Joe Bob teaches Kim his first lesson in Business Leadership

June 29, 2011

I was first starting my professional career, many years ago. Was in my late 20’s, and was recently out of college with a Masters in Psych. I had always been told I was pretty smart, a myth which I tended to really want to buy into. But somehow I believed down deep, that perhaps I was only beginning to wake up.

Had become pretty successful in the social services arena in Dallas/Ft Worth. At that time, I was the Director of a Drug Abuse Education, Information and Referral organization.

But was also starting a family and decided could better support my family if I got into business. Great idea, but unfortunately… I had no background in doing business, no training, and my Mom and Dad were school teachers. Nothing about business in my genes.

At that time, we lived in “Cow Town”, Ft Worth, TX. One night I decided to go to a nightlife area in Fort Worth called the Stockyards, on the North Side of town. Not sure why I did decide to go there, as I rarely went much further than the taverns in our neighborhood. I had $40 in my pocket, all the disposal cash I had to my name.

Early in the evening, I found myself sitting at a classic Fort Worth bar a few seats down from a cowboy, probably in his mid- or late 50’s. He was wearing a $5 Big Mac work shirt from JC Penny’s, very dirty Levis, cowboy boots covered in cow poop, and a sweaty red bandana around his neck.

We got to talking and I offered to buy him a drink.  His name was Joe Bob, and he seemed to know a bit about life. I guessed he was a classic “good ol’ boy”, hard working, tuff cow hand out to relax for the evening with a few drinks at his favorite “waterin’ hole”.  So I asked him a few questions, and I found interesting what he said.

As the conversation progressed, I began to believe he had real, if not refreshing wisdom about life. I figured he had had a tough life, not because of what he said, exactly. In fact he was very positive and upbeat, but in a very practical, matter-of-fact way. Very likeable guy. .

After a while, and a few more drinks, I asked flat out. “Joe Bob, how can I be successful in business… do you know anything about business you can tell me?”

  • “Son. You and me struck up a friendly conversation at this here bar. We never met before, but you kindly offered to buy me a drink. That’s bein’ neighborly.
  • “Then we talked for 2 hours, you bought me 8 more drinks, and I have not paid for a single drink since we started. I think you paid for the drinks because you were interested in what I had to say. That’s doin’ business.
  • “You are young, probably don’t have much money, yet you still spent all your money on me. I own the 3rd largest ranch in North Central Texas. I could have bought you a few drinks as well. In actual fact, I could buy this bar and 20 more just like it. In truth, I have enough cash in my pocket right now, to buy a fully loaded Cadillac outright. But I let you buy all the drinks, because you wanted to. That’s business leadership.”

He then raised his glass to mine, toasted me, threw down his last shot, and walked out of the bar.

I turned to the bartender, and asked, “Was he pullin’ my leg? Is he really that rich?”

The bartender just gave me one of those knowing smiles, the kind that comes from a casual observer who just watched a young well-meaning, but really naïve kid get schooled. “Son, did Joe Bob mention the oil wells all over his ranch?”

Some guys are educated in business at Harvard, Haas, Wharton, Kellogg. I learned in 2 hours and $40, a single, priceless lesson about business success. Joe Bob Business.  I never saw him again, nor do I even know his last name. But it’s been 30 years, and I have never forgotten him, nor the difference between doin’ business and business leadership.

It took me another 5-10 years to begin to understand what Joe Bob was saying. I’m still working on it. But this lesson rarely has let me down.

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The 7 key ingredients to a successful Super Team

June 28, 2011

Two separate teams begin to act as one team, with a unifying purpose

In the Super Team concept, the two original teams must learn to abandon certain behaviors and practices in favor of newer, more productive actions and attitudes. This post provides a brief overview of what these ingredients are.

1.  Mutual Goals

Not overlapping goals, nor coincidental similar goals… but starting from scratch, both teams must define and jointly develop goals that will direct the teams cooperative efforts in all future combined activity. This is the backbone of a successful partnering relationship.

