Tech firm lessons from Gay Byrne

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“The project is bigger than the individual.”

Gay Byrne loves routine.

When I worked with him he presented a radio show five days a week plus a live TV show every Friday. Routine was crucial.

That TV show was The Late Late Show – the most popular TV show in the world, per head of population. 

One in every three Irish people watched every week. 

Each week we pushed ourselves to be better than the week before. 

We had no real competition* so we had to drive ourselves hard.

My favourite part of each week was the all hands post-mortem – every Monday at noon.

The whole team would gather in a conference room in RTÉ Television to rip apart the previous week’s show.

We sat around a round table. All equal.

Gay would start first. He always started by criticising his own performance. 

That was so smart on so many levels.

It gave each of us the freedom to criticise him but it also gave everyone free range to criticise each other.

This process forced us to leave our egos at the door.

We were all free to speak with completely honesty about the previous Friday’s show.

There was no blame shared, just learnings.

If something went well, we would dissect it to understand why, so we could repeat it.

We would do the same with our mistakes. Everything that fell below par was examined for learnings.

We took collective responsibility for all mistakes. If someone had messed up they would leave the meeting understanding why.

The greatest learning from this is the importance of teamwork. 

No ego was more important than our collective task. We needed to be the best every week. That’s all that mattered.

It was a liberating experience and one of the greatest lessons in teamwork I was lucky to learn so early in my career.

Gay is so humble, I don’t think he’d ever imagine that almost twenty years later I’m using his lessons in tech.

This is only one of the many things I learnt from him that I’m still using in business over twenty years later. 

Link: The very first item on the first Late Late Show I worked on in 1994 

(* No disrespect intended towards The Kenny Live team who were up against us, but we had a ton of in-built advantages. The media acted like Gay Byrne and Pat Kenny were arch rivals but it wasn’t really like that. A little bit – but not really.)

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