I am often invited to visit organisations to help them better understand what is holding them back, why the teams aren’t performing as well as they could. I consider this invitation to be a privilege, that an organisation is willing to open their doors and share the good with the bad, a growth mindset actively seeking opportunities to improve.
But, the invitation is typically packaged with a few preconceived ideas and suggestions, as observed by the leadership team. While these insights are a good starting point, my first focus is the heart of the organisation. I spend time with the teams, getting straight into the trenches and discussing challenges/constraints, while also importantly building empathy and rapport. Afterall, if we are looking for sustainable improvements, these will need to be driven through a ground swell, the teams need to believe in and own the changes themselves.
Ironically, while these preconceived ideas can hold true, more often than not the root of the issue stems from the teams feeling disconnected from their leaders and the company's strategy and vision.
They were struggling to connect the dancefloor with the balcony.
This metaphor has served well as a reference and reminder for teams to consciously pull themselves out of the day to day. I have recently expanded the metaphor and captured it as an A3 placemat sketch, used by training and workshop participants. You'll notice reference to the key steps I consider when working with teams:
- Lay the foundations - starting at the core of mindset and values, teams and our expectations of each other
- Build the right thing - empathy, consensus and alignment, enabling us to understand the problem we trying to solve
- Build the thing right - effective and iterative ways of working
- Visualise company wide - transparency and awareness, no hidden work
- Foster a learning culture - a growth mindset, rapid feedback loops (process, peers, product)
In upcoming posts I'll elaborate more on these 5 steps, but an initial overview of connecting the dancefloor with the balcony:
The dancefloor - this is where we spend our time day to day, sometimes referenced as the trenches, it is where delivery happens during our "agile sprints”. While this is a critical place to be, it can be damaging and counterproductive if this is where we place all of our focus and energy.
Teams and individuals who only visit the dancefloor typically feel disconnected, feed off “tickets” while not really understanding the bigger picture and are at risk of low morale and ultimately churn.
The balcony - this is where we regularly regroup, say once every 8 weeks, we take stock. We invest the time to understand the bigger picture, re-energise and recalibrate against our strategy and vision, i.e. North Star.
Teams and individuals who periodically spend time on the balcony with their peers and leaders have a strong sense of purpose, tight comradery and ultimately will deliver better outcomes for their end user.
Anti-pattern - only the CEO/founder/execs visiting the balcony. Unfortunately this is common, especially for companies who are growing from a startup of 5 to a company of 50+ team members. The founder who essentially was the product previously now needs to loosen the reigns and be inclusive inviting others to the balcony.
To get the true benefits of the balcony, its recommended everyone (yes everyone) takes the time to collectively spend time on the balcony. While this might seem expensive, the ROI on 1 or 2 days to ensure everyone is on point and aligned for the upcoming 8 weeks is immense. 5% investment in return for 100% alignment.
Next steps - in upcoming posts I’ll discuss the supporting facets of connecting the dancefloor with the balcony, including:
- Making good use of the balcony - how best to structure time for the right outcomes
- Setting up teams for success - laying the foundations
- Embracing (while managing) change - one front door into the disco
- Never settling for good enough - fostering a learning culture
Credit goes to Phil Banks for his remarkable illustration skills, turning my poorly hacked Google slide and verbal description of the balcony and dancefloor metaphor.
Spread the word. If you think the metaphor serves as a good reminder for your team, balancing their time between dancefloor and balcony, please feel free to share/print/forward the sketch.