2.  Shared Risk

Both of the original teams will demonstrate they each are putting some “skin in the game”. Each team validates to the other team they are committed to the future relationship by putting tangible value on the table for the other , and thus there is good reason for this relationship to work

3.  Trust

There are at least four kinds of trust that each of the two original teams must continually prove worthy of to the other team. Demonstrating worthiness of trust will inspire confidence in the other team – they will reliably produce whatever they commit to.  With bilateral trust, each team will continually discover that the higher value of full trust is much more rewarding – both for the company and the individuals – than the alternative. See the post in this Blog on the 4 kinds of trust.

4.  Personal Stake

There is an inspiration and enthusiastic rationale held by individual members of each team involved… to do their respective parts to make Super Team relationships work very well. The individuals all find personal motivation to serve the collective and individual purposes of the Super Team activity that are relevant to the individual.

5.  Two-way communication

Without effective and timely bilateral communication, all of the above attributes become a moot point. Each team must continuously demonstrate to the other team, openness and  transparency in cooperative interactive information sharing. This same point holds for collaboration as well, activities that contribute to both of the original teams work [now working as one Super Team] proficiency and ultimately is evidenced by improved cooperative work performance.

6.  A partnering plan

If the work relationship between the two (or more) participating teams is sufficiently important to merit the implementation of a partnering program/workshop… then it is equally important to memorialize and manage the relationship through effective control procedures.  A well prescribed, significantly documented plan will provide the support needed to help keep the newly improving partnering process on track between the participating teams.

7.  A champion

Because the notion of teamwork-between-teams is unnatural, we have found that the opportunity for success is greatly increased by the presence of a “champion for the cause”.  The champion is a person who fully grasps the importance of the concept, method, and tools that are being applied to the particular Super Team.  The champion will socialize the Super Team purpose and activity within the team and across the organization. The presence of the champion both encourages those that want the Super Team to succeed, and may also put some pressure on those that may be not on board.


Definition of a “Super Team”

June 22, 2011

Overcoming an unnatural human tendency

On June 15, 2011, this Blog posted an article… “Teamwork-between-teams is an unnatural human tendency“. Is there a solution to overcoming this unnatural human tendency?

“When it is highly important  for two or more specific business teams involved in critical part of your business, to improve their combined business performance… turn the two teams into a Super Team.”

Definition – In every sense of the term ‘super’

The dictionary defines super,  “…of the highest degree, power, etc.; of an extreme degree.”

We coined the term Super Team to imply firstly, that two (or more) existing teams can be combined together to form an entirely different level, or higher power of a team… i.e., a super team.

But the word super also can imply superlative characteristics such as superior, outstanding, superb, cracking, brilliant, excellent, enhanced, topnotch, etc. Are we implying that a super team is also an entity that is somehow superior to the sub-teams that comprise it?

Inasmuch as the level of work performance, productivity, innovation, and other terms important to a business or organization… yes, a properly trained and well-executed Super Team is indeed superior to its constituent sub-teams.

Depending on the actual mandate of the Super Team, the Executive Leadership of the org should expect one or more of the following valuable results…. increased revenues, greater cost savings, superior planning and implementation, improved ideas and innovation, superior leadership, and many other possible positive outcomes.

And the object of a Super Team, these organizational benefits should not be expected to apply only within the domain of the two or more teams that comprise the Super Team. The whole point of a Super Team is to generate value beyond the bounds of the original teams’ part of the organization.  A Super Team is often intended to produce value for the entire company’s business or operational performance.

Value is for the whole company

For example, a sales team is combined with a sales support (engineering) team, to form a Super Team that not only helps assure the sales function accomplishes its objectives. The ‘selling’ Super Team is expected to propel the rest of the organization to greater heights for all the reasons one might expect…

  • They create more money that provides more options for the rest of the company,
  • They generate cost savings that also provide additional resource for other parts of the org,
  • They produce new product and solution ideas that help improve market positioning, etc.,
  • They work under an improved planning process that allows the other parts of the business to more proactively anticipate the needs,
  • And much more…

And the same kinds of benefits can be enjoyed for other kinds of Super Teams comprised of the following cross functions:

  1. R&D teams combined with Manufacturing teams
  2. Sales teams combined with Solutions and Delivery teams
  3. Sales teams combined with Financial teams
  4. Operational teams combined with IT teams
  5. Marketing teams combined with R&D teams
  6. Installation teams combined with Customer Service teams
  7. Sales teams combined with Customer teams (yes the company’s Customer actually forms a team with the Company’s own selling personnel to increase sales production for the business!)

