Why business can learn from Women’s Hockey

Posted: April 9, 2013 in General thoughts

british-hockey-team-celebrate

I’ve been thinking about Women’s hockey and what business could learn from it. Actually, to be more specific, I’ve been thinking about the Great Britain hockey team that won bronze at last years London Olympics.

For those that do not know the story, four years previously, at Beijing, the team had had a disastrous Olympics, finishing sixth, with many people calling for coach, Danny Kerry, to resign. Mr Kerry himself admitted that he’d used the wrong approach, often retreating to analysing performances on his laptop instead of encouraging and leading the team directly. His approach led to insecurities and anxiousness that destroyed confidence and, ultimately, performance. In the post-games debrief he gave the team an option. They could either stay the same or they could do something different. They chose different and maybe business could learn a thing or two from what happened next.

The Coach stood back and let the team decide what ‘different’ meant. They decided to forsake jobs and live nearby to Bisham Abbey as full time players. They decided when the programme would start and how they wanted to be informed of team-selection decisions. They decided everything. And because they decided, they owned it. They genuinely felt it was their programme and therefore their responsibility. When the Coach started applying rigorous training work he found the team came together and looked after and motivated each other. They became a team: a team that went on to win bronze at the next games. So what can the rest of us learn from this?

Those that know a little about human psychology will understand about intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. For year’s businesses have been applying extrinsic motivators, such as pay or the threat of being sacked, to control the workforce. When more output is needed we apply pressure or offer incentives, such as overtime. Research shows that these ‘tactics’ have limited success. We might do extra work for a bit more money, but we are often doing it for the money, not because we enjoy or feel ownership over the work.

I have been involved in lots of digital design projects where ‘managers’ talk about using ‘social’ tools to help ‘employees’ communicate and collaborate. The danger is, by using these made up words, we are missing opportunities to truly innovate and collaborate our way to create real success, like the GB Hockey team.

‘Social’ is natural; it is a choice. Humans are hard wired to be active and engaged. We are curious and self-directing, not passive and inert. We enjoy autonomy and trying to master things. We like to have a purpose and feel responsible. All ‘Social media’ has provided is more powerful tools to engage in something that we do instinctively. ‘Management’, on the other hand, is made up. It is not natural. It leads to controls (ethics) and tools (carrot and sticks) to try and get humans (employees) to behave in a certain way. Controls lead to compliance and compliance does not lead to engagement or innovation.

In my experience most companies that want to harness digital tools to facilitate ‘engagement’ and ‘collaboration’ in order to foster ‘knowledge sharing’ and ‘thought leadership’, still actually want to apply control over their fellow humans (employees). For example, many restrict access to external social tools. Some want management to check what people are actually doing or they restrict access to some, but not others. It is crazy. These approaches are straight out of the 20th century, where most jobs were algorithmic, requiring people to follow a set pattern and to sign in and sign out. The 21st century demands innovation and creativity, especially in Western countries where a combination of the economic downturn, a hurry to outsource everything to places like Asia; and the rise of technology, has meant we have little choice but to work together and create new ideas and ways of doing things. But where are these ideas going to come from? Management? Yes, the world of work is changing fast and maybe business should take a leaf out of Danny Kerry book and do something different.

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