Football - from flickr user mosilagerHave you ever watched young children play football (of Soccer for our Atlantic cousins)? During the game, you can be certain of one thing – most of the team on both sides will be doing nothing but chasing the ball. There is no thought about the bigger picture, no tactical decision making (let alone anything as grand as strategy). they only thought on everyone’s minds is that “We need to get the ball”.

This thinking in children is understandable. Less clear can be the basis for this kind of behaviour within an organisation.

Typically, the ‘lets drop everything and Chase The Ball’ mentality comes from organisations which are primarily reactive, rather than proactive. Companies which exist almost always in crisis mode typically have a reactive attitude – working in teams like this can feel like you’re being buffeted by forces outside of your control, running from one disaster to another, never making progress towards where you need to go.

Small organisations that have got big often never get out of there reactive, firefighting mentality. All that happens is that more people are fighting the same fire.

To be clear I’m not talking about the problem being a single focus. I’m talking about a team or organisation fixating on a single focus which isn’t actually aligned with the longer term objectives. A bunch of kids chasing the ball need to think about winning the game, not getting the ball. Likewise an organisation needs to have clear line of sight to what its goals are, and always understand how what they are doing now gets them to where they want to go.

There will always be urgent, short term things that need to be addressed. The important thing is that they are dealt with in proportion, without loosing sight of the overall objectives. Ring-fence team members (making sure they aren’t always the same people) to Chase The Ball, and leave the larger organisation to focus on winning the game, or better yet winning the league.

Update: Fixed typo, thanks Ben and Julian!