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Playing The Ball, Not The Person.

Miles Management Consulting Blog

This is such a simple analogy but critical if you are truly to understand how to get the best performance out of your team. For leaders, when you haven’t taken the time to define what the ball is and how you want people to play it – you leave yourself wide open to personal attacks or, worse, your team members feeling as if you are picking on them.

In business, the “ball” can represent many things:  your strategy, job tasks or behaviours such as customer service or innovation. In a performance context, I encourage the business owner or leader to focus on an area that is not performing or where they need to drive immediate results. In other words, we are seeking progress not perfection – where do you want to run the ball up this quarter?

Playing The Person

This is where things can go wrong or different to what you expect – you either make personal judgements about the person or you outright blame them for things not going to plan. Performance feedback is always qualified based on personal traits.  For example, John keeps turning up late for meetings, therefore he must be lazy. You describe what the person is, not what they have or have not achieved or how or how not to behave.

This creates unnecessary interpersonal conflict and focuses people on areas that are unproductive.

Playing The Ball

Playing the ball is very much focused on what people do and how they behave. It is what you can see and the impact that it has on you as a leader, the team or business.

The secret to playing the ball well is for everyone to have ownership of the ball. The more fingers that touch it, the less excuses there are not to play it, full out.

Here are some typical examples of how to stop playing the person, and start playing the ball:

Playing The Person Playing The Ball
You seem so disorganized, I don’t understand why you are not getting your work done. When we reviewed your work plan at the start of the week, a number of key deadlines were identified. Let’s talk about what happened and what we can put in place to ensure that we do not miss them again.
If you don’t want to be here, why don’t you just leave. I have noticed that you seem to be less engaged with your work. I am curious to understand more about what does engage you and see if we can do something different.
You have a bad attitude that you need to fix. We agreed as a team that we would keep each other informed with our major projects. When you do not share key information, it impacts the business as we are unable to provide the quality service our customers expect of us.

There is a saying that we are human beings, not humans doing. We need to make sure that we separate the person from the task – particularly if you want to create an inclusive culture that maintains an individual’s self esteem. As leaders, we are given both the opportunity and responsibility to do good. It is our choice to make everyday.

What experiences have others had?

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