Over the summer, I was talking to a client who was feeling exhausted. Robert (not his real name) excels at his job and is a team leader. He has been working on a long-term project which still has another nine months to go.
‘I’m running out of steam,’ he said. ‘I really believe in the product but I just can’t keep up this pace. I’ve got a great team but I don’t feel I can delegate: they’re all so busy.’
‘If they weren’t so busy, what would you ask them to do?’ I asked.
‘Well, I’d ask them if we could rotate leading the group.’
‘What are the potential benefits of that?’
‘I think the project would be improved as they each brought a focus based on their own skills and interests to it. It could help with collaboration as they each see that their voice matters. It would give them a chance to try out their leadership in a supportive environment. It would give me a break and a chance to contribute from within instead of out at the front.’
When Robert said ‘instead of out at the front’, I was reminded of geese in flight.
As shown in this great photo taken by Lara Watson, geese fly in a V formation. Scientific studies show that this really does save energy for those geese flying behind the leader – just as it does for cyclists drafting in the peloton. From time to time, the lead goose falls back in order to regain its energy and another goose will take its place. Flying in the V formation allows the geese to stay in visual contact with one another – literally looking out for one another. It’s suggested that the geese also honk at each other as a means of staying in contact but also to encourage one another.
Robert and I talked about geese in flight and whether a similar approach could help. He decided to take the idea very literally and created a V formation of his team using sticky notes on the wall of our meeting room. We discussed how he would rotate the team members to the lead position and would ask them to take particular care to encourage the ‘goose’ in front of them and behind them. He went back to his team to present his idea.
It’s been a few weeks now and Robert has moved to the back of the formation and a colleague has taken up the lead position. Robert reports that it’s working well and that the team has improved its efficiency without any extra effort. The team is intentionally taking time to offer constructive criticism and encouragement to each other and relationships have improved. Sounds good to me!
Today’s pebble for you to ponder: can you learn a lesson from the geese?
Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.
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