Two Keys to Great Teamwork

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Every business requires a team working well together in order to reach success. Even if you are a loner in a business with one employee, you still need to work with vendors and customers.  But what is essential to teams working well?

My son is a lacrosse player and when he first started as a young five year old, teamwork was not always so prevalent.  The kids tended to all want the ball; they all wanted to score a goal.  Once they had it, there was no passing, it was an all-out run to the net, usually resulting in the ball being checked out of their stick and picked up by the other team.  I am sure you’ve seen this before, whether soccer or basketball or lacrosse, the kids herd around the ball, moving in a pack and sometimes fighting their own teammates for possession of that coveted sphere.

But to win, team members must move beyond this selfishness and learn to pass the ball.  There has to come a time where sharing the glory for the benefit of the team must be paramount, but, alas, this is a lesson that is hard to learn.  In fact, even at the professional level selfishness rears its ugly head.  You can see it in games when a player takes low percentage shots when others with better positioning and higher scoring chances stand empty handed.  You can hear it in after-game interviews when a player talks about their disappointment that they didn’t get the ball much.  But as Leonard Nimoy as the character Spock said in the movie Wrath of Khan, “the good of the many outweighs the good of the few…or the one.”  This unselfish attitude is the first essential of teamwork and critical to being able to successfully work together.

The second essential, again, comes from my experience as a lacrosse parent.  Over the years, as I watched many hundreds of games, one thing other than more passing that has jumped out at me has been the amount of chatter on the field.  When the kids were young, they were largely quiet as they played with little talk between them.  This, however, doesn’t work well if you want to be a team, so, during practice and games you would regularly hear coaches yelling out to the players to talk to one another.  And by talk to one another, they meant to let teammates know when they were open or when there might be danger lurking from behind, etc.

In lacrosse, a key to communication is a very vocal goalie.  You see, when teams are playing defense with the goal behind them, they can’t see large areas and it is up to the goalie to consistently let them know what’s going on.  You can regularly hear the goalie yelling out what opposing player has the ball, who’s moving around behind the scenes, or who needs to move into another position to cover a new development.  The amount of yelling and chattering can be quite disconcerting to someone new to the sport.  I have had many a new viewer ask me why the goalie is constantly yelling things.

This is my second essential, over communication, not just communication, OVER communication.  The goalie may well be yelling out things that everyone knows but when the chips are down, those players need insurance and it’s better to hear it ad nauseum than to be caught unaware.  I have never heard a lacrosse player snap back at the goalie to say that they know it all and for him to pipe down, no, to the contrary, I usually hear players thanking the goalie for keeping them aware of everything that’s happening.

So there you have it, two keys to teamwork, 1) unselfishness and 2) over communication.

Now the question to you is how can this knowledge help your business?  Well, take a look around.  Where are people, departments, or groups hogging the ball and working for themselves instead of the good of the organization (the team)?  Where might you be hogging the ball instead of enlisting the help of others who could lend ideas or expertise to a project?  Where would some over communication help to keep teammates updated and on top of things?  Where are you holding onto information waiting to release it at “just the right time” even though the team might benefit from it now?  These are just a few of the questions to ask yourself and we could go on and on, but, overall, if you want to work better as a team, regularly look around and take stock of where selfishness might be infecting things or where people could use a hefty dose of over communication.

A business, much like a lacrosse team, is a group of individuals who must work for a common goal, work selflessly for each other and keep everyone informed of what’s happening at all times.  One selfish player or missed communication can result in the other team scoring that winning goal.  What can you do today to lead a winning team?


What’s Your First Priority?

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“The number one priority of our company is to make money.”  Thus spoke a middle manager while speaking to a group of his direct reports.  I was in attendance and bit my tongue.  This is just misguided thinking.  Making money should never be the number one priority, if it is, you should buy a printing press.

Now, if money isn’t it, what is it?  Well, we need to go back to some fundamental thinking in order to come to some conclusions.

First, what is the primary function of business?  It’s simply to help people accomplish something, whether that something is getting a product they want or need or a service they need because they can’t do or don’t want to do some task.  That’s it.  Helping people is the only reason businesses exist.

Second, getting paid for helping is how a business stays alive.  And, the better you do it, the more you can charge and the more people come to you and pay for what you do so well.

