Tag Archive | Teamwork

The Blind Pass: Teamwork in action

The Blind Pass: Teamwork in action

Watching the English Premier League (EPL) this season has been fantastic. New records have been set and others soon to be broken. The exhibition of play and teamwork has been outstanding especially by the teams in the top four including Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool. One record that may fall by the end of the season is the most goals scored in a single season. Luis Suarez of Liverpool FC has already scored 22 goals in just 16 appearances. The reason? He is well supported by his team with unselfish play and Luis can be counted on to play his position.

When a player is moving the ball down field, he may be challenged by a number of defenders at one time. To keep the ball in play, the player may need to blindly pass the ball to where his team mate is expected to be. This has happened time and again with the Liverpool club when players such as Steven Gerrard or Phillippe Coutinho are moving the ball forward. They can count on players like Luis Suarez or Daniel Sturridge to be in their position, blindly pass the ball to them, allowing them to take a shot on goal. Of course, the players receiving the ball need to be counted on to fulfill their role and they have done so exceedingly well. Hence, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge are currently 2 of the top 3 scorers in the EPL.

Most organizations today are global. Complementary personnel needed to finish a critical deliverable may not be in the same office, but rather, in different locations across different time zones. There are instances when a blind pass is critical in order expedite the expected deliverables.

There was one instance when a sales person needed a data sheet on one of our products. The existing one was horribly outdated. The sales person was in Europe and the key subject matter experts were located in various regions with one in Asia, one in Europe, and other in the United States. In order to expedite getting the product data sheet completed in time for the presentation, it was going to require a tremendous amount teamwork including communication and cooperation.

I proposed that I create a new draft of the data sheet, have each of the SME’s review it and provide comments and feedback by following the sun. This is exactly what happened. I completed an initial draft and performed a “blind pass” to my colleague in Asia. They provided their comments and feedback and sent it to our colleague in Europe. They incorporated their feedback and sent it to the colleague in Chicago. By the time it got to me, it required some tuning but we were able to get it produced into a final format that day and over to the sales person in time for their presentation. The net result? The sales person had a successful meeting and was well positioned to submit a proposal to the customer.

What makes teams great is the ability of individuals to apply their own unique skill sets while fully supporting the other members of the team. In this case, there was an excellent combination of skills that included technical depth as well as the ability to define and articulate essential value propositions. The team members also showed great flexibility through a temporary adjustment of their priorities to support the needs of the business. With personnel scattered across different locations, it is essential for companies to leverage the “virtual” team.

Corner Office Wisdom:
As individuals face challenges in meeting customer demands, they should be able to count on the support of their team members and their expertise. Critical to that effort, each individual will need to be flexible to adjust their priorities in support of the overall goals of the organization.

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Skills Training: A sound personal investment

Training can improve skills and value

Aristotle is attributed with the expression “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation.” This is demonstrated every week in the sporting community. The best athletes in the world will tell you that they are always training in order to stay in top form.

This same thought is true for those that want to excel in the workplace. To achieve specific goals, each person needs to focus on their own personal development of the needed skills to be successful. How can this be accomplished? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Check the resources made available by your company. Many companies offer training courses to assist in employee development. Often, these courses are overlooked or even unknown.
  2. Outside resources may also be available through the company. Check with the HR department to understand the available options for tuition reimbursement.
  3. Express your interests to your management. Based on their experience, they may be able to recommend specific courses that can directly benefit you in achieving your goals.

Once you have a clear understanding of what is available to you, design a personal training plan that will take advantage of those resources and execute on that plan to enhance your skill-set.

I have always had excellent coaches and mentors that provided me sound advice, guidance and support. They have always allowed me to enroll in training courses that would improve my personal performance, enhance the team environment and increase my value as an asset to the company. Some of these training courses have covered topics such as:

  • Continuous Improvement
  • Leadership Effectiveness
  • High performance teamwork
  • Public speaking

Topics such as these have provided benefits to all of the various roles I have taken in my career as a manager and as an individual contributor. Before I could register for any courses, my management always wanted me to make sure there was enough room in the budget to cover the costs.

It should be noted, however, that most managers are focused on achieving quarterly goals and milestones. It is very possible that employee development may not be at the top of their priority list. In my own experience, while I knew my management continued to support me, I found that I needed to be willing to take the initiative in my own training. Thus, it is important that each individual proactively pursue their own personal development.

