Insights are often unveiled in casual conversations we have with clients, colleagues or friends – a point in time where both parties realise this is important stuff, and most people are struggling with it. These insights don’t wait for formal engagements – they happen over coffees and on couches. Our ‘couch coffees’ is a continuing series of posts where we’ll publish some of these insights – simple, short and sharp. They might be second nature to some; for others, they might be closer to epiphanies. For most, we hope they’re simply nudges in the right direction.

My six-year-old son (soon to be seven) and I play many games, and we often invent games. For example, upside-down tennis with a balloon against the ceiling, to makeshift chess with figurines made from Lego pieces. Playing this way is incredibly freeing; although we realise we’re both competitive and structured in the process.

Because of this, rules are often made during the game – we need the structure and boundaries. Boundaries aren’t bad. Quite to the contrary, boundaries themselves are often freeing. Think of the fish-in-water analogy – a fish is happy when operating within the boundaries or confines that water provides.

We witness something similar in the organisations and teams we work with. They set goals, which they engage around, and start running. But the rules of play haven’t been adequately defined. For example, what does “win” look like? How often do we check in on those goals? Who is accountable for what? When does the game stop?

From experience, I can tell you that setting rules or boundaries once the game has started is not a good idea. It causes at least two things to happen:

Decreasing momentum

Whenever a new rule comes into play, someone must stop the game and explain the rule to the other person and the rest of the players. So again, the rules aren’t bad. But there needs to be a common understanding of those rules.

Increasing oversight

Because rules change often and are new, we can’t assume that everyone knows the rules. Therefore, it might cause an increase in oversight. Unfortunately, this oversight often feels like micromanagement, like someone is checking up on me – which is precisely the opposite of what we want something like OKRs to accomplish.

There are a few ways the OKR methodology helps with the above challenges:

  1. Articulate OKRs a specific way to create clarity
  2. Follow the rhythm or ongoing discipline of OKR cycles
  3. Run OKR check-in meetings effectively and efficiently
  4. Utilise online tools to increase transparency

All of the above are “rules of the game”. If these rules are set in place before the game starts, it gives a team clarity of the boundaries within which they can operate. In addition, it empowers a team to operate with autonomy, enabling a genuinely outcomes-based management mindset.

If you have questions, we’re always keen for coffee.

Get in touch so that we can brainstorm a few solutions together!

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