[ 3-minute read ]
The Three Bubbles Model
The idea is simple: teams, organisations — and even events (like workshops or conferences) — work best if we find the right balance between three key elements:
- Task – WHAT we are here to do; what the work is about (purpose, goals, issues, content).
- Process – HOW we will work; procedures; systems; sequencing; our approach.
- Relationships – WHO is here; the way we relate; the quality of our “we” (who we are together as well as separately).
This might seem obvious, but it’s remarkably easy to ignore one or other of these fields. Some managers – especially new managers – try to play exclusively to their strengths and fall into one of several traps:
- Obsession with Task: the soulless taskmaster with a disaffected and, quite quickly, inflexible and resistant team.
- Fixation with Process: the “it’s-so-well-planned-nothing-can-wrong-and-I-am-completely-in-control” fallacy.
- Over-reliance on Relationships: the manipulator or the doormat (a.k.a. “everyone’s best friend”).
In a nutshell, we need to pay attention to all three fields (or elements) all the time:
- Are tasks clearly defined? Do people understand their goals? Do they understand our goals and our shared purpose? Do they know why their contribution matters?
- Are the various functions in the team/organisation – and their connections – clear? Do people understand the input-throughput-output connections we have to make work? Do we have a workable plan that everyone understands and can apply flexibly as circumstances change?
- Do we know each other well enough to draw on each other’s strengths? Do we trust each other enough to deal with real issues? What is the relational climate of the team – and does that climate support effectiveness?
And we need to be clear where our priority lies at any given moment …
- When a critical deadline is about to be missed, we focus on the Task element (we’ll make time to debrief around processes and relationships later on).
- When a new team members joins, all three elements need attention (thus, induction).
- When conflict between team members is disrupting processes and tasks, we need to address our Relationships.
- Designing new systems affects all three areas, but relates most directly to the Process element.
It’s interesting to take look at our leadership styles through the lens of this little framework:
- Which “bubble” is your comfort zone?
- What elements might you need to work on to achieve a better balance as a leader?
Or, consider looking at your team and organisation:
- Is there a working balance between the three elements, or are some aspects neglected or overemphasised?
- Look at each in turn – how are we taking care of people, processes and connecting to purpose daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and so on?
This can be the beginning of a simple, and very practical, diagnostic exercise.
(Thanks to my colleague and mentor, Davine Thaw, for sharing the Three Bubbles Model with me many years ago … It remains useful to this day.)