Corner Office Wisdom:
Be proactive in pursuing the development of your skills. Create a plan, review the resources available to fulfill that plan and execute on it to manage your personal development.

Cross-training: A lesson from the World Cup

Cross-training facilitates teamwork!


Watching the World Cup qualifying tournaments has been really enjoyable. It is always great to see individual talents performing at the highest levels. But what was even more enjoyable was seeing the teamwork demonstrated by the players. The teams that gelled the best were the ones that were the least selfish and supported their team mates.

There are many times in the momentum of play that the player with the ball has an opportunity to take the ball down field. As he does so, he will need to temporarily “switch” positions with another player. For example, if the player is a defender or a mid-fielder moving the ball down field, he might suddenly occupy the space of a different player, perhaps a winger. The winger will need to switch positions and pull back to cover for the midfielder. To do this successfully requires great communication, cooperation and common skills between players. If the winger does not fall back, the result will be too many players bunched up in an area of the field. This will leave gaping holes in the defense should the momentum of play shift and go the opposite way.

In one of my roles, I was leading a software development team. It consisted of a Sr. Engineer under contract, a tester, a student-intern, and me, also a Sr. Engineer. We had a tremendous amount of work to do to get our delivery completed. Each of us had individual roles and assignments. After working an extensive amount of overtime, we completed the delivery. Then my group was combined with a second group. It also included a mix of Sr. engineers, testers, as well as a person who handled the massive amount of process paperwork required by the customer.

In our first meeting together as a team, we compared notes and realized the new group had worked even more overtime than my original group. They were really tired and on the verge of burn-out. Looking at the dark circles around everyone’s eyes, we determined there had to be a better way.

We decided to review the process used to get things done. We determined that there were a number of bottlenecks in the way each task was accomplished. The biggest issue was that people were so focused on their own role and assignment that they did not know what the others persons did. We discussed how we can tear down some of the walls between roles in the team and focus on how we can work together better. The results included:

1. Cross-training and developing skills among some of the team members to expand their abilities.
2. Allow them to grow and take on additional, more expanded roles.

As a result, we were able to “switch” individuals between roles and directly assist one another when needed. With the combined adjustments of increasing the skills of the team, increasing communication and cooperation, we met our deadlines with very high-quality, high-morale and minimal overtime.

Corner Office Wisdom:
There are times when process improvement also requires skills improvement including cross-training of individuals in the organization. By improving the skills of the team as a whole and encouraging cooperation, the team will operate with greater efficiency and higher quality in completing their deliverables.

Do you multitask? Not very well!

A colleague of mine thinks they are the ultimate multitasker. Because of their well-honed skills at multitasking, they also believe they are extremely productive. One day, I walked into their office and I saw it in action. My colleague had:

1. A webinar going on their laptop about a new set of use cases for telecommunications.
2. At least two different email reply’s open and “in progress”.
3. Four different instant messaging panels open and blinking waiting for the response from my colleague.
4. A speaker phone dialed in to a conference call. The phone was on mute.
5. A mobile phone with an ear-bud stuck in their ear while responding to a call.

Were they really at the peak of productivity? Or were they deceptively sacrificing quality for quantity?

Since the 1990’s, experimental psychologists have examined the idea of human multitasking to identify our capabilities and impacts. In summary, what has been determined is that our brain’s working memory capacity does not allow us to multitask successfully – in spite of the confidence we have in our own abilities.

Because the brain cannot fully focus when multitasking, people take longer to actually complete a given task and they are more error-prone. The impact to business? Employees are less efficient and quality suffers. Overall productivity is diminished.

Here are some interesting studies highlighting some results:
• A study by the American Psychological Association indicates that we lose as much as 40% productivity when we attempt to multitask.
• A study by the University of Utah in 2013 showed that people who multitask the most tend to be impulsive, sensation-seeking, overconfident of their multitasking abilities – and tend to be less capable of doing it.
• A 2008 study by the University of Utah showed that drivers talking on the cellphone missed their exits and turns more often that those talking with a passenger.
• A different study by Stanford University found that even trying to talk on the phone, send an instant message and read email can impair your cognitive control.
• A 2012 study by the University of Illinois at Chicago indicates that multitasking works against the processes that generate the “a-ha” moments of creativity and limits problem-solving.

