What can we learn from the NY Giants?

I think there’s no doubt about it – the NY Giants suck this year. As I’m writing this, they are 1-7 with little hope of redemption. The one bright moment of the season came in week 6 against the Broncos. Let’s look at what they differently and what we can learn from this.*

* I’m far from a football expert, but I won’t let that stop me from writing a good narrative.

Head Coach

Ben McAdoo got promoted to Head Coach from the position of Offensive Coordinator and it seems he had a hard time letting go. During the games he would do offensive play calling. This probably meant that he focused too much on that part of the game and didn’t have focus for defense, special teams or general overview of the situation. This is a problem of localized optimization. (Also a common anti-pattern in organizations, where engineers advance up through the management chain).

Offensive Coordinator

What did Mike Sullivan, the offensive coordinator, think about being sidelined during each game? What did the team think about the guy in charge of offense, not being in charge when it mattered? What message does this send? This is a problem of building (breaking) trust. 

Environment 

With Sullivan running the practices and training, but McAdoo calling the plays during the game, the team had an additional changing variable to cope with – a different voice, different mannerisms, etc. In a sport were patterns need to be executed flawlessly in a high pressure, real-time situation, you don’t need that. This is a problem of failure to create a stable environment. 

I think that handing the reins back to Sullivan (where they belonged) helped to make that game a success, after a string of failures.

So why have they lost the next two games? Well, you could blame the loss of their key players in the game against the Broncos, the fact that the next two games were against top contenders, or maybe I’m just spouting nonsense. Time may tell.

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Command Master Chief

Command Master Chief
USS Midway

On a recent visit to San Diego I had the pleasure of touring the USS Midway – a retired 70-year old aircraft carrier that served up to the First Gulf War. The self-guided tour is a great look at not only the hardware, but more importantly the life on board this great vessel.

What really spoke to me was the role of the Command Master Chief. As a petty officer, the hail from the ranks of the enlisted. As such, they seem better equipped to understand the troubles and toils of the enlisted men and women serving. They are a more natural site as they tour the various stations – in comparison to officers that may be feared or mistrusted. t the same time, their experience and rank means they have little qualms about passing on their and the lower grades’s concerns up the chain of command.

USS Midway - flight deck
USS Midway

I see many comparisons with the role of people in roles such as Scrum Master or Agile Coach. Those of use that have come up from the ranks of engineers, software developers, etc. have the “street cred” and typically not being part of management can be more effective in getting honest feedback from the team members. And in parallel – since the management is the ones that brought us in – they’re likely to listen to us.

It’s also interesting that the CMC uses a form of Gemba to collect this information.

If the US Navy has been practicing this, since the Vietnam War, shouldn’t companies also take heed?

Use Your Own People

Recently I finished reading Louis J. Prosperi’s book “The Imagineering Pyramid: Using Disney Theme Park Design Principles to Develop and Promote Your Creativity Ideas”. I won’t go much into the book as the title is pretty self-descriptive.

I did want to share one thought that really struck a chord:

When Walt Disney first began planning for Disneyland, he approached his friend and noted Los Angeles architect Welton Becket about working on the project. (…) Becket told Walt that he should use his own people, because they understood the type of storytelling he was looking for with Disneyland.

I’ve seen many situations, where company leadership will forgo listening to their employees – people they apparently hired, because of their skills / knowledge / experience and trust (?) – instead relying on consultants to tell them what to do. As a former consultant, I know that the greatest value-add we provided was listening to the people and echoing their comments / ides / solutions to management for broader adoption. Yes, sometimes we mixed in best practices from other engagements, but most of the work could be done easily, because management didn’t listen to their own people (and we did).

This is also true in the world of Agile coaching. When I’m in that role, I listen to the team’s problems and work with them on devising experiments to resolve the problems or improve the team. In a role of an employee, I’d like the same courtesy from my superiors – listen to what I have to say and use my expertise. If I didn’t want to apply it here, I’d go looking for a different job.

 

Add ‘How’ to

My first opportunity to hear David Marquet speak was at the Accelerate Results conference in 2016. His powerful message spoke to me and I started following his free weekly Leadership Nudges and experimented with putting them into practice.

The one I recently had a lot of success was starting questions with how. Specifically, instead of asking someone, if something will be ready by a given time, I started rephrasing it in terms of probability.

Immediately, I saw less fidgeting and more honest answers, often accompanied by a short discussions. Things that I value greatly.

Why don’t you give it a try.