Set Teammates Up for Success on the Field and in the Office
Aaron DeNu, consultant, community leader, and former player
Smart passing with your teammates is key to success on the soccer pitch. Effective leaders understand that this concept—setting team members up for success—also applies to the corporate world.
As you advance towards goal, you’re constantly assessing your teammate’s position and how to optimally deliver the ball: A give-and-go? Maybe a through ball? Or a square pass? Depending on the situation and the context, there are ideal strategies for possessing the ball in soccer. However, a careless, under-delivered pass to a teammate who has a defender lurking immediately behind them results in a “hospital ball” in soccer – so called because that’s where your teammate might end up in because you’ve subjected them to a bad tackle with a short-sighted decision.
Like good soccer teammates, good managers understand how to navigate competing priorities and avoid subjecting team members to avoidable circumstances. There are ways to mitigate this disruption on the pitch and in the office.
Take communication. In soccer, communicating quickly is important; on the pitch “man-on” alerts your teammate that something has gone awry, even if it’s a last-minute warning. I was always taught “When in doubt, knock it out;” it’s always better to knock the ball out of bounds than jeopardize yourself or a teammate. By kicking the ball out of bounds, you buy yourself and your teammates time to get back into position. Conceding a throw-in is not to be desired, but sometimes it’s best to recalibrate and get back into position rather than recklessly pushing through a hospital ball.
This is true in organizations as well. Effective organizations depend on staff to look out for each other. Good leaders understand that teamwork requires communication, which also includes contextualized warnings. Siloed organizations can struggle with quick warnings when there’s a culture of only communicating problems up the chain of command instead of directly across business units. Top business leaders know that the key to executing complex project deliverables across an organization is prioritizing short-term and long-term deadlines. Successful managers avoid offloading “hospital passes” that favor no one. In the global business economy, hospital passes can result in missed deadlines, evaporating trust, and damaged reputations.
To avoid making hospital passes in the business world, you’ll want to set up your team members for success. Here are some things to think about.
- Discuss and define expectations with the team before work begins.
- Develop feedback loops and communication habits so that if/when there’s a breakdown somewhere, the team is alerted.
- Prioritize your work with deadlines and explicitly communicate them with staff who depend on you for work. Start with the most difficult tasks first and leave everything else that’s not prioritized for later.
- Utilize calendar alerts to remind you of milestone dates toward a deadline.
- Divide and conquer to figure out all the sub-tasks that are required for you to complete the main tasks. Do time estimates of all key tasks so that you can track tasks with time needed for completion.
- Don't let perfection be the enemy of the good. Finishing something that’s good on time is always better than delivering something great that’s overdue.
- Ask for help. By developing a network of trusted colleagues, you allow yourself options for assistance when things get tough.
About Aaron DeNu: An academic all-state NCAA soccer player at Wilmington College and a member of the Milford High School Athletic Hall of Fame, Aaron DeNu is the Washington, D.C. Market Development Director for TiER1 Performance Solutions. He also serves as President of Dupont Festival 501(c)(3) and is on the board of directors for the Heurich House Museum and Cultural Tourism DC. Aaron received the 2013 President’s Volunteer Service Award from the White House and the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation. You can follow Aaron on Twitter.