Same same but different



For those people who’ve been to Thailand you will recognise this phrase. Same same, but different. An acknowledgement that you may go to another island or place in Thailand and it will be different, but not massively so, so don’t expect major change. It is a great phrase and can be used in so many aspects of life


My interest has been piqued of late in the soccer world, where big clubs in Europe, Chelsea, Manchester United and Barcelona have all given managerial roles to former players whom were club legends - Frank Lampard, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Xavi respectively. These hires had been widely celebrated by fans at the time. Lampard didn’t last too long though, Solskjaer seems to be on his last legs, and Xavi - well it remains to be seen as he has just been hired. Is hiring these legends a good thing because it reconnects people with the club identity, or because they will be skilled motivators just through their aura at the club, or maybe they are great skilled coaches, OR, is this a hit and hope by administrators trying to recreate something of yesteryear?


I have recently had a conversation with a client (an executive team) who gave me feedback about the quality of conversation that they had just had, and how in a very difficult situation they came out very well because of their conversation skill. His words were that they would never have been able to do that 12 months ago prior to our work. Now this is no self-praise article, but more an indication that sometimes outside help is needed in order to get ‘different different and less same’. I also sat in a conversation with two leaders of a business who have worked together for years and was impressed with how direct and honest they were able to be with each other. The problem however is that leader 2, who reports directly to leader 1, has not been able to overcome a real challenge in his leadership style, which has had serious impact on the business. Is there a case for outside help here?


Having personally been a consultant and a team leader who has used consultants I have seen both sides of it - failures and successes. In my recently conducted survey of over 50 teams across the world and industries, there has actually been a real swell of support for the use of outsiders to help teams succeed - but only with certain conditions in place! The point to be made is that sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know, and no offsite, teambuilder, Ted Talk or Linkedin learning course is going to change that. Teams need to evolve, they cannot only be ‘same same but different’ over time, otherwise they will lose impact.


Having seen outsiders work, and not work these are some things I would watch out for when looking to grow your team’s performance: 1) Mandate them clearly

Know what the desired outcomes are and realise that as the team leader their efficacy will be reliant more on how you set them up and follow through on their work once they are gone - not just on how WOW they might be.


2) It’s about you

Outsiders must be in place to make you better at what you do, they shouldn’t take over, add complexity or disempower you as a team.


3) Allow them to disrupt

I heard a term used in the USA, Corporate Irritant. Someone who goes into organisations and actively disrupts in order for them to grow. The more licence you give these consultants to probe, challenge and provide thoughtful insights the more value you will get out of them.


4) Needs vs Wants

Make sure that getting someone in isn’t just for your own personal desire, but more that you have looked (in conjunction with them) at what the team specifically needs and what their key challenges are. Often I have heard of teams wanting to do ‘self awareness work’ using the latest profiling tool, only for that work to be long forgotten a year later as that wasn’t what was actually the major challenge at that time.


Teams need to learn to evolve and learn on their own, as with individuals, but don’t discount the freshness of a new voice, skill or insight. To my earlier story about the soccer coaches - not every former player is going to be a poor coach, but make sure that you are not just trying to get ‘same same but different’. The world moves, needs move so you need to be brave enough to get people, and new thinking, to help you move too.