What ‘One degree more’ is
Mac Anderson and Sam Parker wrote a book titled 212⁰ the extra degree in 2005. The message from the book is quite intuitive.
- At 211 degrees F, the water is hot; At 212 degrees, it boils.
- With boiling water, comes steam that can power a locomotive.
- One extra degree makes all the difference.
- The one extra degree of effort in business, as in life, separates the good from the great.
When we heard Anil’s story, we could relate it to the extra degree that the book talks about. This story is about how Anil, then the head of engineering in his company, demonstrated how just one more degree makes a difference.
How someone added one extra degree effort in a seemingly small task
Anil (name changed) was once invited by his HR to be part of a selection committee for the company’s excellence awards.
The task was to study the nominations and give a score for each. That’s all.
There were many nominations, and it was a great opportunity for Anil to know the great things that were happening in his company.
Anil returned to his office thinking about the winning teams. The one thought that kept coming to his mind was – What is special or different about the winners? What makes them winners? If only we could identify their behavioural characteristics, we can produce many high performing teams. In fact, we can make every team a high performing team.
He was curious to know more about these teams. He was also curious to know if the previous year’s winners appeared in this year’s nominations.
Anil spoke to his HR head about conducting a study. When he looked at the data of previous individual and team winners, he found three teams nominated in the previous year were nominated this year too, and four individuals had been nominated twice for awards.
Anil was certain that all these three teams and four individuals had some magic recipe. He again sought help from his HR Head to create an interview questionnaire that would enable him to identify the key success factors of these three teams.
Anil looked at the questions, liked them, but felt he was better off not having a survey. He preferred to have face to face meetings. He knew this would take time, but was confident he would get a good insight from these meetings. He was sure the teams would also gain from their interaction with a senior manager.
After talking with each member of these teams, Anil drilled down his learning to these five points:
- The teams knew why they were doing the projects, what benefits their clients would have from their project. They had clear goals
- They knewthe exact delivery datesand the quality expectations from their projects. They had clarity on the exit criteria or “definition of done”; they were always doing that extra bit
- They had a network of people and communities(Open source group, Unix group etc) and they did not hesitate to reach out to experts for guidance and discussions. This equippedthem with more information and knowledge to do their job
- They never complainedabout problems. They knew problems were part of the job, and since they had their eyes fixed on the goals,they could identify alternatives to overcome issues and obstacles. This ensured they kept making progress and marching towards their targets
- They kept team goals ahead of personal goals. As soon as they completed their tasks, they looked around to offer help to their teammates. They knew that they would be successful only when the whole team was successful. They also wanted to learn from every possible opportunity
The list looked fairly simple, plain common sense, and easy to replicate in other teams.
When he queried his HR Head about why such simple things were not followed by all teams, he got to know about how performance cultures are built, about the importance of leadership, about dysfunctional teams and so on.
Anil went back and read more about building the culture of excellence. He again met the HR Head, and offered his time to conduct workshops for the managers. Looking at his passion, the HR Head promised to collaborate with him; together, they built a training and mentorship framework for the managers.
Anil and some other senior managers conducted workshops for their managers. They made frequent rounds to check how much of what was taught was being implemented. Somehow, Anil was still not happy. The managers participated well in the workshops, but somehow the learning was not reflected in their teams.
Anil had already overstretched himself for the sake of his cause to make every team successful. He decided to give one more try.
He agreed with the three teams to spend time with them, to sit and observe them in action.
What he observed amazed him. What he observed was that there was some unwritten code of conduct which everyone in the team followed. They followed a number of rituals without being told. They had their own set of values; they demonstrated these values all the time in their actions.
Anil found his Mantra.
He listed down all these behaviours and created a one-page list of commandments, the non-negotiable conduct that every team should define for their teams and live by those commandments.
- How they will welcome a newcomer to the team and make him/her part of the team
- How they will say goodbye to the outgoing member and keep him/her part of their network
- How they will recognise excellence and create an unwritten performance standard for the team
- How they will celebrate team achievements and involve everyone in the success
- How they will resolve conflicts within the team to build a culture of common purpose
- How they will point out mistakes in others’ work and behaviour and correct them to make every mistake an opportunity to learn
- How they will conduct team meetings to achieve desired results while being effective
- How any violation of the code of conduct will be handled to build a culture of accountability
We do not know how effectively his organisation implemented his commandments across the organisation, but what we can surely say is that Anil, as an individual, would have benefited hugely from this exercise. He would have learnt many new things, and gifted many ideas to the teams and to the company because of his attitude to stretch an extra degree.
Hope Anil’s story excites you to grab the very next opportunity to add an extra degree! If, as a team manager you create your commandments, please share them with the world. You will definitely make the world better.