The whole football

Last week I  listened to a very seasoned regional business leader as he spoke to our CEO programme www.amalgamleadership.com He came to talk to us about governance. Very soon that led to a discussion about organisational culture. About how a workforce and management team, who are properly aligned, create fewer exposures to risk.

We talked about the need for everyone to understand the big picture and he used such a good analogy that I simply have to share it here. An organisation, he said,  is very much like a leather football. It is made up of panels, sewn together. (12 pentagonal and 20 hexagonal panels in a standard football, by the way.)

In organisations, these panels represent teams, branches or departments. The people working on each panel know each other, and they also know the people on adjacent panels with whom they interact. A few of them also know what happens on panels a bit further away. But almost nobody knows what happens on the other side of the football.

It’s a powerful analogy that speaks to the challenge facing the leaders of large enterprises, and here in Africa, I’d define large as having more than 100 staff in a single location or more than 50 in several. The reality is that very few people understand the whole organisation, and those who do so are generally right at the top. That is why they spend so much of their time trying to drag people together to collaborate – which is exhausting.

Believe me, redoing the organogram doesn’t really address this challenge. Even when shown an organogram, people only see what they want to see. Generally, this is ‘how far am I from the top?’ and ‘who else is on my grade?’ The intricacies of how the organisation works, and who are the individuals in it, are superfluous to requirements.

I’ve just been filming an onboarding programme that will enable every single member of a 600 – employee luxury tourism business to understand their company in exactly the same way. The story is delivered by real characters, who understand how their job relates to others, and have served long enough to share a little behavioural wisdom. It’s going to be quite charming when it’s finished – and therefore very watchable.

However, the most interesting impression it makes is that all these people have a common attitude and approach to their guests. It comes across in the words of room stewards, askaris, guides, pilots, chefs, bartenders, mechanics and conservationists. And it shines out of their faces like a beacon. Interestingly, the whole piece is unscripted.

 

Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside in Africa

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