Trading Jobs

Posted by jlubans on February 17, 2015

Caption: One benefit of job swaps – fresh ideas.

One basketball coach has his players swap roles. He changes “player positions in practice so they can understand each other.” Swapping jobs “helps them appreciate each other's role.”
OKC Thunder's Scott Brooks shares this and other coaching insights in an interview.
This tip reminds me of my experience in doing something similar when I was a supervisor. It always seemed like a good idea for the same reasons that Mr. Brooks has. It’s putting a Native American adage into practice: “Walk a mile in the other man’s moccasins” (or Adidas!) before criticizing. As Mr. Brooks' players concluded: "It's not as easy as I thought."
Yes, a good idea but not always welcome in the workplace. Why?
Here are a few quotes from memory when workers objected:
“My work won’t get done.”
“Exchanging jobs is not in my job description.”
“My work, my desk, my computer.”
And, as interpreted through body language, “No one else can do what I do!”
When job exchanges worked, it was invariably within a smallish unit or a team. These groups valued helping others and learning how to help. Doing so was important to the success of the unit. And, importantly, learning the other person’s job was manageable, doable, within that team’s boundaries. Teams that work in close proximity - that touch the same “product” -probably are more able to share in jobs than can groups far apart in expertise and location.
When I proposed an organization-wide job sharing – at least in the 100-person division I supervised – as a means to gaining the “big picture”, I ran into a lack of support even among the teams who practiced job sharing! Looking back, I wonder if it is achievable at the macro level?
In a previous post I talked about basketball’s seemingly unique process of “switching” – one player taking over for another – under certain game conditions. That was something I saw happening in the units or departments that shared jobs when necessary. And, of course, the group norm of “helping each other out” resulted in good team dynamics; ones that led to outstanding production and achievement.
OKCs Scott Brooks offers another tip: “I tell the players all the time, "I don't have the answers, you don't have the answers, but let's figure them out together." That’s another positive result of swapping jobs – gaining new perspectives for problem-solving. And, studying film of the last game is an advantage sports teams have over the workplace – taking a close look at why they won or lost, reflecting on what might have been. In OKCs case, it is not just the coach or his assistants providing analysis; Mr. Brooks calls on key players to help with the review.
Caption: Thunder’s Scott Brooks and Russell Westbrook.

He will stop the film at some point and say, "’Hey, Russell (Westbrook), what do you think about this right there? Is this guy in the right spot?’ And he'll say, ‘No.’ And I'll say, ‘Add to that. Tell him what he needs to do.’” (This is remarkable – a coach having the self-confidence to ask a player to coach!) Mr. Brooks goes on: “Our guys are pretty sharp that way (giving constructive feedback), … they'll say, ‘Come on, man, that's your man, quit trying to look for an out.’"
I’ve long advocated for brief reviews after any team effort, a quick reflection of how we did and how we can improve. I do this in my classes after team projects. The exercise helps cement key points about team work and group dynamics.
Sports require – to learn and to be competitive -a team's taking the time to review. In the workplace we appear to be reluctant to take the time and to display candor. If we did it’d be time well spent and the more honesty we brought, the greater our mutual respect and understanding.

@Copyright John Lubans 2015

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