A Super Team takes two or more existing teams and forms an improved organizational function, a business capability whose total is greater than the sum of the parts.

All of the 7 examples noted above — in combining existing teams to form Super Teams — have been successfully produced by the Clients of our own Super Team [consisting of the authors and associates of this Blog].

A gentle reminder

A Super Team is formed for these reasons, but again it should be reminded… it is an unnatural tendency for teams to work better together, than they do individually. This is where a Super Team program actively creates the circumstances and mind set within the company that allows the Super Team to excel to it’s level of superior work performance.


“Teamwork-between-teams is an unnatural human tendency

June 15, 2011

Where team building efforts fall short

Some time ago, a group of consultants got together for a bus-man’s holiday.  The intended purpose was agreed as “… let’s just kick back and relax, share a few jokes, have a few drinks, and not worry about business…”

Yeah, right. Before the first drink was delivered by the waitress, the conversation was already on favorite clients, tricky issues, and creative solutions. In this particular instance, I was very glad we overcame our feigned interest in avoiding business chat and wasted no time on our favorite topic – our clients.

On this particular day, the question that seemed to evolve out of typical banter, “What is the most common problem in any large organization, that is also the most ignored problem?”

Once we got rolling on the discussion, it did not take long to reach resounding agreement. The clear winner… “teamwork-between-teams”. It very often sucks.  In fact, a very common experience for consultants… the higher the stakes for two or more teams working cross-functionally, the inter-team working dysfunction seems to increase proportionately. The higher the stakes, the bigger the problem.

This situation occurs when cross-functional teams must work together at some point in a work flow, supply chain or similar organizational tasking.

And the issue is often under the radar. It may be that…

(a) this is not recognized as a problem to begin with, it is merely an accepted fact that cross functional teams are going to have their differences, or

(b) the organization recognizes the under-performing between the cross-functional teams, but simply does not feel there is a reasonable solution to the problem. This has always been a problem and it may always be a problem.

So what is the deal here? Why is this such a common problem?

It is Genetic

Teamwork is a natural tendency within any human organization.  When a group of people are pulled together to fulfill an organizational purpose, it is a natural condition. Each person within the group sees himself as a part of “team” and in fact, the people enjoy the spirit of belonging to a team… working together for the good of the cause.

However, when two teams are pulled into a common work situation, the affiliations and belongings of the separate, individual teams tend to dominate. Two teams are naturally competitive with, and sometimes even inherently distrustful of each other.  At times, when an individual perceives the needs of the other team [not his own] as conflicting with his own team’s needs… the overwhelming tendency is to protect his own team, even at the expense of the other.

So when asked to work together toward a common purpose… the individual members of different teams,  tend to look out for their own team first, and  more so under the daily pressures business.

Is this a problem?

Returning to the conversing consultants mentioned above, cross-functional teams working together at significantly underperforming levels, is a problem in almost every organization we have ever worked for.

To be fair, it is not always a problem that is creating a show-stopping, profit draining barrier to corporate success. But teamwork-between-teams — where cross-functional groups are trying to fulfill a significant business purpose — is almost always an underachieving activity.

For example when sales teams must work with their counterpart sales support teams, sometimes called solution teams or sales engineering teams, our consulting org has a  history of case after case of cross-team conflict, misperceptions, poor communication, one-sided decision making, and more… leading to loss of time, waste of money and diminishing good will within the org.

These underperforming cross-functional teams may come from each of two (or more) of the following areas of the organization:

  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Operations
  • R&D
  • Manufacturing
  • Maintenance
  • Engineering
  • Management
  • Business Partners
  • Unions
  • Executive Leadership
  • Board of Directors
  • Customers
  • … and more

What problems are caused by dysfunctional teamwork-between-teams?

