Time to Tune Up Your Team

So let me ask you this.  Do you take your car for an oil change every 3-4 thousand miles? Get the tires rotated..change the spark plugs?   You protect the lifespan of your investment by maintaining it’s crucial parts.  Why then, would any organization invest so much in the interviewing process, reference checks, background checks and the training period by doing exactly nothing…. to keep their new found “investment” shiny, engaged, mentally fit, in tune?

Team-building can help organizations AND the individuals which make up those teams, hit a “re-set” button.  Periodically it is so important to shake out the cob-webs and make sure the parts are all sound, AND that they are all working cohesively together.  THIS is why it is so important to oil the hinges once in awhile.  Develop your teams with ongoing programming  in both industry related, and general topic matter.  I recently ran across a well-run regional chain of banks in the Southeast, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that their CEO requests that as many employees as possible participate in a company-wide book club.  On a regular basis, they read the same book, break up into many smaller teams and discuss the ramifications of what they have read.  How can it relate to their every day lives at home and at work?  Imagine that, book-stores are closing, fewer and fewer people are reading, and yet this CEO….of a successful company is making this stand.  There must be a reason yes?

Tune up your team…It’s time.



Five Leadership Tips from Bruce Springsteen – Re-posting – Written by Allen St. John – Forbes

There are some great thoughts in here and really Allen St. John is always an enjoyable columnist to read.  A few items on team-building as well that I found interesting.  Here you go!

“Give Them the Unexpected: A few songs into his first ever concert at the Prudential Center,  Springsteen sauntered to the mic:  ”This is a good building,” he said. “Real noisy. So in honor of [our] first time here, we’re going to do something for the first time! Never been played outside this building except one other time when I was a baby child.”

He then left the audience speechless by  launching into the most obscure of Springsteen obscurities, a 1972 demo called “Bishop Danced” that he hadn’t performed live since March 2, 1973, one of only three known live performances.

The thing to remember is that Springsteen fans routinely go to multiple shows, with the most ardent fans having been to hundreds, even thousands of performances. A tour premiere for a rarity like the B-side  ”Janey Don’t You Lose Heart” makes big news,  made even bigger by the fact that Springsteen set-lists are posted on Backstreets.com hours after the show and archived setlists from 30-year old shows are available in seconds on the Internet. A full-blown obscurity like Bishop Danced, is a full-fledged event. A lot of us could have gone home happy after that song. We’re glad we didn’t.

Give Them the Expected: Through the rest of the set, Bruce  trotted out selections from his greatest hits, lean-mean, fuel-injected versions songs like Born to Run, Rosalita, The Rising, and Dancing in the Dark. He resurrected a few forgotten favorites like She’s The One and Candy’s Room.  If this was your first Springsteen concert and your familiarity with his music went as far as an iTunes collection, you’d still leave with a smile on your face.

Trust Your Customers: During the so-called Apollo Medley of soul favorites, Springsteen trekked out to an auxiliary stage in the middle of the crowd. And then he crowd surfed back to the stage. Talk about a team-building trust exercise. Springsteen put himself into the middle of  a mob of thousands of fans of varying sizes, strengths, sobriety’s, and intentions, completely beyond the help of his many burly security guards. He showed more than a little faith, and it was repaid a thousand times over as he was deposited gently back onto the stage five minutes later. Later in the show, a couple of die hards popped up onto the stage half-invited. Springsteen just laughed, put his arm around them, let them sing into the mic for a second, and then trusted that they’d do the right thing and climb back off the stage. The security guards just watched with their arms folded.

Be Open to Opportunities: A poor guy in the audience held up a sign for two solid hours “Play one for Levon Helm: Atlantic City, Cripple Creek, The Weight. At the end of the set when it seemed like he was done with requests, Springsteen finally acknowledged the sign, and the death of the great drummer from The Band. Bruce mispronounced Helm’s first name, but he completely nailed the song: his solo version of The Weight, a song about community and loss, revealed one simple truth: of all the colors in Springsteen’s musical palette, there are few as powerful as 18,000 people singing harmony.

Respect Your Colleagues:  A night like this is a team effort, from John Cooper’s stellar sound to the welcome addition of the E-Street Horns. Midway through the set, Bruce shouted for Kevin Buell, his long-time guitar tech to come to the stage. It wasn’t because he broke a string or found that a pickup was broken.  He called the unsung Buell out to the mic simply for a shout out, and to acknowledge that this was show number 1,002 for his long-time guitar tech. Buell counted in a song, and responded with a touchdown catch when Springsteen tossed his Telecaster across the stage.

