I played in a soccer league today for the first time in a LONG time, with a couple coworkers and their friends. We played against a very organized team that managed to communicate themselves to a nail-biting 4-3 win.
The talent on our team was good. Given that it was our first game together and that we had not had any practice sessions under our belts, we were still able to come together and play our roles and reduce their chances. Big win in my book!
Nevertheless, it's important to always be learning. Here are some things that I learned today:
- Communication is more than just talk
To play soccer (or football, as everyone else in the world, including me, calls it), you have to be able to communicate and to do so efficiently. As a player, you have to use your vantage point to warn, direct and support your teammates to maximize success. You must be able to share complex notions of where you want the ball, who is coming in from whose blind spot, and what options your teammates have for playing forward and creating chances– all in split second intervals. What does that mean?
It means, there must be a shared shorthand of terms: If a person does not understand what you are saying, they cannot effectively do the job that is requested. It means that everyone has to be listening and everyone has to speak: All voices submit a unique vantage point that can help drive success.
- A group of people, does not a team make
We were a hodgepodge of individuals of different skill levels called together, to play with the same color jersey. No one really knew anyone else's skill or ability enough to exploit it to the team's benefit. No one knew who could turn a ball under pressure or who could make a goal on the fly so in the fray, many chances were missed.
Faced with an organized opponent, our efforts were akin to flailing in a fight against someone who made timed deliberate attacks: sometimes you get a hit in, but it would take multiple opponent mistakes in order to win. We played well, but flailing is not a winning strategy.
We will need more games and practice to get our calibrations right. We need to figure out the strengths and communication methods of teammates in a non mission critical environment to improve team performance in times when it really matters.
Direction is mission critical
Democracy is great, but ineffective without a rubric for accountability. The buck must stop somewhere. There must be a system that helps make tough decisions, that collates suggestions, that keeps tracks of rules and variables and sets priorities. There must be a structure for taking responsibility for bad decisions and for fixing minor issues before they become full grown problems. There must be a method for taking the macro-view of activity to spot patterns and ways to capitalize on weaknesses.
The absence of such a system, structure and method, leads to a lot of people running around, tiring themselves, making smalls wins but being overall ineffective and losing the game.
It is important to be aware and speak up. It is important to take notes, provide feedback, and be available. Rudderless ships crash (and given enough fuel, burn). That is never a fun trip.
After running around today, aside from learning that you can never stretch enough and fitness is a marathon not a sprint (another story), I learnt that in order to be effective as a team, we need to find our language, know our people and have defined direction.
Communication, collaboration and direction are required ingredients to success. That's a rule on and off the field. It takes time to build that framework and trust to strengthen it. As the season unfolds we'll see how we do and what comes next.
Till then, I need ice. Lots and lots of ice!