All too often we get caught in the rut of repetition, cocooned within our comfort zone.  Thanks to my company Aspira’s adventurous spirit I am often encouraged to try new things and expand that zone of comfort.  Usually this relates to me taking on new technical IT challenge or business venture, but last week it was a little different – it was to dance the Tango, in front of an audience of six hundred people with a partner I had not met before!

My comfort zone was a rapidly disappearing spec in my rear-view mirror.

Now that I have survived the experience, I can see so many parallels between my attempt to emulate Michael Flatley and the approach to taking on a new technical challenge.

Susan, my new dance partner, was full of enthusiasm to burn up the dancefloor, so I would have to up my game to meet her performance standards.  The dance we were assigned was a Tango to the Eurythmics’ number Sweet Dreams and we would have just five weeks to learn the dance and perfect the moves.

While I am naturally a “can do” person, I have to admit that when it came to dancing,  I had many moments of ‘what if I can’t?’   The thought of letting my new dance partner down (in every sense of the word) and delivering a substandard performance filled me with dread and made me consider dropping out – I had to make a conscious effort to banish negative thoughts because sometimes imagination can be one’s worst enemy.   I drew inspiration from a great book by Susan Jeffers, Feel the Fear & Do It Anyway, so – I took a great big gulp and committed.

In any new project team, we go through the phases of forming, then storming – where each person establish their ‘territory’ before settling into the norming stage where the ground rules are established.  Then the team gets to performing.  This whole process can take days or years, depending on the makeup of the team and the personalities involved.  For our Tango project, with a five week deadline, we needed to get through the storming phase quickly!  This meant we needed to swiftly come to terms with the initial awkwardness of grappling with a stranger and instead learn how to operate together and complement each other’s strengths.

By the end of week three, our communication had improved – we were comfortable being direct with each other and challenging each other.  We started to see results as our moves came together and so our confidence improved, giving us enough courage to tailor some moves to improve them, or replace them with moves that we thought were a little more complex or artistic.

In my working world, this is where scope creep can become a problem, when there are uncontrolled changes to the project scope of work, so you could end up delivering something that is different to what was requested!  To avoid this, you need to recognise when there are changes to scope and ensure they are approved in advance.   For our Tango project, we made sure to avoid scope creep by checking in with our expert advisors all the time to approve that any changes we made were legitimate Tango moves.  We kept checking in with each other and leveraged  our supporting team of experts throughout the process.

Then, like many ICT projects, we had to deal with unforeseen risks!  The ex-Hurricane Ophelia struck, meaning our training schedule was condensed even more.  I did not get much sympathy from colleagues who had lost their electricity when I moaned how to storm had interrupted my dance practice.  To recover from this setback, we put in some extra unscheduled effort and continued practising right up to the show.

When the event night itself arrived, we were all set for the project to go live!   We knew we had put the preparation in, so we felt confident we could give it our all, though there was always a chance of a – literal – slip up.  Thankfully there were no mis-steps during the performance, Susan was fantastic,  and we somehow managed to achieve a 10 out of 10 from each of the four judges.  Relief!  The feedback was fantastic and surpassed our wildest hopes.

After the excitement settled I had time to reflect.  When I embarked upon this project my initial fear was would I be able to  learn the new skill – the dance moves.  In fact, like many projects, the technical skills were not really the obstacle – the single biggest factor to our success was being able to work effectively together – which we achieved through clear, honest communication and agreed focus on a common goal.

The next time Aspira presents me with a technical challenge that will push me outside my comfort zone, I will keep those lessons in mind, and hopefully tap-dance my way to success!

Author: Bobby Murphy, Director IT Services, Aspira.

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