Who’s Got the Ball? If You Don’t Know . . . It’s You!

by: Chris Barrett (VP Engineering)

Sure, luck means a lot in football. Not having a good quarterback is bad luck.”Don Shula

If you’re managing projects, you are the quarterback.  So when something new comes along that you don’t have an established system for – you have the ball.  It is your job to call a play (develop a plan) and pass the ball to someone to execute or else prepare to run the play yourself.

Often in smaller organizations, you may find yourself running the play fairly regularly, but as organizations grow and projects become more complex, you have to be passing more often.  At the very least key tasks within the plan must be handed over to other team members.  There’s just too much going on for one person, no matter how talented, to handle it all.

Making the transition from player to “quarterback” isn’t easy.  Here are some of the rules of play:

  • Not only do you have to start “passing the ball” (but not the buck!) you have to make sure that team members recognize when they have the ball.  It may not be obvious to them, so it’s worth stating explicitly.
  • Similarly, the other people in the organization also need to know who has the ball and what is expected from them to support the ball carrier.
  • And don’t forget the huddle!  The entire team needs to know what play (plan) has been called.  But as your team matures, be prepared to empower them to make “in play” decisions and exercise discretion.

Once people get used to carrying the ball you may be pleasantly surprised with their abilities.  The team members who step up to take ownership for success are your potential leaders of the future.  With a culture of players owning and driving issues across the goal line, you will all be amazed at how productive the team becomes.

Creating a high-performance team doesn’t happen overnight.  If your team doesn’t really know what to do with the ball, you need to coach them and consider a little recruiting. In the long run, training players so they can execute themselves will result in a scalable process that gets the fans cheering.

Otherwise you will always have the ball yourself – and quarterbacks like that often get sacked . . .

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