Saturate the Environment
Our offices pulsated with teamwork. Anyone in a position to coach preached that our success depended on the sum of our parts. Egomaniacs stuck out like cutoffs at a cocktail party. Now, that doesn’t mean we wanted everyone to think alike. In fact, it’s important they don’t. As General George S. Patton said, “If everybody’s thinking alike, somebody isn’t thinking.”
Talk the Walk
Talk isn’t always cheap. We asked our people to call their colleagues “teammates.” It reinforced the Three Musketeers motto, “One for all and all for one.” It also made a world of difference when our managers told their people, “Here’s what the team needs,” rather than, “Here’s what I need.” When an outsider knocked the company, everyone took it personally—and took personal responsibility if fixes were in order. A company isn’t a corporate seal on a piece of paper, it’s a team of people. All those people have a common goal—making the organization better than it was yesterday.
Hire Team Players
We asked job candidates questions like, “Where do you rank as a team player on a scale of one to ten?” and “When do you find you are not a team player?” Invariably, they would leave the interview with our mission statement plastered on the billboard of their mind—Deliver caring, world-class service to our guests, our community, and to each other. We drew special attention to the last four words. The message was plain—lone wolves need not apply.
Recognize and Reward It
If you don’t actively promote teamwork, you may as well endorse selfishness. Toss out a “Way to go!” whenever you catch someone team-building. Good moves won kudos—and occasionally cash awards—at staff meetings. That was just the tip of our incentive iceberg. A big portion of our bonuses rode on achieving team goals. We even built a baseball-style “farm system” to reward skilled coaches. For instance, if Store A needed an assistant manager and was eyeballing a promising sales staffer over at Store B, then Store A had to “draft” the up-and-comer.
You can hold a pep rally seven days a week, but it’s merely platitudes and pom-poms unless biz owners themselves exhibit the highest standards of teamwork. Early on, I’m embarrassed to admit, it was always about me, me, me instead of we, we, we. As I shed my seat-of-the-pants ways, I came to my senses, and John Hyduke, a vice president, noticed. Our executive committee had been deliberating about strategic timing for planting our flag in an array of new markets.
“Tires Plus was a private company, and Tom had majority interest,” John recalled. “He had every right to make decisions while shaving in front of the mirror.” John appreciated that I weighed my opinions against those of the rest of the committee, and rarely exercised a veto. “We all shared a sense of ownership in the decisions,” John said. “So, whether or not a store was successful, morale was never a problem. We didn’t stand around second-guessing; we just moved on.”
We celebrated all the time. “Tom was a stern taskmaster,” Brad Burley recalled. “But he wanted us to feel good about what we accomplished.” Establish traditions to mark hard-earned victories and bolts from the blue—hand out cigars, pop the cork on some Dom, give the team the afternoon off. Announce triumphs—a successful product launch, blowing past projections, landing the huge account—while blasting Queen’s “We Are the Champions.”
The esprit de corps at Tires Plus was impossible for visitors to ignore. During one of my talks at a company gathering, a tire vendor whispered to Brad Burley, a regional manager, “Does Tom make you all drink the same punch, or what?” Brad laughed as the vendor went on. “You guys all talk the same. You don’t have ‘problems,’ you have ‘opportunities.’ ” Brad took it as a compliment. “It was recognition that the tone of a culture is set from the top down,” Brad recalled. “That attitude bled into everything we did, from executive-team meetings to the way customers were treated.” A lot of business owners prattle on about teamwork, but few walk their talk. Yes, individual expression is prized and indispensable, but getting everyone on the same page is equally important. A half-dozen team-building measures can transform a collection of individuals into a collective “team ego.”