Skip to main content
Mountain Zebras line up at the waterhole

Mountain Zebras line up at the waterhole

Does your management team line up like these zebras to deliver your company’s vision?

In the hide at Hobatere Lodge, Namibia, we had a great morning watching oryx, kudu, impala, zebra, warthog, giraffe, jackal and lion – a drama of continuous adaptation before our very eyes.

Of course a waterhole is a great focal point…

Oryx and zebra waiting around the waterhole

Oryx and zebra waiting around the waterhole

That evening I got the giggles looking at the picture of the zebras lined up for drinking.

Something about the stripes, their heads all in one direction and seeing it from the rear made me laugh. Even although I was on holiday, like a flash, the image of alignment of resources with company direction came to mind.

(Point of detail – some of you might notice these are mountain zebra – a much more rare species where the stripes go down the legs too. Really lovely.)

Mountain zebra and a lone Impala

Mountain zebra and a lone Impala

Afterwards it made me wonder if this is often our underlying assumption; we need to make each person and each department in an organisation look the same.

Our goals, objectives and performance must all be written up in the same way. Our premise is that in this way we achieve operational excellence and performance.

What if this were not the case?

What if we were to see organisational (or family or social) excellence as a more diverse and more fluid concept, where we could operate as a more mixed economy and adapt our behaviour in light of the sights and sounds around us?

Zebra, Kudu and Impala

Zebra, Kudu and Impala

In this scenario, we could be more fully ourselves, where we could call on and draw on our differences more explicitly and not become all the same.

We don’t have to be overly optimistic about reality here either – we might also have to allow for our predators.

Lions at the waterhole late afternoon

Lions at the waterhole late afternoon

Nor do we need to be overly purist. The organisation might be operating around an artificial water hole too – you can see that the one at Hobatere is a borehole. These are much more reliable than natural water holes, which can run dry.

How might questions from these images help you to think once more about what is best for your team, organisation or business plan?

  • Do you all need to look the same? Is there pressure to do so?
  • Could you allow your diversity to show more explicitly, to gain benefit for your team, organisation or business plan?
  • Do you need to allow for predators in your world, real or illusory?
  • Where could you drill or find a waterhole that might be useful to you?

If you would like some help with your thinking, do get in touch. Conversation, ideally over coffee, is always welcome.

And if liked my blog, or have a top tip for aligning management teams with company vision, please leave your thoughts below.

Photographs: Martin How

With thanks to Sense Africa for organising our trip.

Gill How

Helping leaders grow, step up and deliver outstanding results


  • David Cohen says:

    Hi Gill 🙂 Great posts, as ever – love the skydiving one. Not to be out done, my son and I had a short in Iceland… amazing place.

    Now down to business. Learning, knowledge, L&D, training etc. etc. etc. Must be an age thing, but I actually do nearly all my ‘formal’ learning now in an ‘informal’ way – newsletters and blogs I subscribe to, newspapers I read, plus we now have yammer at work, so there’s always plenty of interesting stuff people are posting, although not as much debate as I’d like, but still, you can’t have everything.

    I have quite often asked people – do you have a budget for ‘informal’ learning / training. Obviously a bit of a rhetorical question, but the answer is always … ‘no’.

    This is how I learn now, at my own pace, with stuff I choose, but that still challenges. I then try and bring as much of what is relevant to my work and the work of others.

    See you around – how about meeting up sometime…

    • gillhow says:

      Thanks Dave, great point about informal learning …

      I’ll be in touch to meet – would love to hear about Iceland too (also on our list to visit!)

  • senseafrica says:

    Love the metaphors for management using wildlife around a waterhole. Will use those thoughts when I am next there and work through my organisation. And at a waterhole you can remove yourself from every day distractions and really focus – so maybe when you are in a different location that is the best time to think about these things?

    Also a group of individuals can bring out the best in each other, sometimes with surprising results.

    FYI – the collective noun for a group of zebra is a ‘dazzle’.

  • gillhow says:

    Thanks, Jenny. These metaphors can run and run … I love your point about removal from distractions and focus, for me there was also an extreme sense of calm but also excitement waiting to see what happened next at the same time!

    Thank you again for a great holiday!


Leave a Reply