Imagine Usain Bolt trying to run the 100 metres with his coach running backwards in front of him barking instructions and with spikes on only one shoe. In this scenario he’d be lucky to cross the line in under ten minutes, let alone under 10 seconds.
And herein lies the lesson for managers and those who create workplaces. Give people the literal and figurative space they need to be most effective. Cluttering up the office with reflection pods, slides and ping pong tables may make the place look funky in Design Week but, however beautiful they may look, running the 800 metres in a pair of six inch Louboutin heels isn’t going to get Jessica Ennis on to the podium in Rio in 2016. Similarly, managers, like coaches, should give their teams everything they need to do to be most effective then get out of the damn way and let them do it.
Those of a Taylorist persuasion might cite micromanagement and forensic attention to detail as a factor in building successful sport teams but the micromanager will most often want to be on the field at the same time, tweaking, prodding and generally upsetting the flow of the game. It’s for this reason that many sports fans get so irate when the referee decides that they should be as much an active participant in the game as the players. Just because you have a whistle and the ability to blow it does not necessarily follow that you should do so whenever the fancy takes you.
I’ve been in beautifully appointed offices where there’s been no toilet paper in the WC, where employees are wrestling with dis-functional technology and meeting rooms are never available. The simple fact is that the vast majority of people would happily forego HD screens showing Sky News if they knew they could press print and have their document pop out of the printer a few seconds later.
I’ve also seen incredibly talented, highly skilled teams brought low by overbearing and interfering management. Most organisations go through incredibly Byzantine processes to ensure they recruit the brightest and best minds only to then manage them to within an inch of their lives so as to suggest that all their experience and intellect count for nothing.
Bear this in mind and you may very well find that it’s as much about what you get out of the way that contributes to success, as what you put in.