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August 25, 2015

Co-operation and Intent

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In conversation with khun Potida Ratanashodhi from Dtac she mentioned a video she had seen recently of a 400m woman’s relay race run in August 2013. The American woman’s team only achieved a bronze medal despite being favourites to win the event. The reason for this was a clumsy handover in the second leg of the race.

Khun Potida said was a very useful metaphor to understand how an organization that is comprised of very capable teams can fail. It is not good enough for individuals or teams in an organization to strive to do well. It is equally important for them to strive to set their colleagues up to do well. Most organizations really do operate like relay races. It is not good enough for the athlete to get the baton from the beginning of their run to the end of their run as fast as they can. It is just as important that they run in such a way that they can set the next runner up to succeed.

Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 6.34.12 amCare and Growth accounts for the conditions whereby people commit to a boss. This really does account for a successful line of command. However, in many organizations the spontaneous co-operation of peers across functions is also critically important. If we argue that any group only succeed to the degree to which the individual in the group gives unconditionally in pursuit of the group’s objectives, then we also have to understand how that individual relates to colleagues.

Any organization can be described as a set of interactions between people. Using a soccer metaphor, an organization operates like a multi-dimensional soccer game where a task is being passed from player to player. Each one of the points of engagement between two players can have one of two characters. It could either be fundamentally competitive or fundamentally co-operative. It is fundamentally competitive when both parties are in the engagement to get something from the other person, to win or to come first. It only becomes co-operative when at least one of the players is in the engagement to deliberately set the other player up to succeed. It is this benevolent intent to the colleague, where the individual plays to set up the colleague to achieve, that accounts for sustainable success.

When viewed from this point of view it becomes apparent how short-sighted it is to deliberately foster competitive behavior among individuals in an organization. It does not seem to occur to managers that when the solicit competitive behavior among members of a team they actually solicit a wish among team members for their colleagues to fail!

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