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Working your "Outer Game"

by Cheryl Lyon-Hislop

Lasting change requires sustained practice both on and off the job - Daniel Goleman

Following on from last week...

I’m a firm believer that if we can master the inner game, we are on our way to mastering our outer game. Step out of old, inhibiting ways of being and consciously step into new, empowering ways of being. You’ll soon realise that you’re developing a growth mindset and with that there are many opportunities to raise your outer game.

Last week I wrote about working on your inner game. I’d just delivered a webinar to a leadership group and my thinking was to widen the discussion out to the readership of my blog. I'm building on that in this blog as I'll share a reflections exercise you can use with your team. (Read last week's blog so you get where I started at.)

What is the Outer Game?

Raising the bar in our outer game is about how we collaborate, create our own luck, explore the art of the possible, understand our customers and create a shared purpose and understanding of deliverables. It’s about your intent, ambition and tapping into the software to run the business – the hardware (the processes and the actual business) is already there. You have to focus your outer game on connecting the dots to make the hardware work in the way you want.


I’m working with a SaaS company. They are seeking to handle their business growth and personal growth at the same time. The constant learning curve for any business in the start-up to twelve-month stage is huge. The time put into the business means that you tend to let bad habits creep in, or you put personal care to one side, or you binge-work. It isn't healthy and can be counter-productive. So, I'm helping them to create a roadmap, through questioning, listening, clarifying and picking up on the disconnects so that they can move forwards, effectively.

Development is Focused and Opportunistic

As a result, we've explored some of the simple ways to work on your Outer Game. Development does not have to be time-consuming or expensive.

If you look at the research into soft skills needed to grow businesses in the future, there is an ongoing need for operational efficiency (related skills - planning, prioritising, organising, decision-making, time-management and attention management), customer service excellence, and innovation (the ability to create and turn an idea into a profitable product or service).

These are skills that all your team and employees need to have, to a greater or lesser degree. And, the prerequisite for skills development is a level of confidence - “I can do it” - the motor that drives change. Outer game development, as a result, leads to effective choices and action, in any given scenario.

Windows of opportunity for development come at predictable points in a role or career. Usually the simple realisation that cultivating a given capacity will help us do better, as it increases our enthusiasm. If you've worked on your inner game, you'll already be feeling more confident harnessing development challenges.

In summary, these windows include:

  • Preparing for a role change;
  • Preparing for added responsibility;
  • Feeling unchallenged or unsupported, creating momentum to move from that place;
  • Returning to work;
  • Receiving constructive or corrective feedback;
  • Being part of new work streams and project groups to deliver business initiatives.

Balance Enthusiasm and Obsession

One on the insights I've gained is the balance between enthusiasm and obsession. As leaders, bringing your inner game to your outer game means being curious and enthusiastic, but not obsessive. Obsession, on the dark side, blocks the flow of energy and leads to feeling of being stuck, experiencing analysis paralysis, and other inhibiting outcomes. Instead ask, what do we choose to place the greatest importance upon? And, don’t let that become an unhealthy focus.


When working healthily, there is the right amount of challenge. Productive, focused moments happen in this zone. You experience the right amount of challenge, without being under or over stretched.

You’ll then be in a better place to work out if you are either ‘on-track’ or ‘off-track’ in connecting those dots to make the hardware work.

Reflections Exercise - Use with your Team

The trick is to create a starting point, a snapshot of what is happening right now. Keep it simple. I've suggested working through these questions to help you bring clarity to your outer game needs.

  • What metrics will indicate if you are ‘on-track’ or ‘off-track’.

  • What behaviours will indicate if you are 'on-track’ or off-track’?

  • What things do we need to do individually, and as a team, to stay on-track?

  • Do our actions reflect our values and the way we work? (This impacts upon alignment.)

Then, you create two simple systems to work on gap reduction.

  • Create a problem-improvement tracker to help achieve your metrics.

  • Create a feedback and behaviour improvement system within your teams to ensure your outer game stays on track and that your actions reflect the values.

Of course, you have to be committed to making change happen in a way that is right for you. And, you need honesty, and the skills and trust to deeply reflect as a team. There are many ways to do this, one size doesn't fit all. Just use the questions that will help, or adapt to your circumstances. And, feel free to get in touch if you would like to discuss implementing simple ways to work on your Outer Game.

Cheryl Lyon-Hislop is a global HR Consultant and was the Head of Organisational Design and Change at AB World Foods (Pataks, Blue Dragon, Amoy, Levi Roots), HRBP – Co-op Group, and OD Consultant for Kellogg (Europe). She has also worked in various HR/L&D roles with Barclays, Nightfreight GB, RBS Group, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard and United Utilities.




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