But the biggest moment of E-Street Band unity came during the show’s very last song, Tenth Avenue Freeze Out. Again wading out into the middle of the crowd, Springsteen sang the line “The change was made uptown when the Big Man joined the band.” Then Bruce and the band stopped dead.  The video screens showed silent, reverent  images of The Big Man, the late Clarence Clemons, while the crowd cheered, and more than a few tears were shed.

For almost two solid minutes, Bruce and The Band stepped aside, acknowledging the void that Clemons’ death left in their music and in all of our hearts, (Although his nephew Jake Clemons was an ideal replacement to the degree to which such a thing is possible)  It was a pitch-perfect moment of catharsis and communion. And when the band started up again, we all knew where this song and this night had to go: up and out. At the end of even the longest and best Bruce shows, there was always a little part of me that hoped for one more encore, maybe the Detroit Medley or Quarter to Three. Not tonight. Tenth Avenue Freeze Out left me sad and happy and perfectly satisfied.”

NAPAREX Saves the Day – Does YOUR Team Work as Well As This One?

When one delivery service…a quite well-known I may add which ends in the letters Ex…blows a delivery that just truly had to be there on time; a much lesser known parcel delivery service stepped up for me and saved the day. Their name also ends in EX…they are Naparex and recently when packages containing hundreds of books for a book-signing in Las Vegas were delivered a day late by Fed Ex – I discovered NAPAREX and found a true “team” player FULL of team players that made everything ok for me.

The books had to be delivered for a Robin Crow book-signing to Caesar’s Palace by March 6th…but Fed Ex dropped the ball and didn’t get them to their terminal outside of Vegas until the evening of the 6th…which meant they would never in a million years make it to the post-keynote book-signing at Caesar’s the following morning by 9am.

Faced with an incredible dilemma some quick online research and phone calls turned up Naparex! And in this instance….they may as well have been a superhero in tights and a cape. They certainly saved the day. After being on the phone with them dozens of times in a 12 hour period coordinating not 1 but 2 couriers to hand pick up and deliver door to book-signing table – I came away SO impressed with Danielle…Tara and their entire team. They were calm…confident and secure in the fact that their couriers would get the job done. They were thorough in the questions they asked me. Had excellent systems in place and when it became apparent that my one shipment of 3 boxes had somehow been turned into two shipments of 1 and 2 boxes each….we all agreed promptly the morning of the event to send a second courier to the Fed Ex terminal get the later boxes to the site on time.

We only made it by the skin of our teeth. No more than 5 minutes separated success from failure in this instance. BUT we did make it. I am a fan…and will spread the word. NAPAREX rocked my world last week and if you’re in a bind give them a call. They are a TRUE team.

When I facilitate corporate team-building workshops; I try so hard to impart the value of amplifying our colleagues strengths.  On the phone with Danielle and Tara at NAPAREX I could hear them working TOGETHER to achieve success.  I could almost hear the strategy wheels turning between the cogs of their well-oiled machine working towards a common goal.  Kudos…Kudos. Oh  yes…and thank you.

Steve Jobs – A Paradox Yes, But He Knew How to Build Successful Teams

I’ve just finished one of the most enthralling and educational books I’ve read in a long time. I’m almost sad to put down the biography of the late, great Steve Jobs. How many times can we sing kudos to this fellow, who in many ways, people loved and hated at the same time? By many accounts, he was often a very unpleasant person to be around. He didn’t seem to possess the “empathy gene” that I believe is 100% necessary to be a truly happy human being, and in most cases, a successful leader. However, he was obviously a visionary, marketing genius and the king of detail.

A few things stand out to me about the word “team”, when thinking about what I’ve read these past several days.

1 – Many times throughout his career Jobs was quoted as saying that Apple believes in, and stands for, the intersection of Science/Technology and The Humanities. Even in his dying days, he reiterated to his biographer that this one thought, perhaps more than anything else, was inherent in the DNA at Apple. This collaboration between two often disparate fields guided Jobs’ focus, drive and vision that led to the creation of highly innovative products –products that changed the world. Jobs specifically sought to build teams consisting of only the best employees in both these areas of expertise. Jobs realized that at the end of the day, it is nearly always about teamwork and collaboration and only the best of the best would suffice. Hence, my next point.

2 – Steve Jobs, in designing the headquarters for both PIXAR and later APPLE, was emphatic in his belief that the more technology driven we become (even at Apple!), the more important it is to NOT rely on the phone, email, texts etc. as our main means of communication when trying to GET SOMETHING DONE or to CREATE something new. He said, “There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and ichat. That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings and random discussions. You run into someone, ask them what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow’, and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.” Therefore, the driving sentiment behind the design of these two complexes was the creation of a layout which not only encouraged collaboration, but made it nearly impossible to NOT run into employees from other areas of the company-employees you wouldn’t ordinarily see because they worked for a different part of the company. The campuses were designed around a central atrium specifically designed to encourage random encounters.