  • Task performance performed by one team, may be done in isolation, without the benefit of ideas or valued input from the other team
  • Task work involving joint effort from members of both teams, tends to be executed for expediency, rather than for quality or value of output.
  • Internal collaboration is poor, with minimal accountability and inaccurate reporting.
  • Joint problem solving between the two teams often fails to account for significant risk.
  • The two teams fail to present a common, well-organized output to the rest of the organization, and often an inconsistent message to the Customer.
  • The two teams tend to bend organizational Governance guidelines, due to lack of cohesive cross-team effort.
  • Best practices and lessons learned tend to be lost in the shuffle of business, and the rest of the organization fails to gain from the two teams’ experience.

These are all real situations documented in case studies from our consultant networks. They are remarkably common, and there are many, many more examples of this kind of underperforming activity.

Coming soon…

“Super Teams – An unnatural human tendency, turned into common sense business success”


Joe Bob teaches Kim his first lesson in Business Leadership

June 9, 2011

(A true story)

I was first starting my professional career, many years ago. I was in my late 20’s, and was recently out of college with a Masters in Psych. I had always been told I was pretty smart, a myth which I tended to really want to buy into, but somehow believed down deep, that perhaps I was only beginning to wake up.

I had become pretty successful in the social services arena in Dallas/Ft Worth. At that time, I was the Director of a Drug Abuse Education, Information and Referral organization.

But I was also starting a family and decided I could better support my family if I got into business. Great idea, but unfortunately… I had no background in doing business, no training, and my Mom and Dad were school teachers. Nothing about business in my genes.

At that time, we lived in “Cow Town”, Ft Worth, TX. One night I decided to go to a nightlife area in Fort Worth called the Stockyards, on the North Side of town. Not sure why I did decide to go there, as I rarely went much further than the taverns in our neighborhood. I had $40 in my pocket, all the disposal cash I had to my name.

Early in the evening, I found myself sitting at a classic Fort Worth bar a few seats down from a cowboy, probably in his mid- or late 50’s. He was wearing a $5 Big Mac work shirt from JC Penny’s, very dirty Levis, cowboy boots covered in cow poop, and a sweaty red bandana around his neck.

We got to talking and I offered to buy him a drink.  His name was Joe Bob, and he seemed to know a bit about life. I guessed he was a classic “good ol’ boy”, hard working, tuff cow hand out to relax for the evening with a few drinks at his favorite “waterin’ hole”.  So I asked him a few questions, and I found interesting what he said.

As the conversation progressed, I began to believe he had real, if not refreshing wisdom about life. I figured he had had a tough life, not because of what he said, exactly. In fact he was very positive and upbeat, but in a very practical, matter-of-fact way. Very likeable guy. .

After a while, and a few more drinks, I asked flat out. “Joe Bob, how can I be successful in business… do you know anything about business you can tell me?”

  • “Son. You and me struck up a friendly conversation at this here bar. We never met before, but you kindly offered to buy me a drink. That’s bein’ neighborly.
  • “Then we talked for 2 hours, you bought me 8 more drinks, and I have not paid for a single drink since we started. I think you paid for the drinks because you were interested in what I had to say. That’s doin’ business.
  • “You are young, probably don’t have much money, yet you still spent all your money on me. I own the 3rd largest ranch in North Central Texas. I could have bought you a few drinks as well. In actual fact, I could buy this bar and 20 more just like it. In truth, I have enough cash in my pocket right now, to buy a fully loaded Cadillac outright. But I let you buy all the drinks, because you wanted to. That’s business leadership.”

He then raised his glass to mine, toasted me, threw down his last shot, and walked out of the bar.

I turned to the bartender, and asked, “Was he pullin’ my leg? Is he really that rich?”

The bartender just gave me one of those knowing smiles, the kind that comes from a casual observer who just watched a young well-meaning, but really naïve kid get schooled. “Son, did Joe Bob mention the oil wells all over his ranch?”

Some guys are educated in business at Harvard, Haas, Wharton, Kellogg. I learned in 2 hours and $40, a single, priceless lesson about business success. Joe Bob Business.  I never saw him again, nor do I even know his last name. But it’s been 30 years, and I have never forgotten him, nor the difference between doin’ business and business leadership.

