Graham Birkenhead, May 18 2021

Intrails and Extrails

One of my favourite movies is A Knight’s Tale. It’s its 20th anniversary, so I watched it once again to mark the occasion. Without giving too much of the plot away, there is a point in the story where Geoffrey Chaucer (yes, THE Geoffrey Chaucer) is invited to join the small protagonist group; this group had grown to know each other very well, with high levels of trust and loyalty – and now they were about be joined by an unknown person. As part of the welcoming and onboarding, Wat explained to Geoff what would happen if he ever double crossed them – and that the consequences would involve intrails, extrails and LOTS of pain.

What he was actually doing was defining and explicitly clarifying how people work together within the ‘team’ and what expectations each had of the other. The method he used might be frowned upon in modern workplaces, but what he was doing was absolutely crucial. When considering human group dynamics and behavioural systems, this is known as ‘Internal Integration’. If people are really clear about how they work together with their team-mates, what the expectations are, and where they stand, the consequence is that they need to individually and collectively spend less time and mental effort watching and weighing up each other, and they can devote more of that time and effort to the task in hand. In this case, the main task was working out how to not only break into a world from which they were excluded, but to resoundingly win (not un-like most new market entrants). In our behavioural system this is known as ‘External Adaptation’. You’ll have to watch the movie (highly recommended) to find out if they succeed.

Time spent building your team, honing their knowledge and skills, continuously improving processes, providing the appropriate tools, and developing the culture that animates it is always a good investment. That core fitness (internal integration) is essential to being able to sustainably outperform the competition in the real world (external adaptation). This is the essence of scaling rather than a focus simply on growth.

So, do you know your intrails from your extrails? If not, you may be in for rather a lot of PAIN.

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Written by

Graham Birkenhead


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