A spring blizzard in Denver, brings out the best…and worst in a team

On a recent business trip to nowhere (I’ll explain later) I saw both the best, and the worst in how a team of employees on any given day, for any given organization can rise to the occasion during a crisis…saving the day, or make a bad situation soooo much worse. Even in crisis, especially in crisis sometimes, how your key team members from the front-line… on up respond can either lose you precious customers by the planeload, OR those same people, can become lifelong fans. Warriors extolling the virtues of how your team, turned an awful situation into a pleasurable one.

So, I got on a flight with a back pack and a guitar headed for a seminar in Denver. It was to be a 4 day trip. Days 1 and 4 would be travel, with 2 days of classes in between. A freak blizzard hit Denver that day, one day after 70 degree temperatures filled the air with a touch of spring. Even Denver, used to snow was caught somewhat unprepared for tropical storm force winds and a foot of snow. The airport lost power, while flights were cancelled and diverted left and right. My route, which was supposed to be West Palm Beach, through Newark and then on to Denver changed.

What is tough to swallow was the lack of onsite “Call in” support personnel to handle the influx of delayed and cancelled flights which of course resulted in thousands of travelers being displaced and re-routed. The storm itself was expected, just not the intensity of it.

I won’t name the airline in question in my particular instance, and certainly all carriers flying into the region were affected on this day. However, I can only speak to what my experience was in observing how THIS carrier prepared…or didn’t prepare in advance for the “possibilities.” (this airline was made notorious a few years back by breaking… and even more so, it’s subsequent handling of the breaking, of a traveling songwriters expensive musical instrument. It became a book, and turned this no-name songwriter into an author and well-traveled speaker on the motivational speakers circuit…His topic was of course customer service and the way social media can turn one person into an army.)

Ok, back to regularly scheduled programming. There were not enough customer services representatives at the service desks to handle the travelers who were all in need of routing solutions. Those that were on site, DID manage to for the most part smile and do all they could for the hoards of frustrated travelers. I became one of those travelers upon landing in Newark from Florida when I found out my initial connecting flight to Denver was first delayed and then subsequently cancelled in short order. With some help from my amazing boss, who was pulling the strings behind the scenes, I got re-routed to Houston for a later connecting flight to Denver. The fun started on that flight, as the crew was less than loving and kind. It wasn’t horrible, but it wouldn’t have given an already weary traveler the warm and fuzzies either.

Upon landing in Houston, and all of us turning our mobile devices back on a half-second after touchdown, the word started to spread that Denver airport was closed, and all of our flights were of course, canceled. Welcome to Houston folks, please enjoy your stay.

At the help desk in Houston, the weary, and yes under-manned staff for the airline in question were doing their best, but they were tired, a bit grumpy, under-manned and apparently not “empowered” by their higher ups to do very much to make our unexpected stay in Texas more comfortable. They did give us discount vouchers to local hotels, who on a Wednesday night, were about to get a HUGE boost to their mid-week occupancy rates.

Now, at the hotel the story was entirely different. The staff, though not quite prepared for the surge in business in terms of personnel levels, were entirely ready to smile, accommodate, and inquire as to how they could help to make our unexpected stay wonderful. They succeeded.

That night I found out, I’d never make it to Denver and the entire days’ worth of travel was simply going to take me straight back to Florida the following day. Wow. Who knew what fun that would bring?

As we left the ground the next day, the pilot thankfully warned us of rough weather we’d be flying through, and it sure did get bumpy several times. But the turbulence in the air, bumpy as it was…did not compare to the gruffness of one of the airline attendants who may well have been an Ogre from a Disney movie. People were pissing her off left and right because they needed to “gasp” go to the bathroom. I’ve never in all my years of travel heard an attendant treat guests from all walks of life with such vitriol. “Sir, there is someone in there, you’re going to have to sit down.” “Mam, I will tell you when you can come back to the restroom, it’s currently occupied. There is one up front you can try….if you want.” There is no real way for me to convey here how nasty this woman’s tone and attitude were. Now granted, maybe she was having a horribly off day herself. She is only human. But this is the travel/hospitality industry, and her performance was a solid F.

