Sunday, September 12, 2010

Teamwork is not Magic

To paraphrase George Patton, "A business is a team."

Is your business a team?  On a football team, for example, everyone knows the overall goals: score and keep the other team from scoring.  Everybody knows his job description and and how it fits into each play: block that guy, run that pass route, cover that zone.  And they practice so they know what their own jobs are, and how they fit with everyone else's, and how everyone else does his job.

Too often when I'm advising businesses, and I ask them where their job descriptions are, I either get a blank look or they snort and say, "We don't need no stinkin' job descriptions; we just tell people to do whatever needs to be done."  Ahem.  If you don't know what a job's supposed to do, how do you know what skill set to hire for it?  How do you know you even need the job in your business?  How can you tell if the employee is doing his job?  How does the employee know he's doing a good job, or even what he's supposed to be doing beyond the file currently on his desk?  This is an abdication of management responsibility.  It's non-planning.  It's ad hoc reaction and crisis hopping.  It's a recipe for failure.  If you think Bill Belichick runs the Patriots this way, you need to think again.

Let's suppose you have the job descriptions and you use them to get people people into place and let them know what they're supposed to do.  Do you ever give teams projects so they can get used to working together, see how other employees operate?  If you were running a Formula One team, would you just throw cars on the track without testing whether the parts worked together?  I didn't think so.

Last Thursday, I saw that problem show up, and at a pretty high level.  By the end of last season, the New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Vikings were perhaps the two best teams in the NFL, certainly two of the top three.  Even so, they had some weaknesses they needed to work on in the off-season.  Thursday night showed the results of the off-season work.  As anyone who follows the NFL knows, Brett Favre (starting quarterback for the Vikings) doesn't like pre-season practice.  The last two years, he has shown up dramatically late and simply started playing.  People say, "Well, Favre doesn't need the practice."  Favre might not, but his teammates do.  Pass routes and blocking assignments are all about timing.  To work out the timing, you need the actual players there, not the substitutes.  The Saints showed up last Thursday with new pass routes and blocking assignments that covered last season's weaknesses.  They had had their quarterback, Drew Brees, available throughout the pre-season to help work out the timing on these new schemes.  It showed.  The Vikings had not had their quarterback available to work out new schemes.  It showed.  Guess who won?

When that big contract comes through the door, you can't expect your employees to magically come together like a well-oiled machine and deliver the order if they've never done it.

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