With all of this in mind, what do you now think should be the number one priority?  It should be making how you help people the best it can possibly be.  It should be making the process of working with you incredibly easy.  It should be making the experience with your people an enjoyable one.  And most of all, it should be about ensuring your customers are successful in getting the solution they need.  If you can make all of this happen consistently and at the highest level, you will make money, and if you can keep improving it, you will outlast any competition you have.

If making money is your first priority, do an about face and change your thinking by making helping your customers to the best of your ability the number one thing on the list.

The Process-Experience Loop

Imagine being a fan of a ball team (football, baseball, basketball, whatever) who loses much more than they win.  Their game plan is rarely good and the experience of their fans seems to work in tandem to that.  Before you know it, you are no longer a fan.  This is one example of what I call the Process-Experience Loop where the game plan (process) has a direct influence on what the fans (customers) experience.  A good game plan results in wins and loyal fans whereas a poor game plan results in losses and less loyal fans.  Let’s look at this in business.

For most brands, the main goal is to capture customers and get them to make a purchase. For this to happen, businesses create processes and systems for acquiring customers, selling to them, and getting products in their hands.  Below is a high-level view of the most basic kind of business process that moves from attracting customers to long-term support once they have the product.  Let’s break it down.




Attraction is typically thought of as marketing but it can manifest itself in a variety of ways that isn’t limited to ads or other “designed” communications.  It could be something as simple as a sign beside your place of business or word of mouth from a current or former customer.


This includes 1) the initial contact that creates that all-important first impression, 2) your sales process whether it’s speaking with a sales person, perusing products on shelves, or reviewing a menu, and finally, provided things have gone well, 3) the agreement or contract to purchase.


Whether it’s the customer walking away with the product, having it shipped, or experiencing the service requested, there is some sort of delivery required.


Completing the process is the long-term support of the product or service where problems are solved, updates proffered, new products announced, etc .

Every business has a big-picture process like this and while many of these big steps may have smaller, more detailed processes within them, the essentials are pretty much alike from business to business.  For example, in your business’s engagement segment there may be multiple interactions with individual departments that all have processes with their own personalities, quirks, and details; nevertheless, it’s all part of the larger engagement piece.

However, regardless of the minutiae in these details, there is one truth that holds for all of these processes for any organization.  They all have an impact on customers which always needs to be considered.




This is where the journey for the customer begins.  Marketing, word of mouth, and any number of other references to the business are the initial attraction elements that cause the discovery of the business.  It is here where the customer reaches out and the business starts to engage.  This is a crucial point for the business where an impression is created that either invites or pushes away.


Assuming the impression is inviting, the ensuing sales engagement is where the customer begins to consider and evaluate the pros and cons of the product or service.


This is the culmination of the engagement/consideration stage where the customer makes a decision to purchase or not.


Assuming the customer purchases, the product or service is delivered and they take ownership.  From there, they experience whatever long-term support is available as needed.


At some point, the customer has further needs or a desire to repurchase.  It is here where the quality and ease of the support provided has either built or diminished trust and thus influences the customer’s future choice to leave the brand or remain loyal to it.  Some key decision-making criteria here include:

  1. Was the overall experience easy?
  2. Was it enjoyable?
  3. Was I successful, i.e. did I get what I came for and did I accomplish what I wanted to accomplish?
  4. Do the answers to those questions compare favorably to the price?

So, what’s the point?

Three key insights come to mind.

  1. Every part of the overall process your business implements has an impact on the customer. Any part that is difficult, confusing, or redundant eventually affects them.
  2. The difficulty of the process isn’t only important to customers; it matters to your employees too. If the process is fraught with pain for the employee, you better believe it affects their attitude and happiness, and if your employees aren’t happy, they will find it hard to make customers happy.
  3. Difficult processes are usually inefficient and cost you more. These costs hit you directly in wasted time and indirectly when passed to customers as you get complaints that cause you to discount or worse yet, defection to your competitors which costs you not only the lost customer but also the expense of finding new customers to fill the holes.

Interested?  Begin examining your Process-Experience loop.

First, think about your customers. Do they seem to enjoy working with you and your teams? Do they think you are easy to do business with?  Do you know whether they feel successful with your product or service?