Eggs, Architecture, Songwriting and teamwork

How are these seemingly different worlds all connected?  Culinary, designing buildings, creating great songs…working as an effective team mate or “co-idea generator?”  I’ve been toying with the idea for some time, and in browsing through an interior design magazine at the book store the other day (looking at kitchen design of course) it came to me.  Teamwork is such a cliche, but think of how a team in the fast-paced, high pressure kitchen of a 5-start restaurant work together on their products and services.  Think of the teamwork involved of building the brand new, World Trade Center on that tragically, historic spot. Think of the fact that the average number of writers to collaborate on a #1 Pop song today is 4.  That’s a lot of teamwork!  So cliche? I don’t know, but I like my eggs well done, scrambled with cheese…any kind of cheese.

1. Opportunity to be influenced by a different process

Each songwriter has their own natural songwriting process. Sometimes these processes work very well, but other times there is much room for improvement.  One writer can get stuck “inside their own head or vision too easily.” Co-writing is a great opportunity for you to improve upon your own process by seeing how another approaches the same song – what works and what doesn’t work – and to adopt some new writing techniques.  This same benefit exists in any organizational or workplace environment.  Being influenced by a new process and/or new ideas often leads to creation of new creative solutions.   Try it today, take your ad campaign concept, architectural design, new recipe for your food truck and throw them out to the team.  See if they improve upon your “masterpiece” through constructive collaboration.  Now, what if your work in progress seems stuck? Well…….

2. One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure

Songwriters who have been at their craft awhile have songs they either dislike or can’t finish that a songwriting partner may see something in, therefore turning a potentially “lost idea” into something unique and special.  You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.  Every voice at the table has something unique to offer, providing we truly have open forums.  Your “throw away song” could be a hit tomorrow, and your “lost idea/invention/service or product development project” could be the next i-phone or Post-it notes…IF you open up your doors and let someone else in to help shine the light on your creation, look underneath the hood and help you to turn coal into a diamond.  Maybe this process will help you adjust the way you work or view your own methods and…..

3. Open new doors to try new things and create new sounds

Just like your own process, every songwriter develops their own style and sound. Working with another songwriter can help you to see things in a different light, and to possibly try new things that you may not have otherwise even thought of, helping you to achieve a new, different sound. OR, it may teach you (if you are open to learning) a new way to achieve the desired result.  Hit song, new smart-phone app. Etc..etc…

4. Critiques are more effective

An important part of the songwriting process is to critique your work, to find out what may be helping the song to strive, or what may be holding it back from succeeding, and to tweak it’s structure for the better. Doing this yourself is important, but working with a co-writer offers you the opportunity to put a new set of eyes on the song and to actively and openly discuss all parts of the song. Again, this may lead to seeing things differently and help you to open new doors to tweak your song (or not tweak your song) for the better. So, if you’ve come this far, please remember, you stand to gain nothing at this part of the game by saying you’re open to critique, but not actually listening to feedback from the other truly with an open heart and ears.

5. It can be fun, helping your creativity to flow!

While some songwriters prefer to do it themselves because their songs may be deeply personal and/ or introspective, there is no doubt that a collaborative effort can be fun and exciting. Working with another offers the opportunity to piggy-back off each other’s excitement and energy which will show in the music.   The same can be said for grabbing a white-board, some markers and a designated time for brainstorming each day within the confines of your own field/business.  Or for that matter at home! What if while working together in the kitchen on a Sunday morning, you and your better half in this casual setting… brought up one “problem” and focused together on the solution.  What would that look like? Could you have fun with it?  Could the ebb and flow of the cooking and clearing process jog your creative juices? Come on, brewing the coffee, scrambling the eggs….seems perfect environment of “Getting things done” in a non-threatening setting to achieve one solution to at least “Try” for the week ahead right!


Okay, go make it happen.  Create one solution this week, improve on one idea or product/service, open your ears to the others around you.  You’ll be amazed at what happens.

Through setbacks, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots machine rolls on

This article recently ran in my hometown paper, The Washington Post.

By Adam Kilgore, Published: December 25 E-mail the writer

BALTIMORE — The New England Patriots operated for years like an unholy, inexorable assembly line. They cruised along and cranked out victories, records and the occasional Super Bowl appearance. They made dominance in a capricious league seem easy and smooth; the coach dressed for comfort and the quarterback married a supermodel. Then this fall happened.

