Combining Metaphors to enhance effect and performance

//Combining Metaphors to enhance effect and performance

The use of animals as metaphors for behaviours was covered in The Organizational Zoo as well as some other places.  Sports metaphors also have been widely used for business teams.  I have for some time played with the combination of the two to generate an understanding of the relationship between behaviour and a team role.

Belbin’s research built an understanding of how different teams benefit from acknowledging that a diversity of roles is required to optimise outcomes.  My own interactions have been experimenting with the understanding of getting the right behaviours expressed in the right roles within teams.  Where people with particular behavioural preferences are put into a role not matched with those preferences, conflicts can occur as well as personal stress.

However, if the roles are matched with the behavioural preferences a better balance of behaviours can generate a smoother flow of the work.  We still need diversity of behaviours and a set of roles appropriate for the task at hand, as each team needs “small agile players” and some “more robust players” to complete the different tasks.  In the basketball and football images shown the goal and required tasks are very different and this requires a different set of behaviours.  The level of aggression and the nature of the players are different, but each team has internal diversity to match the appropriate roles within that overall requirement.  If the basketball team is doing HR (less contact and more supportive) and the football team is in sales (more robust contact and aggression) I am comfortable.  However, if the football team represents my HR team and the Basketball represents my sales force my business is suddenly not looking so good.

Combining the metaphors in this way provides a richer picture of what is required to be successful.  The overall context, the roles within the teams and the interactions between the players are all important.  People get the importance of this very quickly and have fun exploring the implications.  As with many metaphors, this quickly introduces a complex message in a simple and safe way which stimulates conversations between people around the impacts for them in their contexts. This is where the real value is generated.  People talking with each other about things that matter in a constructive way.

Get the right players in the right roles and you fly with the eagles, get misalignment of behaviours (animals) or have them in the wrong “positions” (roles) and success is far more difficult to achieve. I see this as being aligned with some of the recent writings of Dave Snowden on the interactions of crews.  Interested to know if readers can identify with this concept.  As always, I appreciate the fun images provided to me by my friend John Szabo (a good example of roles – I write and he draws, other way round would not be so good as I still struggle with stick people!)

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Arthur Shelley

Arthur is collaborative leader who engages stakeholders to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. His professional success record spans over 30 years of experience across the international corporate, government and tertiary education sectors. Internationally recognised as a knowledge and capability development thought leader, equipped with a diversity of skills and achievements including being the author of two books, a regular international conference speaker, award winning tertiary teacher and a volunteer student mentor and career advisor. Creator and leader of the Organizational Zoo Ambassador Network, an international association of professionals interested in sharing and innovative application of metaphor based behavioural learning and development to improve personal and team outcomes and build relationships.

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  • […] that is “perfect manager”, which of course doesn’t exist). Ultimately, the culture of the organisation is governed by the types of animals you have, where they are in the hierarchy and how they […]

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