Yes, I do know that “love all” is not a real score in tennis. It’s never announced, but it is the starting point before play has begun. Thinking back to my consulting days over a decade ago, it reminds me of that time just before the beginning of a project. Everyone meets for the first time, everything is new, the possibilities are endless. Even the wild card player can be the tournament champion.
The SAP Open tennis tournament took place in San Jose, CA, just last week. Watching these high-powered players on the court, enjoying every minute of it, I found myself thinking of even more parallels to consulting:
- In the warm-up, everyone feels each other out. In the initial meetings, everyone is placing the ball so that the “other team” can easily return it. Defining the “other team” can vary from meeting to meeting, based on shifting alliances and many categories: line of business, IT, finance, sales, manufacturing, human resources…..
- Then play begins. There will be differences in opinion of how certain tasks are approached, and which system options are implemented. Sometimes the decision is swift, like an aced serve. Sometimes it takes a while, like a long rally, where the ball keeps going back, and forth, and back, and forth, and….
- Although I am a singles player, a consulting project is not a one-person show. So in doubles play (we’re all part of a team!) – communication is key. But there are the side conversations. In business, it’s called Instant Messaging. In doubles, the trend seems to be to hold two or three balls in front of your mouth, apparently so that the “other team” can’t read your lips as you strategize.
- Timely communication is even more key. Waiting to communicate critical items just upsets, well, everyone. Case in point: in the final, the chair umpire called a “let” (indicating that the ball being served hit the net and needs to be replayed) – but only called it five strokes into the point.
- And sometimes team members vent. Shouting matches in the hallways are not common. So while we did not see a John McEnroe type of show, Andy Roddick did point to a ball on occasion, indicating more gently that he disagreed with the call.
After the tournament was over, sometimes full of surprises as each match developed, we can now make plans for next year’s tournament. And when a project is complete, we – start over! There is always another project needed to improve processes and systems even further. And we find ourselves, again, at the beginning.
Since the final of the SAP Open took place on Valentine’s Day, it is even more appropriate to repeat: Love – All!