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  • Matt Brown

Why Leadership is like completing a jigsaw

In common with most L&D Consultants, I expect, I have acquired lots of training activities over the years, and I have to admit that I do have my favourites. One is ‘The Jigsaw’ – a leadership exercise from Adair International. To explain it simply, a team is given a bag containing 2 different jigsaw puzzles, both with the same number of pieces. They have no picture to refer to, one of the puzzles has the pieces, while the other has no notation. Their task is to complete both puzzles correctly.

This activity, demonstrates that completing a jigsaw puzzle is a great analogy for effectively leading a team:

  • In order to complete the puzzle, you need all the right pieces and a picture of what you are aiming to achieve. Similarly in a team you need members with a mix of skills and a vision to work towards.

  • Each piece forms part of the bigger picture. Just as in order to achieve the vision, the input of every team member is needed.

  • Completing a puzzle takes time and patience – you are unable to complete a 500-piece puzzle in 10 minutes, so give it the time it needs. Likewise, teams don’t become effective overnight. As a leader you need to select the right people, give them the development and resources they need, give them tasks that suit their skills and then ‘get out of their way’ but still be available to support them.

  • If you force the wrong puzzle piece into the wrong place, it can be very difficult to get it out again, and it causes disruption for all the other pieces round it. Sometimes leaders fall into the trap of recruiting someone with the wrong skills set, and ‘forcing’ them into a role that they are not suited to. You can’t just remove them, this takes time and procedures have to be followed, with a negative impact on the performance or morale of the other team members while working through the process.

  • Each piece of the jigsaw puzzle is like one of your team members. A different shape to all the other pieces and with different needs. As a result, a good team leader will get to know their needs and treat each person differently based on this knowledge to help their people realise their potential.

In summary, to make sure you are as effective a leader as you can be, always think about the jigsaw puzzle – do you have all the right pieces, a picture of what you are looking to achieve and an acceptance that success takes time?

If you would like help in developing your people to enable them to lead their teams to be the best they can be please contact me for an initial discussion at 

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