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Jan’s Corner: Is your team a lightbulb or a laser?

Did you know that a 100 Watt lightbulb, the kind of lightbulb we normally have in our homes, just about lights up our living room, whilst a 100 Watt laser can cut through a steel plate? I was also surprised. The same energy, and a dramatically different result.

Scientists say that in a lightbulb the light waves go in all directions and most of the energy is lost through mutual interference, when light waves collide and even cancel the other out. On the contrary, in a laser the light is coherent – the waves are aligned, reinforcing each other – and aimed in one direction. In fact, the same light waves with the same energy differently organised and directed allow something that appears weak perform very strongly, or something with a great potential perform with little consequence or subpar to its potential.

You know were I’m heading, right? I couldn’t help but see the parallel to talent in the domain of business and corporations.

In organisations of any kind we might already have a lot of talent apparently working at the same time in the same building and still we rarely see unpredictable business performance  – the equivalent of cutting through steel plates in this context. We see more or less dispersed glowing light and oftentimes we as the business leaders or managers are happy that at least it is not dark at times. And if we want more light we look for either putting more electricity through from the outside – say, in the form of stretched targets or increased financial incentives – which may result in temporarily increasing the glow but also a risk of blowing the fuse or even burning the bulb beyond repair. Alternatively, we tend to look to replace the talent with someone else who can perform better – and equivalent of changing the bulb from a 100 W to a 150 W or 200 W one. As a result we get sustainably more glow but are still nowhere near the ability to cut through steel.

It becomes clear that this kind of out-of-this-world ability to perform in a team will not come from more and bigger effort of the same kind but from transforming the way we bring together the the individual talent and energy in a way makes everyone valued and important and how well we can align everyone with a purpose and direction they all care about and are committed to achieve.

This may not sound revolutionary nor be significant news for you. I still found it to be a really useful distinction and a practical metaphor to guide our focus and effort in critical business moments.

At any moment when working with your team and in your business, you have a clear choice. You can choose to focus on powering up a stronger light bulb or tuning a more precise laser. How you choose will clearly reflect on the level of performance of your team and what you can accomplish as a group of individuals working together.

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