7th May 2015

Tug of War

Tug of War


When I left university my first job was in the South West of England. In those days, in that part of the world Tug of War was a proper sport. There were teams, leagues and championships. People took it pretty seriously.


Then one day at a local fair the firm I worked for decided to enter a team. We were just a bunch of amateurs and it seemed like a good laugh. One of the supervisors was a man mountain and a very regular participant. He was our expert and our anchor. I can still remember him wrapping the rope around his shoulders and digging his hobnailed boots into the turf to make sure he got the best purchase. He was the only one of us who had any idea and in the first pull we were quickly beaten.


I remember being more conscious of what was happening in the second pull and as we strained to hold the opposing team I looked over my right shoulder to see how the person behind me was doing. When I couldn’t see him I looked over my left shoulder and there he was straining at the rope, but he was almost standing alongside me.


I was aware from the pain in my hip where the rope was cutting  across me that the rope was anything but straight. My colleague was not in line and as a consequence most of his effort and the effort of the three people behind him was being wasted. There were effectively only four people on my team trying to pull the eight on the opposing team. If I were an engineer I could probably work out the wasted effort as a result of our lack of alignment.


It is an experience I have never forgotten and it often makes me wonder how often something similar happens in the workplace. How often are your work colleagues pulling in a different direction, setting different priorities, not quite seeing things as you would want them to see things?


If we are all pulling in exactly the same direction then we multiply the effort of each one of us. If we aren’t perfectly aligned we are diminishing the effort of each other. It is that simple.


Great tug of war teams keep the rope perfectly straight, in all dimensions and when they get a roll on they start marching backwards with an unstoppable rhythm.


If your business was like a tug of war team, how straight would your rope be and are all of your team marching to the same rhythm?