After spending an afternoon learning how to trap shoot, I came away with a greater appreciation for the sport, along with some powerful organizational change insights. So often people within organizations, whether in leadership or not, operate under the misconception that if they are clear on the objectives to be achieved, time frames for achieving and associated resources (including budget), then everyone is good to go. But there is so much more that becomes apparent as individuals, teams and groups get entwined and struggle to hit the target.

Trap shooting seems to me to be a perfect metaphor for understanding this dilemma. In trap shooting you are provided the objective to ensure the ammunition fired from the gun hits the clay disc. Timing is based from when the shooter says “Pull” to when the clay disc lands on the ground. You have a definable limit within that timeframe to hit the target. Resources constitute the expenditure of energy, type/quality ammunition, and the shotgun you are using. And, just as with projects or work not achieving designated objectives, so too in trapshooting you are not guaranteed to hit the target. There are many reasons for missing your objective or not hitting the target. Based on lessons learned on the trap range, from a novice perspective, here are my top ten that will affect your success rate. The first five are shared in this blog post. Stay tuned later this week for the other five.

Have a starting point, which varies based on where you are positioned: In trap shooting you have five different physical stations from where you are to shoot. You start at one, shoot several times from that vantage spot, and then move to another station. Based on where you are positioned, you have to figure out where to aim your gun to have the best chance of hitting the released clay disc. Beginning a project is similar in trying to determine the starting point in relation to what has occurred and what needs to be accomplished. Do you already have a working project team in place and is everyone already onboard with what needs to be accomplished? Maybe you are in the conceptual stage, which requires a more strategic approach. Learn all you can about what has happened before, how the project came into being, and who was involved. Now is the time to ask lots of questions, practice active listening, and really ground yourself in where you are entering the project. You will have more than enough time to shout “Pull” and be off and running.

Keep your eyes wide open: Did you ever notice how when some people are shooting they often close one eye to get centered on the target? According to my instructor, the best way to shoot is to have your eyes wide open. If you don’t you may be closing an eye that actually throws off your visual perspective for where the target is. The same thing happens when working with a group of people and monitoring the activities going on around you — keep your eyes wide open. Don’t shut an eye or ignore what’s happening around you. Even if you get caught up in the details, look up periodically to see if you and the group are still focused on the right target. A supervisor once shared, “My being attuned to the small details allows me to course correct easily. When I take my eyes off of the ball, they sap my time, energy and bandwidth.”

Keep ahead of the moving target: In trap shooting the target is always moving, and there is a delayed reaction from the time you fire your gun to the time the actual disc is hit. The point is to anticipate and get in front of the target so you can actually hit it. Isn’t that similar to the human dynamics and moving targets in our work world? The targets are often changing so, if you just stay on top of the immediacy of the tasks, you are already behind. In practice you have to anticipate what is going to happen at least a few weeks or months in advance. Have conversations with others to learn about what they are hearing and what they foresee in the future. Plan your work and activities for the moment, with an understanding of how those actions may affect future work.

Recognize the spray pattern of your shot: Every gun has a slightly different spray pattern that the shot will make. This is primarily determined by the gun used and types of ammunition. When shooting, you need to understand how close your shot will have to be to actually hit the target. The same is true in business; how close must the actions and tasks be to hit the target? There is the old Pareto maxim that shares 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people. How much energy and effort must you actually expend to be close enough to hit the target? Must everyone be fully involved and exhausted? Perhaps there are opportunities to delegate the work, relinquish perfectionism, and recognize what is good enough.

Missing the target provides learning: The reality is that out on the trap range, in business, life, etc. no one hits the target 100% of the time. What you need to realize is what lessons were learned from that miss. Are you more aware of what actions need to be taken in the future to hit the target? The feedback and learning is often more important than just hitting the target. If you hit it on a chance, how do you know what future actions will ensure reliable success? The focus here is to determine how maximize your strengths (and the strengths of people around you) so that you can be assured of achieving the results on a reliable basis. Be a continual learner and analyze those misses for improvement.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this Blog Post