A Place to Bark

Upon driving the many winding, hilly roads on the way to “A Place to Bark” in Portland, TN last Sunday, I realized how tough it must be for Bernie Berlin and her team, to attract volunteers.  After all, Nashville is about an hour and 15 minutes away, and there are many volunteer opportunities much closer to town.  We’re all so busy, and time-pressed you see.

Therefore, to see all that Bernie does with minimal help for anywhere from 40-120 dogs at a time is truly a sight to behold.  Not only do these dogs live in spacious quarters, on lots of land and get their basic needs met….but they receive all the love and play-time one could hope for.  This mission has been on Bernie’s plate for a long time now, and she is a tireless, motivated woman whose has found a way to save and adopt out many, many dogs over the years.  Her numbers for such a small operation are staggering.  Thousands of animals lives saved, and in some ways you could say that means she has enriched the lives of countless “dog guardians” as well with her work.  If you’re curious to see what her place is about, please visit www.aplacetobark.com





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.

Our Team Continues to Grow & Improve

As our little business grows a bit, we’re adding some highly talented members to our “Facilitators Corps” as I call them.  Our latest team members include songwriters whose songs have been cut by many artists including Rascal Flatts, LeAnn Rimes, Carrie Underwood, Reba McEntire and Sherrie Austin (who by the way is herself joining us!) to name just a few.

We add this quality of talent in a continual effort to better serve the needs of our clients.  We’re aiming to just get better, and better “Tuned In” to the needs of each event…on an individual basis.  This is our pledge to you if you’re putting on a meeting and you come to us for help.


Ubuntu – Happy Birthday to One of the Great "Team Players" of All Time – Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela personified the word Ubuntu. This is an African word for ‘humanity’. Sadly, times of suffering or hardship are often what make us recognize the value of this philosophy…rather than living this way as our daily “default” setting.

Ubuntu, is actually derived from the saying ‘Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu.’ Translated from Zulu, it means: ‘I am because you are, and you are because we are.’ In other words, I can only exist through you. And, as long as there are people who suffer, I suffer too. It is only when each person is free, are we free.

This is especially relevant to building powerful, high performance organizations. Organizations that do not invest in consistent professional development made available to all levels of their employees, have a short-term view of their value to the company. Not keeping an eye on how costly and time-consuming it is to re-hire, retrain…etc.

The importance of each person’s contribution to the team is often lost on those at the top. Yet this crucial missing link causes long term problems. Effective team building programs can be a key ingredient in developing our workplaces to be more efficient, healthier, happier, and more profitable. That is a good thing wouldn’t you say…considering how much time we spend at work?

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?