The Patriots are currently held together by ACE bandages, miracle comebacks, baling wire and whatever magic dust Tim Tebow — remember that? — forgot in his locker back in training camp. The defense lost almost a half-ton of defensive tackles to the injured reserve list. Tom Brady’s three best targets from the end of last season are injured (Rob Gronkowski), incarcerated (Aaron Hernandez) and in Denver (Wes Welker). His best remaining receivers would probably be underestimated if they split out wide during a particularly competitive intramural flag football league.

The gears grinded, screws came loose and parts went flying off, and still the machine lurched forward. The upheaval has tested, and ultimately reaffirmed, the wicked football genius of Bill Belichick. The Patriots have clinched their fifth straight AFC East championship, their 11th in 13 years. With a win at home Sunday over the 6-9 Buffalo Bills, they will seize a first-round bye for the fourth straight season.

“Every year is special,” Brady said. “But we really earned it this year.”

Even if he hoisted three Lombardi Trophies, even if he went 16-0 in 2007, this season may stand as Belichick’s finest work. Consider what the Patriots have handled on the way to another 11- or 12-win season. Sunday, humans named Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan played tight end for an offense originally built around Hernandez and Gronkowski. Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Sebastian Vollmer and Tommy Kelly are out for the year. Make a list of New England’s 10 most indispensable players, and probably half are on injured reserve.

“I think everybody on the team has the same attitude,” Belichick said. “They’ve got to be prepared. They’ve got to be ready to go. You never know when those situations are going to come. You’ve got to be ready for those things. Every team has guys on injured reserve. Every team has players get hurt. That’s the league we’re in. It’s a war of attrition.”

But the Patriots have both faced more attrition and overcome it better than most. Belichick finds players other teams don’t want and makes them useful. Sunday, with left tackle Nate Solder out with a concussion, the Patriots moved all-pro guard Logan Mankins to tackle and inserted undrafted rookie Jeff Kline at guard. In a 41-7 victory, the Patriots ran over the defending Super Bowl champions.

“It always starts with the head guy,” Mankins said. “He doesn’t care who’s out on the field. He expects you to do your job to the best of your ability. If you don’t, he’ll find someone else. He did a good job of finding guys that are willing to do whatever they’re asked of in their role.”

In late October, the Patriots added a defensive tackle named Sealver Siliga to their practice squad. He went undrafted in 2011 — as a junior at Utah, he made the all-Mountain West team only as honorable mention. He bounced between the practice squads of the 49ers, Broncos and Seahawks, appearing in only one game.

Sunday, he started at defensive tackle as one of Wilfork’s replacements. Along with a sack, he was part of stopping Ray Rice on a fourth and one that all but sealed the victory.

“Bill is a great leader of men,” linebacker Rob Ninkovich said. “He gets us all in the right place, all in the right schemes, everything that benefits us as individual players.”

The Patriots changed their offense on the fly, relying on two sawed-off wide receivers. Julian Edelman, 5 feet 10, played quarterback at Kent State in college and was picked 232nd overall in 2009. As a free agent this summer, he agreed to return to New England on a one-year contract with a base salary of less than $1 million. He has caught 96 passes for 991 yards. Brady calls him “Minitron.”

Danny Amendola, the Patriots’ 5-11 replacement for Welker, has bounced in and out of the lineup with injuries but is still second on the team in catches and receiving yards.

“What can you say? We have great leadership in Coach Belichick,” special teams ace Matthew Slater said. “He’s been able to prepare us and keep us focused. Tom, obviously, has shown great leadership and poise throughout the adversity we’ve faced this season.”

Running back Shane Vereen suffered a broken wrist and missed Weeks 2 through 9. The Patriots could have subsisted with Stevan Ridley, a bruiser who scored 12 touchdowns last year, but he fumbled his way onto the bench and, for one week, the inactive list. Their top running back Sunday was LeGarrette Blount, whom they acquired last year for little-used wideout Jeff Demps and a seventh-round pick.


“Whatever happens,” Blount said, “we’re going to adapt to it.”

In the Patriots’ locker room Sunday, a reporter wanted to know if Blount considered himself the team’s No. 1 back. As Blount demurred, Vereen crouched behind him and grumbled.

“Asking about our [expletive] role,” Vereen said. “That’s not how this group operates.”

