Wednesday, January 13, 2016

High Five - Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles

'High Five' is a book about the magic of working together. In this book, Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles, take a high performing executive Alan Foster, who gets fired for not being a team man and gets a job as a coach of a poorly performing ice hockey school team, the Riverbend Warriors. How Alan learns all about team work through his experiences with the boys and his coaching team and with the feisty old coach Ms. Weatherby is what High Five all about. Alan also finally understands that a superstar is measured by how much more productive he has made his team and not just himself.
The book is longer than the usual Ken Blanchard ones and detours into sports territory. It does appear to be the handiwork of several people as you read it - and as a result - its not as compact as the other books and some characters hang loosely. But as usual it does have a lot of good content. Like the acronym they create out of PUCK - Providing clear purpose and shared values, Unleashing and developing skills, Creating team power and Keeping the accent on the positive. If there is one thing you learn from Ken its to keep the accent on the positive to get people to fulfill their potential.

It's interesting how Ken and his associates weave the story along a team which has a star who is the only one who can play well (they drop him), a mediocre player with great team value (gets hurt and becomes the driving inspiration for the team to set a high goal), redirecting the energy of a player who does not pass the puck as a rule. Alan brings the old ice hockey coach Ms. Weatherby out of a retirement home and benefits from her advise on repeated reward and recognition (she still has the medal she received in her third grade!).

In short -
"Providing a clear purpose and values" is about creating a compelling reason for being. One must create a challenge worthy of the team that commits and motivates people to work together, set clear and compelling goals and strategies for individual and team, be clear on shared values and create a team charter that formalises commitments to each other and clearly states what the team wants to accomplish, why it is important, and how the team will work together to achieve results.

As in the doctor's case - she conveys how it was all about team work and she just did her part. There are no prima donnas in the team. Everyone has a part in a compelling purpose - saving lives. One of Alan's big learnings is that to get everyone to buy in, he needed each one to commit to the rest of the team - get social pressure to sustain the effort. Team chants and mutually agreed goals have great benefits on how much people commit.

Unleashing and developing skills is about starting with basics, building individual skills that bolster team skills, providing feedback to build skills, confidence and accountability, learning each others roles, building a sense of personal and collective power by using individual and collective skills to achieve extraordinary results. One wonderful point he makes is that 'what looks like a skill problem is actually something else.' The process of watch, praise and build confidence is demonstrated well. Performance goals must be written down.

Creating Team Power - None of us is as smart of all of us. Building synergistic harmony and bringing a flexibility and agility in the approach. Build a game plan for the team and stick to it, share leadership, reward team work, rotate positions to build flexibility, introduce change, build mental and physical skills, turn individual skills into team skills. It's about building bench strength and increasing competition within the team so no one slacks off. In fact the energy has to be taut. High Fives are all about energy.

Keeping the accent on the positive - by using repeated reward and recognition. Look for behaviors that reflect the purpose and values, skill development and team work, and reward, those behaviors. Catch people doing things right or approximately right. Link all recognition and reward back to purpose and goals. Awards like Most Valuable Player, Rewards, Feedback - all act as powerful motivators to perform as a team. The idea is to have high performers who are also team players. Individual skills then translate into team skills.

One of the things Ms. Weatherby brings up is how much the ego plays a part in these relationships - when I lay down my ego, I can recognise the divine connection and then it is easy to place others first.

A failing school ice hockey team, a down and out executive who is sacked for not being a team man, a challenge that grows everyone, a learning mindset, a coach who grows as much or more than the students - this book can be made into a movie. I loved the way Weatherby proves that none of us is smarter than all of us with that maths trick. As always Ken Blanchard makes a lot of sense and provides stuff that can be easily implemented.

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