• 5th June 2007 - By proteman

    A fellow blogger, Bud Bilanich, has been writing a series of posts comparing the game of rugby to the game of business. One of the “leadership lessons” Bud says he learned from playing rugby was that you must “Kill the Ball”.

    Like Bud, I was a rugby player (albeit for a very brief time in college, in an all-woman league). A rugby ball, for those who don’t know, is like a big football. It’s harder to handle than an American football, I think, because of its larger size. And like an American football, it bounces funny, making it difficult to pick up when it’s loose on the ground.

    Here’s what Bud says in his post

    “Coaches always tell their players to “kill the ball” when it is bouncing around the open field. You kill the ball by falling on it, gathering it to yourself, and then standing up with it…When you kill the ball you benefit your side because you secure it and allow your teammates to align themselves to begin an offensive possession. Possession and field position are very important in rugby.”

    Think of the bouncing rugby ball as a work crisis. Haven’t we all seen this situation? The ball is loose and everyone on the team is desperately trying to get it under control. So people start kicking the ball (flyhacking as ruggers call it), trying to pick it up and run with it…but in the frenzy no one is “killing the ball” (actually stopping the crisis and regrouping). It can become a comedy of errors.

    A few years ago I witnessed a perfect example of what can happen when no one takes the initiative to “kill the ball” in a business crisis. (Follow the bouncing ball and see how a small problem spirals out of control.)

    • It’s a busy work day (lots of deadlines, etc.). Out of the blue, the department’s email goes on the fritz. No one in the department can access their email.

    • Panic ensues.

    • Bob calls the IT department. They’re busy working on other urgent problems and say, “We’ll get to you as soon as we can.”

    • Bob gripes to Amelia for 25 minutes about how unresponsive the IT department is. They recount all of the problems they’ve had with IT over the past several months.

    • Mary runs around the building trying to track down computers in other departments that the team can use until email is fixed.

    • Because she’s in a panic, Mary’s got a short temper. She gets into an argument with Jake in accounting because he won’t let someone use his workstation during lunch. She spends 20 minutes arguing with him.

    • While Mary is out looking for computers and arguing with Jake, three customers have called. They had to leave voice mails because there was no one at Mary’s desk to get the phone. (One of the clients had an urgent problem and was threatening to cancel an order.)

    • Meanwhile Tania decides to try to fix the problem herself by playing with the computers. She gets into the operating system and begins fooling with computer settings. She accidentally locks herself out of her computer and can’t get back in.

    • Marty decides to let his customers know that he’s not going to be able to meet their deadline because the computers are out. He goes home, because he can’t get anything done at the office.

    • The IT technician arrives one hour later. He quickly discovers that earlier in the day, while everyone was running around trying to meet their deadlines, someone accidentally tripped on a cord and unplugged the department’s email server. When he plugs it back in, email is up and running. Simple problem, quick fix.

    Why didn’t anyone think to check the plug? As Bud might say, no one killed the ball.

    No one stood up and yelled “STOP THE INSANITY” (as Susan Powter used to say) to regain control. That quick time out might have given the team time to think, “What are the possible causes of our email going down?” and “What are some simple things we can do?”

    So what can we learn from this?

    In our office, we created what we called a “two-minute rule”, with the help of a consultant, Amy Siu, President of Simply Organized Solutions. When we hit a business crisis, we took a two-minute time-out to regroup. It was our time to take a deep breath, calm down and strategize. Anyone was allowed to call time out when they started to see insanity ensuing in a crisis.

    I can’t even count the number of times we called time out…and how many mistakes we prevented. Try it.

    © 2007. Phyllis Roteman, The Loyalty Group. All Rights Reserved.

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