Of Fencing and Work Relations

Second Post.  Now I’m thinking of those action words.  I took up the sport of fencing at the ripe old age of 32 and fenced competitively for the next 15 years or so – I even coached beginner’s in my club and spent two years coaching a local college.  I have been kicking around this little thesis, maybe if I can get it onto these pages and reads well enough, I’ll consider expanding it for publish on LinkedIn.  Here we go:

The sport of fencing is one of those obscure sports that really is a great platform for understanding relationships.  For the uninformed, there are three weapons in the sport: foil, saber and Epee.  Each of the weapons has different rules for conduct and scoring, and they also share a common core of rules governing behavior both on and off the piste (fencing area).

Now how does the sport help us understand working relationships?  Let’s look at the individual weapons, their generized personality traits and what business segment they could represent.

Foil.  This is the weapon everyone starts out learning.  It teaches you the basics: how to stand, how to hold the weapon, how to thrust, parry & riposte.  Foil requires the fencer to think on his feet, to be exact (due to a limited target area, and scoring be conducted only with he point of the foil), foil fencers are the everyman of the sport.  Foilist can be seen as the backbone of the sport, to me they are the Sales and Accounts of the business world.

Saber fencing is fast and flashy, with a larger target area than foil, and a weapon that can be scored with the entire blade – it’s every young swashbucklers idea of what fencing is and should be.  The typical fencer for this weapon is the aggressive type (they don’t even keep time during a bout, the game is just too fast to bother).  I see the saberist as the Marketeers of the business world.

The last of the three weapons is the Epee.  Epee is a bit like foil, only scoring with the point, but the entire body is target, so it is by it’s nature a very slow speed game.  If you go fast, your opponent will make you pay.  A-type personalities are typically drawn to this weapon; yes these are the Technical and Engineering types.

Great, we have the personalities and types down, but how does this help explain work relationships?  Well if you ever find yourself at a fencing tournament you will hear foilist and saberist talking about how slow the Epeeist are; Epeeist reminding saberist that fencing saber is really just bad Epee; and everyone sorta knowing there is foil fencing going on all day, but somehow no one is watching.

The point here is that the flashy Marketeers, need to let the slow ponderous Engineers finish the process before selling new products.  The old tete-a-tete between Epee and saber fencers is mirrored in the work world.  Marketing is always looking for the next new thing, and Engineering wants to make that next new thing, but it needs to be the right new thing.  There needs to be balance between the two extremes.  And everyone needs the support of the accounting types, they keep the team running.

So when you find yourself at that all day fencing tournament, remember what looks like complete chaos, really is three separate groups working at different tasks towards a common goal.

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