I was recently reminded of a story I introduced at a team meeting a couple of years ago. Many of the teams’ objectives were long term and their projects faced a number of challenges and changes due to external forces impacting the business as a whole. At times the team felt they were working hard but going nowhere fast, as a result they felt they didn’t add value and weren’t achieving anything. I took them through the following story
Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.
Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, ”Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”
The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”
Adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)
Myself and my line manager highlighted to the team that we saw them make a difference on a regular basis, be it to their projects, their peers or their internal customers. We then set them the challenge of taking the next month to identify their own ‘Starfish Story’. It could be big or small, project or non-project related, it just needed to be something they did at work that made them feel they had made a difference. At the next meeting the updates only focused on their ‘Starfish Stories’, people got creative and made starfish (we had cakes, cookies, mobiles, collages etc.) and presented their ‘Starfish Stories’. These ranged from helping a team in crisis to clarify their issues and action plan to resolve, to looking at solutions that supported learning difficulties. Some tasks were extras the team had stepped in to support, others were smaller parts of large projects.
The whole meeting focused on success and achievement and the result? An increase in motivation, satisfaction and self-worth in their roles.
Do you sometimes feel like you are making no progress and adding no value because of the enormity of the work you need to do to reach your goal?
Remember the story above, find your starfish story and shout it from the roof tops – you will have made a difference to someone or something!