Ducks and mad koalas at the Commonwealth Games

I watched the opening ceremony of the Melbourne Commonwealth Games on television. I’m a local girl and I love Michael Leunig, so I “got” the boy and his duck.

The koalas were confusing. There were several different teams of frantic koalas, all vigorously in action. The koalas were all working really hard in their groups, each team desperately trying to save the hero “their way”.

Urgent, urgent, urgent

Sometimes business is like this – everyone works really hard and there’s something missing. The short term purpose is absolutely clear:

“Save the boy!” becomes “Make payroll!” or “Deliver the order!”

What’s missing can be the overall view of strategy. Who’s best at doing what? What’s the strategy? What’s the end result we’re going for? How can we work together so it’s easy?

What’s the plan?

One of the common gaps in business is effective communication at all levels. A great business is like a winning team. There is a clearly  communicated vision backed up by a specific strategy for the current season.

There is a detailed plan for the current game including well-defined responsibilities for each player. Everyone can see the scoreboard and they know their objectives, strategy and tactics. They have their own personal goals for their skills and career.

What’s your game?

If communication isn’t good in a business then everyone can end up rushing around like “mad koalas” – everyone earnestly working away at their own plan. Sometimes the team may not be sure whether they’re playing soccer, Aussie Rules or rugby. (Some teams aren’t even sure if they’re playing football or hockey.)

What's the plan
What’s the state of play in your business? Are you communicating clearly? Does everyone understand what game they’re playing and what their role is?
In a professional cricket team the bowler bowls because he’s good at bowling – he’s playing to his strength. This is critical in business success too – the right people with the right skills in the right place. And the best bowler in the world won’t win the game by himself. His tactics are set in consultation with the captain based on the reality of the game. It doesn’t matter how well he bowls if the batsmen fail.

What’s your “mad koala” rating?

One of the key challenges of business success is clear communication – that’s what enlists people in playing your game full on. Tension, frustration, conflict and politics break out when the game isn’t clear and the rules aren’t enforced. Everyone is trying really hard and the results aren’t happening.

And when things go wrong the boss steps back in to fix what the troops aren’t succeeding at – fixing the symptom, but not solving the problem.

Where’s your communications gap?

The quality of your communication is shown by the results you are getting. If your workplace is showing signs of “mad koala syndrome” then you may have a communications problem. There’s a gap – it could be long term objectives, it could be medium term strategy, it could be individual roles. It could also be that the rules of the game aren’t understood or enforced.

Imagine

How would it be if your team was pulling together, with everyone understanding the big picture, the plan and their own specific responsibilities?

How would it be if the rules were clear to everybody and mutually enforced by all players?

Invest in a core business expertise – communication

Start with you and build your communication skills. It might be skills that you need, or it might be courage. If you hear yourself say “I don’t have time!” then start building your communication skills NOW! It well could be that you don’t have time because you’re not communicating effectively.  Instead of coaching your business, do you keep jumping the fence to play the heroic, game-saving captain?

(Originally published in Balance3 Update, March 2006)

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About Leigh

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Leigh is the principal of the business innovation practice Balance3 and her clients have included corporations such as Amcor, National Foods, Dair, SPC Ardmona, Kobelco, Corporate Express and New Balance as well as a range of smaller businesses and individual clients.