Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sometimes personal advancement trumps team success

Punters are an essential part of an American football team. Their job is to kick the ball as far as possible down the field as one team is turning the ball over to the other team so that the opponents will have a long way to go when they attempt to score. When the ball drops back to earth, an opponent catches the ball and tries to run as far back with it as possible while members of the kicking team tries to tackle him.

In the best case, the punter will place the ball just before the goal line right when the members of his team arrives to tackle the returner. Other options the punter has is to kick the ball out of bounds as far down as possible or kick it into the end-zone where it will be returned to the 20 yard line for the opposing team's starting possession.

If the punter kicks the ball too far, and the tacklers are not there when the ball arrives, this happens:

video

An interesting article in the Times reported on a recent trend among kickers where they are out-kicking their team-mates on purpose. Why? Because when the end of the season approaches, they are judged simply on the statistics of their average kick length. They might be told, "Well, you are ranked 28th in the league so we're going to send you home."

Punters are as selfish as anyone else and react to this by keeping their average up regardless of what this does to their team.

Who is to blame for this? Not the punters; they are doing what they need to maintain their highly paid positions. The blame rests on the statisticians who are measuring the wrong number. Why not measure average distance their opponent starts from their own end zone rather than punt length?

How many times have we seen our team members pursue their own goals when they run counter to the goals of the project? We need to correct this by ensuring that they are measured in such a way that it benefits the project.

Change the talk track in their heads. Instead of: "I'll work on this project to gain experience that I can place on my resume so I can leave this job and get a better one."
How about, "I'm going to work on this project so that the project succeeds, the company makes more money, it expands and, with that growth, there is room for my own advancement."

Look for other ways to measure the results of their efforts and reward them within your project or by giving them great reviews within their function.

Oh, and this is the way a punt is supposed to work:
video

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