I recently took a team sailing – it took them 52 minutes to untie the boat! Why?
I asked them to pick a leader – we hadn’t set down rules of engagement, so nobody was willing to put themselves forward. I was astonished to see all these high-powered individuals scratching their heads, gnashing their teeth and staring at ropes for almost an hour.
Eventually I put them under pressure to force a decision – so I could observe and feedback what happened
Finally driven to action – one man untied all the ropes at once. As the wind swept us quickly towards collision, another man at the wheel went white as he realised the engine wasn’t on. We had no control over the boat.
They screamed and shouted at each other and one woman literally looked like she was going to vomit
They were people who thrive on following the rules, but they didn’t have rules for this – it was a really windy day and they were freaked out by the prevailing conditions.
A metaphor for how control and safety can stifle organisational change
Yet by the end of the day they managed to figure out their own set of rules, for handling a boat in the wind. They managed to sail and refuel the boat despite the conditions and ended up high-fiving each other in delight and satisfaction.
A few weeks later, we met again to see what they had learned: They observed that their problem was that they were used to a very controlled environment -with procedures, regulation and tight governance.
Through their discomfort they realised they literally had no mechanism, as a team, for dealing with something outside their paradigm.
In this case, they noticed the entire leadership team had been promoted from within. There was no-one with any different experience to challenge the status quo.
To avoid paralysis, they decided in future to recruit teams with diverse experience and empower them to re-write the rules when conditions change.
If you’re interested in how I work with teams to help turn their weakness into strengths, get in touch via LinkedIn or subscribe to hear more of what I learn every day, helping people who are all at sea.