For nearly 30 years, Jim has maintained a newsletter correspondence with his loyal clients.
For all of the youngsters reading this, newsletters are like blog posts--just better.
Read on for some of Jim's "greatest hits" and musings on business and life.
One of the things I’ve learned in business is that getting people to work naturally together as a team is difficult. As owners we always want a cohesive team of people who come to our organization with a host of previous backgrounds and experiences. Getting those individuals to mesh together can be complicated. Ask any head coach of a professional sports team. Getting all the egos to work together for a common goal can be problematic. And yet, we expect a lot from our teams and as the foundation of organizational life – we should.
Changing team behavior, once ingrained is no small feat. There are a lot of social nuances that goes into creating the culture of any group, and once established can be impossible to change. Cultures rest on spoken and unspoken norms. Think of a team culture like a spider web. You can take out one piece of it, and then it will re-form to its original shape. Changing it sometimes requires you to break apart the entire web!
We just experienced such a situation. We had one member of our sales team who had his own independent agenda. As much as we wanted him to gel with others, he always would go along his own path. We had several members of his team complain to me, but we allowed him to continue because of his personal performance, not realizing that his behavior had a large impact on the rest of the team. Why was it acceptable for him to break policies and procedures, while the others had to toe the line? Ultimately, we had to acknowledge that it was not acceptable and we had to let him go.
I think it’s important to define the kind of team we are discussing here. A team is a group of people who are interdependent in order to accomplish their goals. Teams basically have four elements – common commitment and purpose, performance goals, complementary skills and mutual accountability. Groups that may work together but don’t share those attributes, such as independent sales reps are a work group rather than a team. Many companies can waste time and resources trying to make a team out of independent workers who pretty much operate on their own. That may work in many situations. But, true teams do rely upon each other and they need to fully understand the boundaries which govern their behavior. In many instances these boundaries are not communicated consistently. That is why operating principles work so well - they create a shared agreement for behavior and create mutual accountability. Consider operating principles like the guardrails that keep you from steering off the road.
As for the employee that we had to let go, he kept driving past the guardrails and off the road. Eventually we had to put the guardrails back up so the team could function as a unit. So what do the operating principles look like? They really can be whatever you want them to be. Principles can be similar to core values, but with one important distinction – they are behavioral, tactical guides. Principles provide direction. For example, a core value might be to provide a high level of customer service and a team operating principle would be to report back on customer issues within 24 hours.
What I have found in my years of business is that in order to get buy-in from the employees it is best when they help establish the guidelines. Rather than extoll the principles from the mountaintop, I have found that creating the guidelines along with the employees is the best approach. First, bring up the idea and then facilitate a brainstorm meeting. Next have the team rank their top half dozen operating principles and once there is a consensus, make the principles visible. Finally, reinforce them and make them a part of the daily culture.
Unfortunately, much of what I’ve learned is via the hard way – by our mistakes. It takes time and sometimes courage to make it right. But in the end, it is worth it!