As I write this I’m observing my son’s soccer training.  Some days I watch training in awe of the well oiled machines the coaches have developed and the fantastic skills on display.

But not today!

Today as I look across the fields, I can see five different teams all of whom have just started training.  But for some reason, something seems a bit off.  Every session seems to be afflicted with the same problem… kids running around kicking balls all over the place and goofing off, with several of the coaches in a battle to harness the collective attention of the kids in their team.  It’s fascinating to watch.  I suspect a couple of the coaches are counting down the minutes until this torture ends and they go home, grab a beer or glass of wine, swear unrestrained, then try to remember how they got conned into giving their time under the guise of ‘it will be a rewarding experience’.

The difference between a Rabble and a Cohesive Team

I can tell you that many of the kids I’m watching “train” are certainly not focusing their attention on soccer training at all. Some are wandering aimlessly looking at the trees blowing in the strong wind, some are tackling each other and wrestling on the ground, some are giggling with mates whilst waiting in line and then there are the odd few who are actively listening to the coach and doing what is asked.

Mmmmm. Does this sound like an average day in your office?

Fortunately, my office is more like the well oiled machine at the moment.  Everyone is in the zone and focused on the tasks at hand. There is a clear understanding that high quality inputs result in high quality output and our recent results provide indisputable evidence.  It’s brilliant!

But a couple of years ago, I must admit, we went through a phase like my son’s soccer team is experiencing this afternoon.  At that time it seemed there was a contagion of distraction where focus had been lost and priorities blurred, resulting in stagnation.  My boss must have been as frustrated as some of the coaches I see before me now.  He must have felt like he was trying to turn the Titanic because many of us were so lost in our cluttered minds.

So what was the management ‘magic’ that transformed us into a cohesive and focused team?

Choices employee-reward-motivation-carrot-stick-talent

Managing people is really hard.  Anyone who says it is easy, either lives in a parallel universe or is lying (mainly to themselves).

But we can make it easier for ourselves and our staff by choosing what really matters.  If you are clear on what you want to achieve, then the choices on how to get there become apparent.  It is the job of a leader to communicate the vision of the organisation/department/team, along with the performance goals and behavioural expectations, and critically, the reward/penalty consequences.

It is then up to each team member to make choices of their own.  Is this the right job and the right team environment?

Following that period a few years ago, Optimum developed a clear mission as to why we existed and we put more clarity around what it is that we do and how we do it.  We transitioned from a company that purely recruits temporary and permanent staff, into a consultancy that provides services across the full employment spectrum. We set up teams with clear focus areas and specific goals, whilst maintaining the team-based culture that is our greatest strength.

Not everyone chose to come on this journey and took jobs elsewhere, yet others found our value proposition very attractive and chose to join us, further diversifying and strengthening our team.


All choices have consequences.  For me, a key consequence of working through the transition of Optimum Recruitment to Optimum Consulting has been continuing to learn and expand my knowledge well beyond my comfort zone of recruitment.

For the kids in one of the soccer teams, it’s Goals or Laps.  Yes literally kicking goals and running laps!

Soccer kids love to kick goals.  One of the coaches realised his tactical tips and routine drills were falling on deaf ears today, so he nimbly changed the plan and set up a goal kicking game. And bang!  In an instant, nearly every child focused their energies on what the coach had to say about the game.  He had grabbed their attention and harnessed it on something they all wanted to do, kick goals.

But there were two kids who decided continuing to goof off was a better alternative.

And here’s where I saw the magic happen.  The coach offered them both a choice.  Either run two laps, then re-join the group switched on and ready to play the goal kicking game, or leave training and sit out the next scheduled match.

One child chose to run the laps, then re-joined his teammates.  The other chose to walk off and explain to his parents why he left training early.

The rest of the training session went like clockwork.  Upon completion of the goal game, the coach returned to the tactical drills he attempted earlier, but this time his team were attentive, focused and determined.  At the completion of training, the kids were high-fiving and smiling the satisfied smiles of hard work done.

Carrot or Stick? 

Ever rewarded yourself with a blow-out of junk food after a lengthy period of dieting and exercise?  Or punished yourself with spend free weekends at home because you’ve swiped the credit card a few too many times lately?  We all apply both the carrot and the stick approach at different times.  Sometimes to ourselves and sometimes with others.  And sometimes others apply it to us.

Whether at work or at home the carrot and stick approach can be beneficial to keep us on track.

Ben Walsh – General Manager; Recruitment

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