Chalking the Field

Chalking the FieldThe term “chalk the field” means exactly what it implies. Remember the games growing up. I grew up in the country and had a field that the neighboring farm kids and he would use to play baseball. We didn’t have chalked lines to mark the field but we had things just as good. We had the old Redwood tree that was a dead totem out in one of the farmer’s fields and we had the edge of the barn. That was the first base line. The third base line was the fence post and the tree in the corner of the field.
Of course, home, first, second and third bases were cow pies. Not fresh ones of course. So when a game was played, things went pretty smooth until a questionable foul ball got everyone in a tither and issues arose. Eventually, the issue was resolved and the game continued.

This is mentioned as the foundation to what is called “Chalking the Field” because today’s kids only play baseball in the totally organized life of the city kid. They need chalked fields and a clear-cut infield to play baseball. When they are taken to an empty field, they would not be creative initially but they would have figured out how to “Chalk the Field” on their own if they wanted to play a game. If you don’t have chalked lines you have to agree on a different approach and they would have come up with the same things done many years earlier. They did that because they needed boundaries and rules to play the game. What was a fair ball? Who calls strikes? And so forth.

My friend grew up in Canada and had similar experiences with random hockey rinks in iced over field ponds. Issues of boundaries, goals and fairness were resolved in a “sand lot” format similar to the baseball scenario noted. Anyone growing up in a soccer intense environment tells the same stories about playing a game without defined boundaries. Kids figure it out and the games are played with the intensity intended.

In business, a similar thing is done. There are rules that define each job. But there aren’t necessarily rules to define how the game of winning at the company will be played. That is the job of strategy. Jobs are isolated and metrics applied to the tasks involved. But when you have a group of people working to a common goal of optimized output of the group, they are a team and the rules that define winning need to be made clear. The rules amount to “Chalking the Field.” That is what is meant by this expression.

If the General Manager or the COO or even the CEO wants to get optimum results, they need to engage the team members in a discussion of the work rules for a winning team. Of course, they can dictate that but that usually gets sub-optimal results. Or you can just let the people try to put the rules together without any guidance from management and that is another prospect for a failure. It should be a management/worker effort. If the employees and management are agreed on the strategy and how that is relevant to the Mission, then “chalking the field” will get the expected results.

About Tribal Knowledge Series

In a career spanning over 30 years, Len Bertain has coached over 150 CEO’s to help them understand and correct inefficiencies and lost profits in their business. He created the well-known “War on Waste” program, a preeminent Lean Business tool, to guide leadership teams through the process. He is an author of four books on the War on Waste and a frequent speaker to CEO groups. Since its inception, the War on Waste program has generated over $1 Billion in first-year profits from over 10,000 ideas, all generated by client company employees. The companies involved in the War on Waste have been as small as 10 people with Fortune 100 companies at the other extreme. His books include: How to Win the War on Waste in 90 Days, The War on Waste Paradox, War on Waste Innovation, and The Tribal Knowledge Paradigm. Len's Bookstore In 1994, he founded the Institute for Productivity and, in 1999, CEO University, both based in San Francisco, CA. He holds a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Nevada and a B.S. in Physics and Math from St. Mary’s College of California. He lives in California with his wife and has 3 grown sons and 9 grandchildren.
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