Nerd Guru

Because technical people need good soft skills to get ahead.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Are you letting everyone contribute? The golden trash can story

Just because you are the leader of a group doesn't mean you get to make all the decisions. Among your responsibilities is to make sure everyone gets a chance to contribute, even if they end up being wrong. You don't always have to make decisions by consensus, but if you never listen to anybody you'll eventually have a revolt on your hands (even if it's a friendly one).

I picked on my Mom and her sisters recently in a story about group dynamics, but now it's my Dad's turn.



Dad, Goofy, me, and my Daughter


He was the head track coach at my high school and ran both the boys and girls teams together. Dad had a staff or coaches that had expertise in various classes of events. One of them was in charge of all the sprinters (races under 400m), another for the distance runners (races above 400m), one for the hurdle races, and Dad handled all the field events (high jump, shot put, etc.). This group would meet every week after practice to strategies what kids would compete in what events for the upcoming contest. There was a rule that no competitor could participate in more than four events in any particular track meet and given how different skills were progressing, the order of events, and the strengths and weaknesses of the other team, a plan would be formulated each week to plot out how to maximize the amount of points the team could score to win that week's track meet.

I'd sit around in the coaches offices doing homework while these meetings went on and even I noticed that they began to fall into a predictable pattern. Dad would suggest something to the group, ask for alternatives, and then shoot them all down before writing down his suggestion. That was the plan, his plan. This would happen over and over again in each of these weekly meetings.

At the end of the year banquet, his staff jokingly gave him a trash can painted gold and suggested he put it over his head so that when he spoke, he'd hear the echo and think it was someone agreeing with him. That way, he could hold meetings with himself without wasting the time of others he was going to ignore anyway. It was a less than subtle hint that he used to improve his processes, and by extension his relationships, in subsequent years.

When you are the leader of the group, if you make all the decisions without considering input from others, you may end up finding there is no longer a group to lead. You might be left with nothing a golden trash can to echo your thoughts off of.

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posted by Pete Johnson @ 8:09 AM   0 comments links to this post

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