With so many available channels of communication, we have an over-developed expectation of immediate response. We feel the need to immediately respond to others and we expect an immediate response from them. The result is we respond to the volume of communication but sacrifice value. Our brains are maxed out and we diminish our ability to solve problems and lose creativity.

And my colleague? Were they really successful in multitasking? Not very well!
1. The webinar was recorded so they could listen to the replay later. They likely didn’t get anything out of it the first time.
2. Having been the recipient of a few responses, the email replies were likely sparse and incomplete. The instant message responses were unintelligible and some of the replies were directed to the wrong person.
3. When they heard their name on the conference call, they had to unmute the phone and ask for the question to be repeated. It was later they heard about any action items.
4. The mobile phone call was the only real task that was completed with success.

The idea of multitasking is a great one. We just need to be more serial about it and focus on task-switching. By task-switching, we are able to get the task that needs to be done completed with high-quality, efficiency and minimal rework. This will make us more productive and more successful.

Corner Office Wisdom:
To do a task and do it well needs focus and concentration. Take just a few seconds to get your mind centered on what needs to be done. You will find you get more accomplished in a shorter period of time with higher quality. Quality is more important than quantity with errors.

Relationships: A Casualty of Social Media

leonard-sheldon-big-bang-theory

More than a billion people use social media to communicate with the world. They have a few to several hundred, even thousands of friends, followers and contacts. There are dozens of ways to communicate with them, all of which can be very useful. But that still doesn’t mean that you have real relationships with those people. Surprisingly and deceptively, most people think the opposite.

Sheldon: “I have a very wide circle! I have 212 friends on MySpace!”
Leonard: “Yes, and you never met one of them!”
Sheldon: “That’s the beauty of it!”

Get your favorite beverage (mine’s coffee) because I want to tell about one of the best sales guys I had ever met. Since I don’t have his permission to use his name, let’s call him “QC” for Quota Crusher. QC was a southern gentleman from Georgia. He had a nice, easy demeanor that could put anyone at ease. But don’t let that fool you. QC consistently beat his expected quota by a wide margin and won the “President’s Club” sales award every year. It seems like every sales organization has their big hitter, hey maker, grand slammer, knocks it out of the park money maker and QC was ours. The reason: Every one of his customers considered him a friend.

Then, he lost the second biggest deal of his career.

He lost it to a competitor that looked better on paper. They were a proven product, had experience in scaling up to meet the needs of this customer, and claimed a larger customer base. But they had never deployed in a cable service provider environment. This was our expertise.

QC was resilient. He was not one to let go. What was his strategy? Develop a stronger relationship. Even though he lost the deal, he invited the decision makers to dinner. He used it as an opportunity to get to know them as individuals. He only inquired about them, how they were doing, how were their families, how was life. And he would listen. The next month, he did it again. He repeated this process once a month for a year and never spoke about business or questioned how the deployment was going.

Then one day it happened. The decision makers invited him to their office for a special meeting. They revealed to QC that the deployment that was awarded to a competitor was failing miserably. There was delay after delay. The vendor’s integration efforts to date were no closer than they were at the beginning of the project and now their own careers were in major trouble. They asked him if he could guarantee that our company, products and professional services team could solve problem. If so, they would bypass the RFP process and the business would be his. He checked with the home office and got the necessary commitments from the executive staff.

By building a solid relationship, QC had won the second biggest deal of his career.

Of course, now the work really started. This was a complicated IVR/CTI integration project over eight different locations across the United Kingdom. Each location had different CRM host systems, telephony systems and IP network topologies. It was easy to see how the previous vendor was having so much trouble. Just like them, we ran into some very large obstacles. The difference? We had QC. QC and the project team worked together to manage the customer’s expectations and overcome those various obstacles. QC’s relationship made all the difference in the success of this project. The teamwork that was established allowed us to complete the project within some very compressed timescales and just in time for the holiday season.

QC kept his relationship with the decision makers even after the project was over. The result? We got additional orders for predictive dialers at each location. QC’s relationship turned his second biggest deal into the biggest deal of his career.

Let us not be fooled into thinking that all of our “friends” and “followers” are actually relationships. Relationships are established through eye contact, conversations, taking an interest in the other person, listening and yes, “wining and dining” just as QC did. With social media and so many communication channels available to us, it’s easy to forget that.

Corner Office Wisdom:
Social media is great for creating brand awareness and for collecting feedback from customers. It is not, however, a means for creating and building true relationships. You still need to have regular face-to-face contact.