It took me another 5-10 years to begin to understand what Joe Bob was saying. I’m still working on it. But this lesson rarely has let me down.


The 100 Questions Rule – Part 1

June 1, 2011

How ignorance made me smarter

A number of years ago, very early in my consulting career, I found myself sitting in a London office with a client, a respected Senior Manager of a global industry leader [an icon company in this market referred to herein as “our client”]. Accompanying me in this session was a learned colleague, a senior consultant on this project who had asked me to participate in this assignment.

My colleague and I had been asked to address a particularly difficult marketing challenge for a new product with a relatively new theme for our client.

I was a brand new consultant to our client… in fact I was a fledgling rookie to the client’s industry. As of that sitting, I had logged about 3 weeks of billable hours previously with our client – a $2B, 50 year old industry icon.

We began at 08:00 hrs with the classic consultant tools… note pads, an easel pad, and masking tape [to hang the easel paper on the walls].

I was a bit nervous in this session. I knew almost nothing about our client’s product, nor the new marketing theme. And I certainly did not know enough about the industry market environment to even broadly speculate on what the challenges might be that our client was so concerned about. To sum, I honestly did not feel worthy of wasting the client’s time by being there and I had already determined (to myself), I would not bill our client for my time on this particular day. I at least had some integrity here.

Fast forward to 20:00 hrs, that same day.

The “Ah Ha” moment was a complete surprise

My colleague had just left the room for a bathroom break. At this point the Client turned to me and asked, “Where did you receive your education in our industry?”

“Pardon me?” I was taken back. I just knew the hammer was about to drop. We had been going at this discussion over 12 grueling hours of consultancy, and I was guessing the client had had enough of my questions. I could not remember what (if any) consultancy-type advice had come from me throughout the entire day. My colleague had been offering recommendations all day long, and I was real impressed with his professionalism and command of the situation. I was about to tell the client, “Didn’t I mention that I was not billing you for my time today?”

The client continued, “I had to wait until your friend left the room, but he has been giving me advice all day long. And frankly, I still do not think he understands the problem! I have found most of his recommendations to be nearly useless.” I was shocked and a bit embarrassed. The client went on, “You on the other hand, appear to have this strong insight into the heart of the matter….”

“Through your guidance I have gained an entirely new perspective on the situation, its complications, and a plausible solution. In fact, you are the first guy to come along that has convinced me that with a good plan, we will solve this issue. This single day alone has been one of the best investments in consultancy that we [our client] have engaged in quite some time. ”

The value of ignorance

It was at that moment that I realized what had happened. Throughout the day, due to my grossly inadequate background on the client, the market, and the industry, I had asked a truckload of questions. And because I was so intent on fully understanding the problem space and its associated issues, I had literally not offered a single shred of advice, over the entire 12 hour period.

The scope and depth of my exploratory questions had forced the client to address the overall problem in ways that he had never thought about previously. It later came to light that somehow in that process, the client had experienced more than a few moments of self-discovery… in this case, ALL of which he attributed to my “brilliant” understanding of the market, and how his company will best capitalize on this opportunity.

By direct contrast , my approach to the think tank session was continuously interrupted (from the client’s perspective) by my learned associate, who our client saw as an increasing distracter to his own discovery process. As my associate would offer sage advise and recommendations, it continued to aggravate our client who saw this advice (he later admitted) as “consultancy positioning”, not relevant to what he was gaining in the Q&A process.

Driven by my own ignorance and quest for a complete understanding of the entire situation, I had inadvertently stumbled upon a core lesson learned bounded by at least two fundamental truths about serving in an advisory capacity:

  • Asking a lot of good questions does not demonstrate ignorance.
  • A person will most of the time learn much more through self discovery, than he will from someone else’s advice.

This not only becomes a fundamental rule for consultancy practice, but also reveals a fundamental truth about the knowledge supply chain. Context is the key without it, content is meaningless.

Coming in the near future, a post “The 100 Questions Rule – Part 2” for how this Best Practice actually applies just as much to the Knowledge Supply Chain, as it does good consultancy.