One of my coaching clients took me to see his new pride and joy: a gleaming control room to monitor every inch of a regional railway. The flashing lights, overhead computers and intensely focused engineers was a joy to behold: it brought out my ‘inner control freak’ in a big way. It also reminded me of being privileged to be shown around an Air Traffic Control centre one evening, when Concorde passed through the airspace just before entering it reached the speed that creates a ‘sonic boom’ over the Atlantic Ocean.
These control rooms had three key purposes: to oversee activities within certain geographical areas, ensure the smooth running of activities within those areas and optimise the safety of the people working in them. When we’re drowning under a sea of paper and a range of complex priorities, having space to set them out improves working conditions.
I’m not going all ‘feng shui’ and New Age here; being able to define the zone within which your leadership takes place is one fundamental requirement of your leadership. It will lead to better definitions of your vision, mission and values – because it’s clear what’s in scope and what’s out.
A dedicated ‘Project Control Room’ where the WHOLE project can be laid out and left out – visually or physically, has a range of valuable uses. People can see what’s happening and –
- Progress can be monitored
- Visitors can be briefed and ideas presented
- Issues and challenges can be debated
- It improves communications and decision-making
- Delegation and decisions are easier
It doesn’t have to be just transport systems that use control rooms; complex IT systems or projects, hospital services, projects that rely on a number of people across technologies or departments. Imagine walking into a hospital and seeing the flow of patients out of the Emergency Waiting Room into treatment areas; reducing bottlenecks and saving lives.
Having a control room within which to keep track of these key purposes is an undoubted luxury, but when I saw the Network Control Room, it brought home to me how valuable this space would be to other leaders.
Control rooms don’t have to take up physical space: they can be shared on the internet, reside on flip chart paper or similar temporary methods. I’ve just bought some rolls of reusable magic flipcharts which stick to any wall. I’m going to use it to map out my next book, laying it out at eye level around the room I’m using in Italy to achieve the best flow for my ideas. My plan is then to capture the final version on the computer, roll up the charts, bring them back and re-use them.
By providing technologies which allow your team to map out their ideas, they can share and debate them with colleagues – whether in person, or via a host of modern telecommunications channels.
What has this to do with leadership? By providing our people with the tools they need to do their job we’re delivering on the fundamentals of engagement: people trust us more when we provide what they need to be successful. they’re better equipped, both in practical terms and emotionally, to deliver on their role.