being below market, in which case you end up with another values-filter, or above market, in which case you risk looking wasteful or attracting people who want to work for you for the wrong reasons.

I like the idea of starting from a living-wage – and if it looks too generous:
a) It’s a better mistake to make than being stingy
b) You’ve got the interesting problem of helping your recruits to be worth it.

Finishing lines (2)

Recognising the possibility – or rather, the inevitability – of the death of your project will focus your mind:

  • Given that we can’t do anything in the time available, what’s most important?
  • Will people miss us when we’re gone?
  • Will your project’s main legacy be something physical you’ll leave behind, or an idea or value, or a change in people?
  • Given that the cause that motivates your project will probably remain, what can you do to seed new projects and make it possible for new people to pick up the ball?
  • How can you avoid a painful decline and death-spiral – that is to say, how will you make sure the project dies well?

Leg ups

It’s easy to recruit people or find partners if you lower your standards, but you almost certainly shouldn’t – apart from anything else, when will you stop?

A more useful approach is asking what you can do to help people get to the starting line. You might:

  • Get better at finding to the right people at the right time;
  • Be clearer about what attitudes and skills people need to bring with them if they want to work with you – and how they can demonstrate that they have them, and how they might gain them if they don’t;
  • Be clearer about the value that you offer to people working for you or with you – communicate it well, and make sure you keep your promises;
  • Think carefully about how you could be more accessible and flexible – and where you can’t or won’t be;
  • Learn to train and manage people twice as well as you do now – and think about how you might train people outside your organisation – what could you make and share?

Who do you most want to give a leg up?

Starting line

Where’s the starting line for your project?

How good does someone need to be to…

  • Work for you?
  • Work with you?
  • For you to work for them?

What type of ‘good’ are you looking for?

It’s highly likely that the best contractor / employee / partner / donor / customer isn’t simply the cheapest / most available / one with the most money.

In most cases, a person’s qualifications will tell you little or nothing about what they actually have to contribute, or what they might drain from you and your team.

Seth Godin on leadership, responsibility, authority

Leadership isn’t something that people hand to you. You don’t do followership for years and then someone anoints you and says, “here.” In fact, it’s a gradual process, one where you take responsibility years before you are given authority.

Seth GodinStop Stealing Dreams (81)

The hard thing about soft skills

The hard thing about the ‘soft’ skills of courtesy and consideration is that they’re only partly skills. They’re far more about our attitude: how much we value other people and their purposes and feelings, and the interest and care that we show them as we go about our business.

Consistently showing up for people – seeing, hearing and serving them – is far harder than going about our business focused only on our business. And there is a cost: it takes time and energy and attention to engage with and serve others when your ‘real’ job is doing something else. But it’s worth the time and energy, because this is the right way to be – whether we’re dealing with customers or the CEO or the person who cleans your office.

This means that ‘soft’ skills require us to be better at what we do, so that we have the time and energy to spare when we need them – you need something to be generous with. And if this is important to us, we need to do more than show up in the moment: we need to choose to manage our work and commitments so that an attitude of generous service is built into everything we do.

This is much harder than just doing your job.

Much harder, and much better – now and in the long run.