Several years ago, I witnessed a group of kids playing soccer in the street. They started right into the game without discussing where the goals were or the sidelines were (the curb? The first line of bushes? The busted down car in the street?). The game started with a lot of enthusiasm. Within a few minutes, one of the kids kicked the ball very far down the street and started screaming, “Goooooaaaaaaallllllllll!”
His teammates were very happy. The kids on the other team started screaming that he hadn’t kicked the ball in exactly the right spot for a goal. Everyone was frustrated. But, they resolved the issue and resumed play. Within a few minutes a kid kicked the ball up into a yard. The kids on the other team said that the ball was out-of-bounds. The kids on the first team said it was still in-bounds and kept trying to play. Again, an argument ensued. This one lasted a little longer than the first argument. Toward the end, several kids wandered off in different directions saying they had better ways to spend their time. What had started out as a highly motivated, high energy group of kids wanting to play soccer outside on a gorgeous day quickly transformed into a case study in dejection and demotivation. The kids all found things to devote their attention to that were personally more motivating than the soccer game. Without any agreement about goals, sidelines or other rules, the game was just too frustrating to play.
Leading your team, or a whole organization, is much the same. It is a game. People are more motivated and more able to deliver their best performance when they know how to win and what the rules of the game are. And, if those boundaries are not clear, playing the game is frustrating and demotivating.
Think about the last time you started playing or watching a game for the first time whether it was Texas Hold ‘em Poker or soccer. Like most players, you almost certainly wanted to know two things:
How do I win? What are the rules? What plays are in bounds; what plays are out of bounds?