The Patriots’ gaudy record could be viewed with skepticism. They have won just four games by more than a touchdown and have outgained opponents by just 13 yards per game. Without three unlikely comebacks, they would be scrounging for a playoff spot. The close calls may portend another early playoff exit — the Patriots have three postseason wins in the past five years. Then again, during their 41-7 throttling of Baltimore’s champions, they again played like a powerhouse.

“You know what, coming in, on the bus ride in here, I felt great,” Ninkovich said afterward. “I knew that we were going to beat these guys. Some hand gestures coming from the fans, it’s always a good motivating thing. Again, I was confident. I knew that we worked hard. We had put in the work, and that’s what it’s all about.”

On the Friday before the Patriots pasted the Ravens, Belichick took his team to the movies. They watched “Lone Survivor,” the Mark Wahlberg movie about a Navy SEAL mission in Afghanistan.

“I didn’t feel like they needed anything — just changed up the routine a little bit,” Belichick said. “I think the movie certainly had the messages of leadership, perseverance, preparation, and then execution. It’s one thing to prepare; it’s another to actually go out there and play the game and go through the battle that they did. So, that was a great message, no question. And a great movie.”

Sometimes, even through his dull monotone, Belichick can make the blandest NFL clichés seem vividly real. He still has Brady behind center, and he doesn’t care about who is on injured reserve. He cares only that the machine rolls on.



Building a Great Team – A Dentist's Chair View

If you have work to be done on your teeth, please take note. The following describes a situation that might make you LOVE going to the Dentist. This is not your typical open up and say “ah” experience.

Building a great team is not easy. Developing that team once in place so that it performs consistently at championship level, may be even more challenging. However, Dr. James Munro and his amazing cast at Belle Forest Dental in Bellevue, just a few minutes west of Nashville proper…. are Oscar-worthy in the quality, scripting and demeanor of their service. From the moment you walk into their office “living room” with its West Elm sense of modern, open décor you are swept into feeling as though you are in a spa. Complimentary beverages of a very wide variety await you in their help yourself, guest fridge. Watch the program of your choice on their huge flat screen TV, or assuming it’s not being utilized at the time, take a seat in their highly effective, full body massage chair, isolated in it’s own “Zen” room complete with waterfall sounds, and soft lighting to set the mood. This part of your experience really helps reduce your stress level before entering the inner sanctum.

None of this even begins to touch upon how genuinely friendly, extremely knowledgeable, or efficient the cogs turn here. Susan and Connie in the front desk area are amazing. “What flavor smoothie would you like when you’re finished?

“What’s that,” you say?

“Yes, with fresh fruit, we make a smoothie for you to take with you when done with your procedure! “

Brilliant. This clinic not only goes above and beyond in every aspect of your clinical experience with them, before, during and post-procedure….BUT they also stand by their work. If there is an issue with something that has been done, and you’re not happy with a result, they will take care of it. (Disclaimer – within reason. If you go and bash your teeth on a microphone or with a baseball bat…I wouldn’t expect any help here.)

The staff at Belle Forest Dental truly illustrates the winning definition of TEAM to me. Together Everyone Achieves More.

Even Law Firms – Are Starting to Move Towards Collaborative Work Space

Good Monday morning from Nashville.

Recently, I’ve read a half-dozen articles or so regarding the work place in terms of real estate or “work space” allocation. In a recent NY Times piece for example, the author talked at length about how Law firms are moving in the direction finally… of less excess with their internal real estate layouts. Long one of the last, great…traditional business models where landing that swank, corner office with a view…large desk and dark wood all around has been a perk to top law recruits, law firms are starting….slowly but surely to reduce the sizes of their offices for partners and top associates. More employees are office sharing, and dark-solid walls are starting to come down in favor of more open spaces geared towards collaboration.

There are many reasons for this set of occurrences. One is quite practical. Law Firms, even the most profitable of them are not immune to the economic times, and so therefore are looking for ways to cut costs.

Another really good reason for this shift however, is the general feeling that senior attorneys in law offices can do a much better job mentoring their up and coming attorneys and other legal staff, by utilizing more common space. Face to face. Along this same line of thought, the overall satisfaction level of employees regardless of field, increases when they are able to see each other more often, and collaborate more readily with their peers. Not only does this encourage faster, and better creative problem solving, it simply fosters more of a sense of belonging, rather then one of isolation.