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Who Has the Ball?

Obsessing about the positive transfer of control.

Earlier this week I found myself in a heated debate during our leadership meeting. One of our senior people argued that selling a job and moving its status to Closed Won marked the end of his responsibility to solicit a project management handoff. From that point, he declared, it was up to our project managers to reach out to him to schedule the meeting. I disagreed, stating that until another human said, “I have the ball,” he still owned the project. He pushed back, saying his part was over and, if anything needed to change, it was on the project management side of the fence. I grabbed a jar of almonds and, in my best Tommy Boy impersonation, challenged him to see the jar as the proverbial “sale,” placing it in his hands. I then said, until he’d handed the nuts to someone and they’d acknowledged receipt, they were still his. He stood firm. I pivoted. “Even after that,” I said, challenging him further, “when something goes sideways, who loses?” “The customer,” he said. “We all do,” I said.

Handoff - Who Has the Ball?
Getty Images

I’m not sure how to fix the normal human reaction “I did my job,” but I do know that every solid business workflow I know of involves something called “positive transfer of control.” In aviation, it’s as simple as saying “your airplane” and only relinquishing control when hearing back “my airplane” from your copilot. Failure to positively transfer controls lies at the core of many aviation accidents where there was ambiguity about who was pilot in command. Just like aviation, ambiguity is a killer at the edges of relationships between disciplines like project management and sales. If we don’t obsess about who has the ball, we’re sunk.

Also by Henry Clifford: Managing Sales Teams With Bumper Lanes

Let’s assume that we all want the same thing. It’s probably some variant of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. What that means to us in our jobs might vary widely depending on our world view. Assuming a continuum of micro to macro thinking, “job well done” could vary widely. It’s our job to communicate that “done is done.” In other words, we aren’t finished until everything is complete.

Southwest Airlines does a great job at this “we’re not done” messaging with its “Wheels Up” mantra. It’s simple and hardly requires explanation. In a nutshell, the baggage handler may have nailed it, gate agents checked everyone in, and pilots preflighted like a champ. The maintenance crew, however, failed to fuel the plane properly. The plane leaves late and puts “Wheels Up” in jeopardy. They win and lose as a team.

In an effort to bring a little “Wheels Up” to Livewire, we’ve decided to hyper-obsess over delivery date and drive our efforts towards on-time, on-budget delivery. We’re tired of living in a world of 99 percent complete jobs, instead deciding to see if we can shift things a bit to drive some excitement internally about finishing strong.

Also by Henry Clifford: 5 AI Tools You Should Be Using in Your CI Business Right Now

What are you doing in your company to encourage positive transfer of control and a culture of winning as a team?

Stay frosty, and see you in the field.