Three strikes

Those familiar with the game of baseball will know the ‘three strikes and you’re out’ rule. When in the battle between pitcher and batter, three attempted strikes, or three balls that are not taken but are deemed strikable, are thrown the batter is ‘out’. Nil points. The three strikes rule has famously been used by President Clinton to introduce life sentencing for third time offenders in the USA. In fact the three strikes rule is widely understood to mean that if you have been unable to hit the mark, after three attempts you should not be given any more chances. How do we apply this to the teams that we are in? A team effort does after all depend on people delivering on the responsibility they were given, so that others can build on their contribution. If one repeatedly (three seems a good number) fails to do so, sanctions should be the consequence. This works in teams only if there is good feedback when the first ‘strike’ is called. In baseball a loud : “Strike ONE” from the umpire will leave nobody, especially not the batter, under any illusion what happened. Make sure this is true in your team as well. It is also clear in baseball what the ground rules are before the batter steps up to the plate. “If I miss three strikes, I am out”. Again, there is no ambiguity. Make sure in your teams that the rules are clear before you can begin to keep score. Finally; strike-outs happen. They are part of the game and they are part of teamwork. There is always another innings and another game. In baseball some of the biggest homerun hitters also get the most strike-outs. If the team wants to celebrate the big performances it will have to accept the strike-outs too. Team work, like baseball, is about individual performance and accountability. ‘Three strikes’ is a great concept to introduce into your business.

Aiming too low

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” One of the key factors why teamwork is so disappointing for many members of a team, is that the goal set for the team is too low. When the goal is set, often the lowest common denominator is used, or the concept of the weakest link. Both these don’t count for much in true teamwork. In teams that work to genuine team principles members stimulate, encourage and carry each other to achieve greater heights than they could ever do if they looked at what every member could achieve alone. Teams are only true teams if the individual members complement each other, if they have complementary skills. In other words, if the combination of their skills is greater than the sum of the individual skills. To see this in action, you only have to look at sports. In Formula 1 racing for instance there is only one driver, but he is usually not the best technician and doesn’t change his own tires. Or take American Football, where there is an offense and a defense, which alternate as the play develops (and there is team of coaches too). To Excel And Maximise (T E A M) means that you can,  and should, set the goal way higher than you would ever do if you looked at the individual capabilities of any one team member (even the best ones). Just imagine how good a Formula 1 driver would be on his own! With a clear goal, set ambitiously high, and a good team spirit, the team members will carry each other, push each other and ultimately achieve far more than you thought they were capable of. ‘Aiming too low’ means that the multiplying dynamics of teamwork remain untapped, that the potential of the team, the magic of co-operation, is wasted. Team members will instead coast and because they are not challenged they will underperform, often even missing even the low target. To combat this, involve the team in setting the goal, in aiming high. Let the team members motivate each other, evaluate what they are capable of. Do the math, justify the goal and then set your team free to achieve amazing heights.


I love this picture because everyone’s washing up brush will look like this after a while. (scary enough, so will many toothbrushes…) It made me think about pressure in a team context. A washing-up brush works, like any other brush, at the tip of the bristles. Too much pressure and you will not use the tip, the effective part of the brush, but the middle of the bristle. The result is that you have to scrub harder and harder to have any effect at all. Before you know it the brush is worn out. In many teams pressure is used to get things done. Individuals or whole teams are put under pressure to achieve a result. This is good. Pressure makes things happen faster than they would happen without the pressure. When applying pressure, though, we have to be careful about the level of pressure. Whatever we are trying to achieve, pressure works when we use the tip of the bristle. Pushing harder and harder just because a little pressure works, is counterproductive. The added benefit of not applying too much is that the brush will last a lot longer too. If you really need to apply more pressure (and you probably don’t), then try a different tool. Just like washing-up, the brush doesn’t tackle everything. Sometimes you need a scourer: different tool, different pressure. If you were planning to apply some pressure today, consider the washing-up…

Communicate, communicate, communicate


A recent HBR article outlined the science of teamwork, which we summarised as ‘communicate, communicate, communicate’.  I also discussed this topic with a recent podcast guest Anneleen Kaptein and again the summary would be the same; communicate, communicate, communicate. Many of the issues that arise when people are trying to achieve something together come from a lack of communication. It is worthwhile reminding ourselves that it is our responsibility to communicate! 1. Communicate at the start of a team task. Establish clarity on the goal  and what is expected of every team member Agree the ground rules for working together Set the milestones and checkpoints 2. Communicate during the task Praise Give feedback Be critical (repeat) 3. Communicate at the end of a task Make sure everyone knows the task (and the teamwork) is complete Evaluate, even if everything went the way you wanted it to Celebrate, even if not everything went the way you expected It is never too late to start communicating and it doesn’t matter what your role is in the team. Everyone has the responsibility to communicate, communicate,…

Impossible? – Get P!NK

The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall. ~Nelson Mandela Normally when I am in the car I listen to podcasts and audiobooks, but recently I was running around town with my daughter in the car. The radio was on. We heard two songs (and what must have been a dozen adverts!), and they could not have further apart. The first song made me depressed : James Arthur’s rendition of ‘Impossible’. The title alone should have made me cringe but the song was enough to make me want to drive the car into the first big tree we saw! Impossible Fortunately the next song played was P!NK’s ‘Try’. The contrast could not have been greater and the irony was completely lost on the presenter.  Try Impossible? I just can’t get my head around it. Why be so negative? The topic of P!NK’s song is no more exciting; both songs are about finding and losing love, and even the tone in both is quite minor. But the title (try) and message in the song is so much more positive. Got to get up and try try try. This theme of trying, of getting up every time we fall, is often quoted as one of life’s greatest achievements and a mark of a life lived to the fullest. I certainly have tried, fallen and tried again many times so far and will no doubt do so many times more. This wisdom is as old as philosophy and has most recently been attributed to Nelson Mandela. In a perfect antidote to seemingly impossible obstacles Mr Mandela kept his composure and tried, tried, tried. Rising every time he fell. It pays us well to remember one of his other great quotes: “It always seems impossible until it’s done” Whether you are rallying a people, a nation, yourself or your team: you’ve got to get up and try try try….