The 3 Keys to NOT Dropping the Baton

July 15, 2010 -- Sal Silvester

Have you ever watched a 400-meter relay team work?
On a good team, their hand-offs are impeccable.

In fact, given two teams of equal quality runners, the team with the more efficient
hand-offs always wins. The same holds true in the work place.

Like many organizations, you probably have good people, products, and services. The differentiator, though, between you and your competitors, is often the hand-offs between teams - like Sales, Engineering, and Operations (or whatever departmental silos exist in your organization).

There's another interesting thing about the 400-meter relay. According to Wikipedia, the world record is 37.10 seconds. The world record for the individual 400-meter race is 43.18 seconds. That's over a six second difference!

Given the same quality of runners, a team that works well together is
always better than a "John Wayne" who works alone.

The challenge in many organizations is that individuals and departments get so focused on their own egos, agendas, and goals, and they lose sight of the larger organizational goals and put them second to their own priorities. As a result, individuals, departments, and business units end of hoarding resources without regard for the bigger picture.

So, given two organizations with equal capabilities, the competitive advantage is in the hand-offs.

What are the three keys to stop dropping the baton?

1. Get clear on the common purpose. At the end of the day, whether you work in Engineering, Sales, or Operations, you should all be working toward the same goals, and those goals supercede individual egos, agendas, and priorites.  Get clear on your common purpose and make sure it is over-communicated between departments. The common purpose is the glue that links the hand-offs together.

2. Get clear on roles and responsibilities. According to Wikipedia, transferring of the baton in the 400-meter relay is typically blind. The outgoing runner does not look backwards, and it is the responsibility of the incoming runner to thrust the baton into the outstretched hand, and not let go until the outgoing runner takes hold of it.

In the workplace, too often the baton is dropped because there are gaps in what people think they should be doing and what others think they should be doing. Close those gaps by clarifying (a) key task responsibility, (b) decision making authority, and (c) expectations between departments.

3. Get clear on team member strengths. Some people excel at project start-up while others thrive in project execution. Learn more about where the talents of your team members lie and share responsibilities accordingly.

In the 400-meter relay, perfect hand-offs often compensate for slower runners. In the workplace, perfect hand-offs result in better product quality, faster delivery times, reduced engineering defects, and ultimately higher levels of customer engagement and retention.

The People-first Bottom Line: If you want to gain a competitive advantage, don't forget the people side of the equation - smooth out the hand-offs in your organization.

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