From my heart and from my hand and
Why don’t people understand my intentions?
Magic and technology
Voodoo dolls and chants
It’s been several months since my last post, and I come back with some random lyrics from 80’s New Wave band Oingo Boingo. In case you don’t recognize the song, it is Weird Science, a song that supposedly the members of the band did not care much for and rarely performed live. The song was also the title song for the soundtrack of a John Hughes movie with the same name – and yes I had a celebrity crush on Kelly LeBrock back in the day.
Today the lyrics serve as an “answer” to something that has perplexed many a person over the years: what makes a team (or organization) perform at a high level?
I know there have been many books, columns, and Phd. Dissertations written on the subject. There are all sorts of ideas on how to formulate a high performance team that gives you synergy, i.e. the interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements or contributions. I don’t think anyone is 100% sure how to achieve synergy in organizations, so I am just to chalk it up to a little bit of “weird science.”
I started thinking about this about 3 months ago when my daughter tried out for the junior high volleyball team. She ended up on the mid-level squad with other girls that were deemed to be average players, but not one of the best 10 that made the top squad. During early season practices the top-level and mid-level teams scrimmaged, and the mid-level team typically won set after set against the team with the more skilled players. My daughter’s team then went out and won the first game of the season, and then won the next one, and the next one, until we looked up and that group of average players had done something that no volleyball at that school had ever done – they had a perfect season. 11 matches, 11 victories. Not bad for a group of girls that individually were not assessed as being the best players. I guess you could called it an example of synergy, but I just called it fun.
Throughout the volleyball season, I kept thinking about what made that team successful. Perhaps it was that during tryouts the coaches evaluating the players were wrong on all 10 players. Or maybe it was the sheer coaching talent of volunteer parent coaches of the mid-level team. Or maybe it was just some “weird science” that somehow took a group of average players and turned them into a great team. I did make some observations during the season that just might be factors in the team’s success:
1) They did not get overly stressed about the games. During pre-game warm-ups or time-outs you would see them dancing around sometimes even when no music was playing. They looked like they actually enjoyed being together on the court.
2) They did not get mad or angry when a teammate had a poor serve, shanked a return or watched a ball drop in front of them. They simply chanted “shake it, shake it off” and went on to the next point.
3) In matches where the team dropped a set, the team always came back the next set with a higher level of energy. They did not let losing the first set, make them lose the next one.
4) And before, during, and after each match; they prayed.
I am sure there were many other factors that went into this group having a great season. Whatever all those things were, they had to come together in just the right levels to achieve the desired end result. The interesting thing is that there was not a recipe that listed the exact amount of each thing and the order in which to add them and mix them together. While there was some deliberate things done in order to position that team to excel, there was also a little bit of magic involved in having a perfect season.
Many years ago in the business school, I remember taking Marketing 101 where they taught the 4 P’s: Product, Price, Place and Promotion. The professors made it sound so simple: all you needed was the right mix of those four things and you could have a highly successful business. 20 plus years later and I can tell you that it is not that simple. Through the years, I have figured out that there may be just a few more factors involved in a successful business and that knowing exactly how to blend all those ingredients is far from easy. I have also learned that while many people have written business cookbooks, there is no magic recipe that you can just follow and find success. Yes there are some tried of true things you can do to position a business to succeed, but just like in volleyball, you gotta have a little “weird science” to bring it all together – but maybe without the voodoo dolls and chants.