3 – Along the same lines, unlike the vast majority of large companies that exist in a structure with multiple entities under a corporate umbrella-all with their own leadership and P & L, APPLE operates without divisions. All employees work with one P & L, which makes it easier to interact with, and pass ideas back and forth among what would otherwise be separate departments or divisions. This feature also helps keep all parties focused on the same goals and deadlines, rather than competing ones. The engineering departments work hand in hand with the design departments at Apple. This integrated approach is key to the success of all the company’s products and operating systems. Jobs’ team approach is representative of the way the people behind the products work to make this the most valuable Tech Company in the world.

I highly recommend this book.

Team Building, Rocking Chairs and Wolf Packs

What do Rocking Chairs and Wolf Packs have in common? A well constructed rocking chair, such as the handmade, one-armed “pickin” chairs we have at Dark Horse are made in such a way that each piece of wood is carefully fitted together with a different piece of wood to support one another. Each piece has different strengths, one is meant to support, one is made to connect, another is made to rock and so on. These pieces all come together to form a superior product. The chairs we have are sold exclusively at Gypsies in Liepers Fork, TN.

A Wolf pack acts as a unit for the benefit of all. A truly Kibbutz like affair in which each member of the pack are charged with quite specific roles. One wolf is a scout, one is a decoy, certain ones act as nannies to young wolf-cubs, of course there are the “King” and “Queen” or the “Alphas” of each pack. All of the parts put together combine to form what resembles a well-oiled machine, where all the parts together work together very much for the greater good. They achieve much more overall success and happiness as a pack, then lone wolves do. They also reflect many attributes that humans cherish, but don’t always find. Loyalty to family, great communication skills, working within the units means etc..etc..


Building a Dam…Team Building at it's Most Urgent

I’ve watched in horror AND amazement both with the mid-west flooding earlier this summer, and the terrible flooding left in Irene’s aftermath…groups of volunteers, inmates, government workers etc..working together as teams to build walls of earth filled sandbags recently. Can you imagine, the sense of urgency and mission these people worked with? This was team building at it’s most impressive, even if it’s purpose was something other than fostering good working relationships between people of many different backgrounds.

Protecting towns, homes, businesses was such a calling, that the levels of productivity and efficiency these many people were able to display must make us wonder…how can team building help us tap into that with our organizations or companies on a daily basis? What can install that sense of understanding, empathy, common goals and turn it into a deliberate, cohesive and collaborative effort towards a goal? Does it have to be a tragedy in order that it should pull us all together?

Team Building in Indianapolis

In Indianapolis to collaborate on a songwriting and team building session with the Board of Directors for Outrun The Sun, Inc. This is a non-profit with a really worthy message, which you should check out. www.outrunthesun.org. Staying here at the fabulous Marriott Complex in the heart of downtown…which includes a Courtyard, Fairfield Inn, Springhill Suites, and the high end JW Marriott, I see signs of team work and collaboration all around me. Marriott has obviously planned and executed the building of a compound here which fully maxmizes it’s name, profile and resources all in one footprint across from two lovely museums and surrounded by some great green-spaces. The City Planners of Indianapolis on all levels, must have come together…put politics and individual interests aside years ago when they entirely re-invented downtown Indy. It is now among the most walkable, visually pleasing, well-planned out downtown cores for a city of this size that I have seen in years. I live in Nashville, and believe me…my hometown has a lot of catching up to do. All of the small little pocket parks, fountains, wide walk ways, museums, well thought out restaurant and retail frontage designed without encroaching too much on the actual make up of the environment and archictecture..all of this create an experience which is equally pleasing for locals and tourists alike. Hello…right next to the football stadium of the Indianapolis Colts, is a beautiful world class ball park for the city’s AAA minor league baseball team. Nashville has been clamoring for years to have their own AAA club move down town to provide an affordable, family friendly community hub and activity that catored more to locals than to tourists. The city has been talking about this since I moved to town in the late 90’s. But politics or special interests always seem to get in the way. The Sounds downtown would be a great addition to the city for locals. Anyway, off to lunch…but keep in mind..ONLY when working as a team, can we achieve the biggest, longest vision goals which we aspire to.

