With tongue firmly in cheek, my brother argued half-convincingly this weekend that UK football teams could increase their success by improving their efficiency. Take, for instance, the goal keeper who is active - and thereby productive - for only around 15% of the average game. Similarly, other players are only in contact with the ball or the opposing team for relatively short periods of time. ‘It would be far more efficient to reduce team sizes from, say, 11 to 6 players – or to engage the players in additional activities whilst on the pitch to fill their non-productive time.’ Now there’s an idea.
It reminded me of a conversation I had with an ex-Director of a large international bank. The bank had been successful for a time but then unexpectedly slid into crisis. I asked him what, on reflection, had led to its demise. He answered without hesitation: ‘Efficiency’. When I inquired further, he responded: ‘We reduced staff levels to reduce costs and increase profit. As consequence, Directors could delegate less and became busier. The busier they became, the less time they had to step back, view landscapes and horizons, spot emerging opportunities and risks...and the rest is history.’
There are, of course, some very compelling reasons to improve our efficiency. Take, for instance, developments in aerodynamic and engine design that make cars and aeroplanes more economical and less polluting. The problems arise when we unquestioningly associate more-efficient with more-effective. What can appear to be a great solution when viewed through an efficiency lens can prove detrimental (if not catastrophic) when viewed through a whole system, effectiveness lens. So, as leader, coach or OD, how do you address this challenge with people, teams and organisations?
Nick is a freelance coach, trainer and OD consultant specialising in reflective practice.