Can you lead a team in a hurry? In today's lightening-fast business world, effective leaders who achieve swift results through others have the advantage. What does it take? I've led and overseen lots of project teams. They don't all succeed, and the ones that do have a few things in common.
When we talk about teams, we often draw comparisons from sports. For a change of pace, let's reference a less common source of leadership lessons: live theater.
For the last couple of years I have participated in something called Theater ASAP. The whole idea behind this event is to create original live theater for an audience. But, there's a catch. It all happens in a 24-hour period. That's right - one day. That entails writing, rehearsing, and staging six to eight new scripts.
Each script has its own playwright, director, and actors. To make things interesting the collection of new scripts has a theme, and each playwright is required to incorporate a randomly chosen phrase, prop, line of dialogue, and an outline of a cast. Once written, the script is handed off to the director and cast, and the playwright fades into the background. The director and actors have twelve hours to prepare for their live performance.
For perspective, a live play at your local theater may rehearse for six weeks. Not one day. Imagine the leadership required to pull this off.
If you had to lead a team in your organization to create something and deliver it to a customer with only 24 hours notice, could you do it? What would it take?
Here's what makes Theater ASAP work:
When you hear about great plays or movies, you often hear people talk of the "strong cast." For theater ASAP to work, you have directors and actors who know what they are doing and who already have the requisite knowledge and skills. There is no time to teach the basics of acting. The day is tough enough as it is.
In addition to the cast you see, there is also the behind the scenes "supporting" cast. In order for this event to happen, a dedicated group of theater technicians and producers are hard at work in the background. They provide the resources, the facilities, and the food. If a play cast doesn't have what it needs, the supporting cast is on the case. They manage the stage, the sounds, and the lights for every play. They invite the audience and show them to their seats.
Clearly defined roles
In the theater world, the roles are clearly understood by all. The playwright provides the words. The director provides the vision, casting and blocking. In most large productions you have set designers, lighting and sound technicians, and costumers. In Theater ASAP, however, that's also the director's role. The actors memorize their lines and their movements, interpret and bring meaning to the playwright's words, and execute the director's vision.
A dedicated and shared purpose
Participation in Theater ASAP is voluntary and demands 100% dedication, and a healthy dose of self-leadership. No distractions, no side projects, no resource cancellations. Participants believe in and share the vision, which is to produce original theater in a hurry. Many times, the team members are meeting for the first time. They are forced to form, storm, norm, and perform quickly, and have no choice but to trust one another.
Clearly defined outcomes
The goal is crystal clear. Write a new script. Use the assigned director and cast. Memorize, block, costume, and set. Choose some lights and sounds. Rehearse, and then perform it in front of a live audience at your appointed time.
A hard deadline
The schedule is set. The audience will arrive and the curtain will go up. The show must go on, as they say in the theater world. There is no chance of a delay. It is now or never, and not performing is not an option.
The best thing about Theater ASAP is when it's over. You're exhausted. Your mind and your entire body hurts. All you want to do is sleep. But, you also feel amazing. Nothing quite compares with that moment you walk off the stage and know that you and the rest of the cast pulled it off. That's what has made me go back more than once.
In reality, most corporate projects require and allow more than 24 hours. But how many of these "normal" projects have struggled, stalled, or failed because one or more of the elements that make Theater ASAP work was lacking? William Shakespeare said "all the world's a stage." The next time you lead a project, try what makes Theater ASAP work, and see what happens.
When have you had to lead in a hurry? What worked, or didn't work, for you?
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