Avoiding the Junior-High Volleyball Effect

Every business, no matter its size, wants its teams to work efficiently.  A common problem, however, is that leaders sometimes don’t clearly define the team members’ roles. 

This leads to what I like to call the Junior High Volleyball Effect.  If you’ve ever watched a group of 7th graders’ play volleyball, I guarantee you’ve seen it:  two kids go for the ball at the same time and smack into each other, or multiple people assume that someone else is going to get the ball, while nobody does.  Either way, the result is the same: the ball hits the ground.

Teams of all levels — even the pros— have made this mistake.  This costly misstep leads to a team losing valuable points, and eventually, the game.  However, experienced players have learned to call the ball to alert their teammates that they are taking responsibility.  Advanced teams have developed their roles and flow so well that they don’t even need to call the ball – everyone’s role is crystal clear and the team operates as a single unit.

This same principle applies in business.  When roles aren’t clear and team members are not communicating well, they smack into each other by duplicating work, or assume someone else is handling the task, and the work doesn’t get done.  These are costly mistakes.  I often use the Junior High Volleyball question as a double-check for my teams when they believe they have clear roles and responsibilities.  I explain the concept, and then ask “Where are we in danger of the Junior High Volleyball Effect?”  Almost always, this results in clarifications being made to one or more individual’s roles and responsibilities.

The truth is, businesses of all sizes struggle with overlapping work (or missing tasks altogether).  A study conducted by Panopto.com found that employees spend about six hours each week duplicating other’s work.  Six hours!  If you could snap your fingers and  get six extra hours of time for your people, or cut your payroll expenses by 15%, would you do it?

As your business grows, you and your team members must learn how to keep systems in place to ensure everyone works toward common goals without duplicating efforts or dropping balls.  But there’s good news!  Many business leaders have solved this issue in their company, and you can too.

Clearly define roles and responsibilities and key processes.  If you insist on clarity in roles and responsibilities and in processes, what you’ll find is that you don’t have to tell people what to do so much, because they KNOW what they need to do.  Each player has their tasks, their deadlines, and their metrics, and can execute accordingly.  Note:  make sure that employees understand the accountabilities of all members of the team, not just their own!

Create a communication system.  Be the volleyball team that wins the game, not the one whose players stumble all over each other.  Establishing expectations for communication within the team is critical in order to find the balance between a) not enough communication, b) simple, clear, and crucial communication, and c) overcommunication that drowns people in words and data.

Encourage collaboration.  Being crystal clear on each person’s roles and responsibilities does not mean that your people should work in a vacuum.  Often breakthroughs happen when one team member steps in to help another, regardless of what they’re actually accountable for in their own jobs.

Clarity, communication, and collaboration are all critical elements of making sure that your business and your team wins.  Avoid falling victim to the Junior High Volleyball Effect by taking a step back and honestly asking yourself where you’ve seen this happen in your team, and what needs to happen in order to resolve that issue.

As an operations and process-oriented person, I LOVE helping businesses work through their Junior High Volleyball issues.  

If you find you could use a hand, give me a call.

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