Sunday, October 25, 2009

Executing as a Team

I have but a few passions in life and at the top of my list is doing just about anything with my son. For that reason, I proudly assume the role of Soccer Coach on a reoccurring basis. Our most recent game was this past Saturday and prior to kick-off we talked about positions, spreading out and passing the ball. I received many head nods and the requisite "thumbs up" telling me they understood. We lined up, we forgot our positions, we ran in a pack and few passed the ball. At halftime, we had a similar chat. Again, each player assured me they understood the plan, but when the whistle was blown their actions were a clear contradiction.

As I continually watch this unfold, I see parallels in my professional life. How many times do we ask subject matter experts to come together (i.e. working group) and develop plans to address specific challenges? Smart people come up with good ideas, put them in PowerPoint slides, get head nods from our seniors, pat each other on the back and then return to our respective duty station. The unfortunate thing is that in the execution phase, we look just like a youth soccer team. We forget/ignore our role, we fail to pass the ball, and we run over each other at times, chasing a ball our teammate is better prepared to kick down the field. The most significant difference between the two examples is the soccer players are between six and eight years old.

It does not take much to connect the dots and understand that a working group that doesn't produce a formal execution document (i.e. record message) that formalizes tasks, assigns roles and identifies specific due dates, is little more than a waste of time. There is no doubt that execution is more difficult than strategy development, but without a single execution document, there is no way for us to confidently synchronize our efforts and follow through on the plans to which we may have informally agreed upon.

After Saturday's soccer game, we went to see a string quartet concert. A single sheet of paper (their execution document) and talented musicians made for some beautiful music. Without their sheet music, the sounds would likely have been little more than noise.


  1. An extremely accurate assessment that I think many of us have seen in action...and two fantastic comparisons.

    Makes me think about my girlfriend's daughter's marching band. About 200 teenagers...those hapless, misguided creatures...performing an intricate ballet of sorts led only by the rythym and two drum majors. They had a plan...sheet music and choreography. They rehersed and executed it so many times, it was second nature after only 6-8 weeks of practice. But we can't get senior enlisted and officers on the same sheet of music to execute their own they have in face prepared for for years...and one that obviously has more important consequences.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Fouled Anchor. Execution is rarely easy, but without a governing document proper execution is is nearly impossible.