Making a Difference

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Once upon a time, Jim’s new team was one of the best in
the company. They got their work done and seemed to have fun doing it. If the
term “high performance team” had been current back then, it would have described
them to a “T.”

That seemed like ancient history to Jim, though. The boss who led them in
those days was gone, off to another company for more money and great
opportunity. For the last two years this team had worked for Bob. Bob had just
been fired.

Bob was one of those managers who believed that it was all about him. He told
everyone how good he was. He sent team members on personal errands, like picking
up his laundry. As a boss he played favorites (Anne could do no wrong, Marilyn,
the outspoken one, was never right) and reveled in little power displays.

The company fired Bob for cheating on his expense reports. His team members
knew that he also ran personal expenses through petty cash, took office supplies
home, and used the office postage meter for his personal mail.

Jim’s assessment was that things were bad. Since he was taking over right
before busy season, he didn’t have time for things to get better slowly. He
needed the high performance team that he knew his team had been and could be.

He brought his problem to our peer support group. We were all mid-level
managers. We got together once a month, except during the Christmas holidays,
and talked about how we could do things better. After our discussion, Jim
decided to do three things.

From then on, when he went to lunch, he always asked if he could bring
something back for anyone.

He announced that every day, every team member would have an hour free of
phones so they could catch up on paper work.

He called a team meeting that he started by reminding everyone of how things
had been once. “I want things to be that way again,” he told them, “But I need
your help. What can we do to make things better?”

Marilyn had an idea right away. “When we get behind, it would be great if
you’d come out here on the floor and help whoever’s in trouble.” Jim agreed and
the team wrestled with the details.

The very next morning, Marilyn needed help. Jim pitched in even though he was
pretty sure he was being tested.

The “idea meeting” became a regular feature of team life. When someone
brought an idea to Jim, he did some analysis and then brought the team together
to evaluate the idea. He always reserved the final decision, but he found that
the team members did a great job of figuring which ideas were worth a try.

Jim could have announced that things were different. Instead he demonstrated
it. He could have remained the boss who is apart from the team. Instead he
became the boss who is a team member.

Boss’s Bottom Line

The difference between high performing teams and low performing teams is
often the boss. Be the boss who makes the positive difference.

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