Leaning to Action

Everybody wins

I felt like I had stepped into another world … and in several ways, I had. Here I was, with my adult son, Ben, visiting us from Los Angeles, and both of us, albeit strangers, were being honoured and celebrated by strangers.

We had come to Princes Park, the home of Dartford Football Club. Dartford (‘the Darts’) was about to play Hungerford Town in the National South league. And I was there to visit my friend and Outlier Group member, Alan Dean.

We were greeted warmly by the Chairman and staff, and a panel interviewed my son about what he had been doing in Los Angeles, and what it was like to live there. Then, our hosts gave us a tour of the stadium before the match started.

Ben was invited to join the welcome tunnel, applauding players from both teams as they trotted out onto the pitch. But the honour didn’t end there. As a final flourish before the game started, our hosts asked Ben to join them in the centre circle to pose in a photo opportunity with the match referee.

And who were our hosts? There were all teenage students from Kent schools!

They are part of a media team of a not-for-profit organisation called 4Roles4Goals; a company set up by Alan and his business partner, Nicola Coppen. The genius of 4Roles4Goals is that it adds value to Young People, Schools, the Community and Business – the four roles – working together.

I would say that there is another group that is impacted positively by this initiative: families. Before the match, I was talking to one of the parents. He described to me the transformation he saw in his daughter, and how she has grown visibly in confidence.

Before she was someone who preferred to be in the background, now she thinks nothing of going to the team and pulling out one of the players for an interview.

He went on to explain how his company had moved to Dartford, and his firm was one of the early commercial sponsors of the club, resulting in his company receiving over 30,000 positive tweets. Not bad business either!

As we drove away, Ben just shook his head in disbelief at how they had called him up as a VIP. It was a powerful illustration to me how we all need to be celebrated.

Also, there is something about our society thinking outside of the box, outside of the categories we make for ourselves. 4Roles4Goals shows that everyone can win.


You’re Not Crazy!

Sometimes it seems as if the whole world around you has gone mad. And then you begin to doubt that yourself. “Am I still sane?” you ask yourself. Sometimes that is what a dysfunctional culture can do to you. It makes you doubt what you thought you knew for certain.

I was talking with a client is who leading a major transformational change and she was beginning to see signs of it all unravelling. Even the people who were supposed to be taking the lead on certain aspects of the change were flipping between platitudes – “everything is fine” – and defensiveness. She needed to talk to someone sane, so she called me. In this example, our culture can be dangerous: it can blindside people to very real problems. If enough people agree, they can be denial until there is a disaster is inevitable. Culture can do that.

Sometimes culture can seduce us into acting like lemmings.

Here are some common symptoms to watch out for:

  • Silo-working on a programme that would have a far-reaching impact.
  • Project teams focused solely on tasks and technology.
  • Over-optimism about the results to justify their earlier case, the so-called optimism bias.
  • Under-resourced and over-extended managers who have just been given another 42 strategic goals.
  • Key early adopters in the change who still don’t know what’s going on only a few weeks from “go live.”

Another way of describing culture is a conspiracy of conceit. Culture can seduce us into acting like lemmings; we are about to rush over a cliff to our deaths and we all think we’re doing fine. We take false comfort in each other. An antidote is to listen to someone from outside, who is not in that culture. And that’s hard to do when your first reaction is to say, ”But you don’t know how we work here.”

I told my client, “You’re not crazy!”

I told my client, “You’re not crazy!” She needed to hear that, in the teeth of such huge cultural inertia. She is doing well but needs encouragement, support, and guidance, in that order.

Question: How do you support your colleagues when they are not going with the cultural flow? I’d like to hear how you do it.