To get firm answers to these types of questions, you should be sending out evaluations and/or interviewing those who’ve made a purchase. Ask them about the effort involved.  Ask them if they feel successful.  Ask them if they enjoy your people. And most of all, ask them if they would return to do it all again.  If any of the responses are negative, make sure to enquire as to why things were difficult, not enjoyable, or what made them unsuccessful.

And it doesn’t end with customers.  Ask your employees about your processes.  Are there things that are difficult and time consuming?  Are there things that are redundant?  Are there unnecessary steps?  Ask your employees, they are the ones who have to deal with it all.

Then compare.  Compare the voice of your customers to the voice of your employees.  Look for holes, gaps, time-wasting or unnecessary steps, and genuine points of pain.  And then redesign things so they are easier, more enjoyable and lead to success for both employees and customers.

This should be an ongoing and constant pursuit.  You will never reach perfection here because needs and wants change, but by making this a constant in your organization, you will see more loyal customers and more loyal employees resulting in greater long-term business success.



The Cost of the Misaligned Rebel

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Which attitude do you want your customers to experience?


Choice A is Service Focused where employees work with the customers’ best interest in mind, authentically and proactively looking for solutions.

Choice B is Self-Focused where employees place the needs of themselves, their department or their boss ahead of the customers’ needs.

If you said A, which I hope you did, this is how your organization needs to look.


This means everyone in the organization is aligned to and unified in a mission of making customers successful.  This means everyone helping each other with the goal of helping the customer achieve success.  And when I say everyone, I mean everyone, even one manager who has different thinking can disrupt the whole balance and send their team members in the wrong direction which can send your customers the entirely wrong message and change the perception of your brand.


And if this influence is higher up the organizational ladder, the results multiply.


In the case of this organization, the customer is only getting the service-focused treatment 25% of the time and it all started with a couple of “rebels”.

If you’re thinking this is highly elementary, you’re right, it is.  But if it’s so elementary, why do so many businesses fail to make it happen?

Can I Please Speak With a Human?

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More and more we read about companies replacing human workers with machines, robots or computers.  While this is troubling, it is, alas, part of our evolution it would seem.  However, there is one area where it seems humans are needed and cannot be readily replaced and that area is service.

Now I know there are those who can give some examples of good automated service but I would submit that automated service is rarely service at all.  Think about it, how many times have you been stuck in that horrible loop on the phone where you just want a real person to speak with only to be confronted with “press 1, 2, 3, ad infinitum”.  Is this really service or is it a subtle message that the company you are trying to reach is more interested in saving a few pennies than they are in really helping you…the customer?

Frankly, the technology known as IVR, Interactive Voice Response, where you access a company by voice recognition or pressing numbers on your phone keypad might be great for paying a bill or getting some basic information but when you need help, I have found it more frustrating than helpful.  And isn’t being helpful what service is all about?

Recently, I lost my internet/phone/TV service due to some work on my house.  I had to get some help troubleshooting to find out what exactly went wrong.  I dialed the provider and got the dreaded IVR system.  After pushing button after button and answering question after question, I was left in a position where no option fit the bill for me.  What now?  After a few choice words and a moment to think, I took a chance and dialed zero.  Amazingly, it began to ring and I got a human…yea!  The interaction with a person took less time for me to explain my problem than did all of the buttons and voice commanding and proved infinitely less frustrating.

This entire experience taught me a few things.  First, IVR systems are a very poor substitute for real human connection.  Second, when a customer has a problem, IVR is simply terrible because it cannot answer quickly and cannot capture the myriad nuances of product issues.  Finally, it sends a bad message about how much your company really cares about customers.  If I spend my hard-earned money with you and you make me endure an arduous struggle to get the easiest of answers to a problem, how much do I think I matter to you?

As our world slowly moves to mechanized everything, it is my fervent hope that we never lose the need for humans to help humans.  As I have illustrated, while there are many things humans do poorly and machines do better, empathy and understanding are things no push-button voice recognition system can do at all.  If you are a business person, listen up, service is and will always need to be human to human and no amount of automation can adequately replace it. So stop pinching pennies and start providing what your customers deserve, human help.