W80pxtreee think we know how something works. And then we find we don’t. Probably when it breaks down.

A (lovely) team I know was pretty sure about why things worked. And then they weren’t.

They kept telling themselves that it was something to do with poor communication. While mysteriously all being able to communicate this thought quite clearly to each other.

The best lesson I could find to help explain the why, the what, and the how, was offered by a current exhibition at the British Museum called ‘Drawing with silver and gold’.

Hendrik Goltzius: Self-portrait, c.1589   (British Museum: 1895,0915.1020)

This beautiful exhibition explores the art of metalpoint from across 6 centuries and includes some heart stopping drawing work.

What has metalpoint silverpoint got to do with a team; a group of committed people who work closely together?

The process is a very helpful analogy. And amazing.

Coated paper was drawn on with a fine soft-metal stylus. The paper coating was traditionally finely ground bone, pigment, and a binding agent. Several coats might be applied, resulting in a finely abrasive surface on which the metal would leave a delicate trace.

So think on this for a moment.

A very soft material is leaving a fine, permanent, distinctive trace on…a rough material.

As the team talked, something emerged.

One team member had just been seconded elsewhere. He is gentle, softly spoken, and self-effacing. His loudest colleague might even have admitted under pressure that it was sometimes possible to forget he was there.

Now he wasn’t. And they had, without recognizing the feeling for what it was, noticed.

It would appear that he left an indelible – and now much missed – mark on his more up front colleagues.

So then they knew how they worked: the rough with the smooth