The rudder effect

Sailing metaphors are a much used - and abused - way to describe the act of running a team or a company. A leader is "firmly at the wheel" and "motivates the crew" to "stay on course" while facing "rough waters". It all reminds me of a set of posters I once saw in some office: large pictures of a sailing boat, people working together on at the winches, waves crashing on the sides, a skipper seriously - but calmly - looking at the horizon, a large "TEAMWORK" printed in large letters just below the image. If you find it cheesy, count me in with you. 

There is one thing though that running a team has truly in common with sailing, and that's the concept of correcting. Rubber is controlled directly, you touch the wheel and your car, bike, truck, turns. A rudder, instead, acts by (re)directing the energy created by the propeller or, in the case of a sailing boat, by the wind. The main implication of this difference is a lag between stimulus (your movement on the wheel) and action (the boat actually changing course). Partially because of that, and partially due to a lower sensibility, the change imposed by the rudder ends up having bigger impact than we originally intended. The result is "correcting", a steering style that consists of seamingly contradicting inputs to maintain a steady course.

I find the same applying to the motion of a team. It is natural for a team, at any point of time, to be erring on one particular side. Too much attention to details or too little, too much self criticism or too little, too much dialogue or too little. Nobody has yet invented a mixer for human interaction: you get tempered water by adding first cold then warm, and viceversa. A good team can recognize the erring and correct  it by opening the other faucet. 

Back to sailing. A poor skipper will apply too much force in each direction, causing confusion to the boat and losing wind. A good one will use her sensibility to delicately adjust course.