Playing Your Zone

October 23, 2011

Career, Leadership

Photo by Flickr member DeusXFlorida

Have you ever walked away from a meeting thinking you had just witnessed a thing of beauty?  It does not happen to me very often, but I was fortunate enough to witness that twice this year.

The first was a due-diligence visit from a major client.  The last meeting of the day involved representatives from every area of the business and our guests wrapped up with their final questions like a professional basketball team passing the ball around the court.  One would ask a production question, immediately followed by a creative question from another, then a technical question from someone else until their goals were met, yet the whole thing felt like a casual conversation.  The second was also a client visit, from a different major corporation, and the meeting was to determine the readiness for the product to ship.  The VP in charge of the project on our client’s side led the meeting with her team and our team in the room.  She had the timeline and all the critical items drawn out on the whiteboard and as she went through each item, she asked:  “Who owns this?”  Without missing a beat, the appropriate person from her team would answer who was responsible for completing the item and who needed to be consulted.

If you’re wondering why I found these meetings so remarkable, then consider yourself lucky.  I had not been a part of such functional meetings in years.   The companies in these meetings function so well because everyone knows how to play their zone.  Everyone on the team knows their own role and the role that everyone else needs to play to get the project done.  The more competent and passionate each team member is about their role on the project and how it fits in with the other roles, the more seamlessly the team works together.  The zones have definition but are not rigid.  For example, Bob may be technical, but his input on a business problem is still respected.  Just like in basketball, the team will cross zone boundaries to help out a team member who is blocked.

To be fair, I have worked with large companies who were not this functional.  Likewise, I have worked with small companies that were.   The one thing that the functional companies had in common was that the company culture had the concept of playing your zone within a team, rather than working alone in a silo.  This culture evolved over years, but it starts with one team and members of those teams influencing other teams.   So, if this is the culture you want to create, start with your team and work together to figure out your zones.  Just for fun, you may also want to take the analogy literally and go play some sports as a team.

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About Liza Wood

After a dozen years leading video game development projects in a variety of roles, I decided to pursue a Master of Data Science at the University of British Columbia. Studying data science doesn’t mean I’m moving away from leading people. Growing data science teams need collaborative, pragmatic, Agile leadership to connect data to all areas of the business. I would like to share that point of view, along with my experiences, on this blog.

View all posts by Liza Wood

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  1. What I write about « Sockets and Lightbulbs - March 31, 2012

    […] At the time, I was writing about performance evaluations, my experiences with the PMI-Agile, playing your zone, being inspiring, and creating end-to-end business processes.  Still, I was surprised to see how […]

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