Team Building is a Double-Pronged Action

It occurs to me as I watch all that is going on with America’s two favorite sports these days, that there are two distinctive parts to building a healthy, happy and successful team. Generally speaking, assembling what is deemed to be the best team available “on paper,” is section or part #1. The second half of this equation would be the nurturing, training, engagement and retention of those very important “parts” that we tried so hard to obtain in the first place. This is an area where many organizations need a assist in. In professional sports right now, Major League Baseball is right up against its annual trade deadline. This is the time of year when those teams still in the “hunt” for a pennant or spot in the playoffs often make trades of long-term prospects for more established, bigger name players who fill a specific, short term need for the team in question. Some people call this “renting a player” as often the players sign one year deals and will be re-dealt elsewhere in the off-season.

Meanwhile, over in the National Football League, after a 4 month strike by players/lockout by the owners of this tremendously successful sport, the two sides have come together just in time to save the season. A few days ago the Players Association came to an agreement with the league’s team owners on all kinds of monetary compensation and benefits issues. That’s great news for the fans especially. Now, over the next week or 10 days teams will sign players, cut players, and trade players in a bonanza which usually takes places over several months. This roller-coaster, “speed-dating” type of process is all in a furious effort to QUICKLY assemble the best parts possible for each team to make a run at THIS year’s championship. It’s all about win-now, right? Well, if we dig deeper we see that the teams in this league, and for that matter in Baseball that have the most consistent levels of success are nearly always able to look long term AND short-term when addressing their talent needs. In baseball year after year teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Cardinals and a few others stay at or near the top of their game. The same can be said for the Steelers, Patriots and Colts of The National Football League. They foster young talent and do their best to hold onto their own best players, BEFORE they try to bring in any outside talent to supplement the pieces already in place. Otherwise, they might sign 3-4 great new players, but lose the same number off of their already existing, and strong rosters. That’s not progress! Rather, that is standing in place.

Think about this. We often see apartment complexes offering all types of incentives to lure new tenants, yet rarely are those same incentives offered to retain tenants. So many organizations these days are budget challenged, and sadly one of the first things many choose to cut back on is ongoing development, training, employee engagement, team-building etc. These are such important areas of focus. As the economy slowly recovers, and more jobs become available, organizations that don’t properly engage their employees, and find ways to maximize their talents will lose some of their best assets to other job opportunities. Remember, team building is a double pronged action. Sign and retain. We retain by making sure our employees know they are appreciated, and giving them every opportunity to succeed both as individuals and as part of the team!

There Is No I in Team, But There IS an ROI In Corporate Team Building

Look at it this way. All the parts in an automobile engine must work together, in impeccable synchronized fashion. They are assembled with their own particular strengths and functions in mind. THEN, they are maintained on a regular basis with check-ups, oil changes, new tires, balancing, tuning etc..Your workforce is no different then the parts of an automobile engine, or the engine in that plane you’re sitting in flying to the next conference. The oil changes and tune-ups could be compared favorably with team-building activities. These type of re-focusing opportunities enable us to see the team for what it is, in all of it’s glory, and with all of it’s warts. It’s often times difficult to do this from afar, being that so many of us exist in somewhat of an email and text induced coma 18 hours a day. We may be more “linked in” to people these days, but sadly there is a bigger disconnect in real life, face to face interactions than ever before due largely to technology.

Sometimes our workforce so stagnantly exists in each individual department silo, that we forget how to work WITH each other in the most efficient and productive ways possible. Having fun is imperative, but this is NOT all unicorns and popcorn. There is a direct correlation between how well-oiled your teams’ machinery is, and how profitable and/or effective your outfit truly is. THIS is where the ROI comes into team building. Sooner or later a car or lawn mower engine will seize up and stop working altogether if not oiled and maintained. Sharing each other’s common goals and frustrations, recognizing each others strengths, and figuring out how to increase everyone else’s odds for success on the team will reap long-term organizational benefits for everyone involved. Isn’t this the goal? Let’s dig deeper…

With budget constraints and nearly all team members doing more with less, and this trend growing exponentially on a quarterly basis in far too many instances, it becomes even more important to figure out how teams can work together to maximize our resources. Problem solving in an open, encouraging and fun training exercise is just the medicine the doctor ordered.

Barn Raising Follow up

So, while we can’t truly live our lives in exactly the same fashion as the Amish, we CAN all aspire to work with our family, business colleagues and those in the community at large in the same efficient, resourceful, empathetic ways which are a hallmark of the Amish way of life. This is what makes the example of their barn-raising so compelling I believe. It’s an ideal.

We can also look at a wolf-pack and the way a pack’s “organizational sociology” works to make it a successful team out there in nature. One of the things we talk a great deal about in my workshops is how we can amplify our teammates strengths. In a wolf-pack, this is common practice. Next time…stay tuned.