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Team Busters

Eliminating 'Team Busters'

An article by Bill Hoopes

It's a mid-summer Monday morning in Grassville. You have just completed your regular team meeting, making assignments, recognizing top performers… steering the ship through another week in the green industry.

At this week's meeting, you tried to emphasize your strong belief that if your small company does not deliver better, more personalized customer service than the competition, your business will suffer. You talked about knocking on the door of each customer's home, checking with homeowners every chance you get to identify any questions or problems that may need attention. You talked about 'doing the job right the first time', to avoid unnecessary service calls.

A quick survey of the crew's faces signaled that they got the message. Heads nodded agreement at every point. You ended the meeting satisfied.

After the session, you watch over the day's 'start-up', making sure the crew is organized and on the road, then turn your attention toward repairing the breakdown of an important spray rig. In the middle of the job, missing some parts, it's clear you'll have to pick up some supplies to finish the job.

Since another employee is using your pick-up, you borrow the Office Manager's car and head for the store. About a mile from the shop, you notice two of your vehicles at a Mickey D's. Strange, you provided all the necessary coffee and doughnuts the guys could eat only 20 minutes earlier. Why Mickey D's? Why now?

Unable to arrive at a logical reason for their presence, you pull in. Parking the unfamiliar car in the rear, you go in through the side door.

In the middle of the room, sitting behind a row of plants, are two of your people. Interestingly, one is a new employee, on the job only a few weeks. The other person is a long time veteran. The two are absorbed in their conversation and don't notice your arrival.

Like a stealth fighter, you slide undetected into a hidden seat opposite the row of interior plants. Only five or six feet away and completely unaware, your two employees provide an easy-to-hear conversation.

What happens next should happen to all managers at least once in their careers.

Listening with growing interest, you become the uncomfortable witness to an all too common employee 'mind set' or attitude you've come to know as 'The Team Buster'. The 'TB', as you now refer to these insidious negative employees, can, in a very short time, eliminate positive thinking. They create divisiveness and negative attitudes that can destroy a team's morale, productivity and loyalty, leading to increased turnover.

As the conversation progresses, you find it hard to stay cool. Tom, your six-year veteran is lecturing Anthony, your new employee. In his monologue, he goes into great detail about his extensive experience working with customers. He tells Anthony that 'what you heard in the meeting is the typical bosses 'take' on customer service'. With a superior sneer, Tom carefully outlines what he calls 'the real world', and lets Anthony know in plain terms that 'what 'he' told us to do is what all 'bosses' try to get employees to do'. Continuing, 'these owners don't do what we do kid. In fact, most of them haven't touched a spreader or spray rig for so long, they wouldn't know what to do with one'. The lecture went on, 'if you want to know how to get the job done. I mean hit your production goal and still have a life. I mean, you know, get out of here at a decent hour, here's what you do'. Then, Tom proceeded to undo all the instructions and training you have provided the new person.

By the time the bottom of the coffee cup was visible through the last drops of Mickey's great brew, you new employee had been indoctrinated by 'The Destroyer'. He now understood that 'knocking on the door wastes your time', that 'nobody's home anyhow'. He learned how to write little comments on invoices in advance because 'doing it on the lawn takes too much time'. Anthony had also been carefully instructed on how to answer the typical question 'those stupid customer's ask', and why 'all you really need to do is blow a little smoke at them and get outa there'. Good old Tom didn't miss a thing. He even told the new man when, where and how to relieve himself in the bushes. That part of the story he told with great pleasure, emphasizing that 'if you are good enough, you'll never get caught'.

Tough as it was, you controlled yourself in order to take it all in, until.until Tom began to describe his technique for observing specific female 'sunbathers' in his territory that 'really make the job fun in the summer'.

That's when the game ended.

You've had it. You get up, approach the startled workers and say: _________________

This is where I am going to stop.

What do you say? What would you say to a veteran like Tom? What action would you take? What damage was done? Can the damage be repaired? How long had this been going on?

Ask yourself, 'has this happened in my operation'? Could it happen to me? How should I eliminate the threat posed by 'The Team Buster?

Sooner or later, in every operation, you encounter a negative 'Team Buster'

'TB's' are negative people. 'Destroyers', left in existence will poison your team. Eventually, 'TB's' will lead to negative thinking followed by negative feelings and resulting in negative behavior. These negative people will tear down your team's morale and your business will suffer.

How to deal with 'The Team Buster'

Set positive standards. You have a clear right to run your business any way you choose. That privilege includes establishing customer service attitudes as well as procedures. And, your staff has a responsibility to meet your standards.

Your actions, in response to learning you have a destroyer on the squad, should be as follows:

* REACT.AND REACT IMMEDIATELY! Failure to react, hoping a negative person will 'see the light' and change 'once things get less hectic' never happens. React now.

* First, be certain you have clearly and effectively communicated exactly what your standards and expectations are. Make 100% sure everyone understands what you expect. Often, we assume our thoughts are clearly understood. At times, the best of us may send mixed signals. Under difficult circumstances, even the most committed of us may fail to live up to our own standards. So, before you blame and take action, check out your training and communications effectiveness.

* Next, convinced the employee knew how the job was to be done, conduct an immediate personal and private performance intervention interview. Take the employee off the premises for a private meeting. Do not discuss the details with other employees, do not draw conclusions in advance of your interview.

* In the interview, review the training and communication you have provided, the instructions you have given. Get the employee to acknowledge that he/she understood the 'rules of the road', the job performance standards.

* Now, communicate the specific performance problem in detail. Be specific, detailed and unemotional. Confine comments to specific performance. Do not attempt to analyze why the performance was unacceptable, just describe what actually happened.

* Ask the employee to explain his/her performance and give input. Listen with an open mind. Do not jump to conclusions and do not 'bait' the employee in order to prove your point. In other words, stick to the facts.

* Based on what you learn and assuming the performance was unacceptable, most managers believe the employee deserves at least one verbal and one written warning. Depending on the severity of the unacceptable performance and it's impact on your business, you may decide to terminate the employee on the spot. If you decide to warn the employee, give the employee specific and detailed instructions on the type and level of performance you expect in the future, beginning immediately. Do not argue, do not negotiate. At this time, you are giving clear and non-negotiable instructions.

* Establish follow up performance 'benchmarks' and a time table for improvement. Always follow up quickly. As performance improves, performance checks can be made at increasingly longer intervals.

The worst thing any manager can do is NOTHING. If you don't like what you see or hear, only you, the manager in charge can bring about change.

Keeping 'Team Busters' off the team

Once stung, most managers react one of two ways. They either develop the general opinion that 'people just don't want to follow directions' and 'they don't make em' the way they used to', or they learn to keep a closer 'ear to the ground'. I prefer the second alternative.

Here are two specific things you can do to minimize the chance that a 'TB' will invade your staff through:

* Require staff input as a part of the planning, problem solving process. People are positively motivated and will work harder to succeed when they feel ownership in the process and objective. You do not have to turn over the decision making or procedure establishment process to employees, but getting their ideas and input while you are developing your own thoughts will take advantage of the power of synergy. People working together with a common goal, will almost always make better decisions than even the smartest individual working alone. Not only will group input in the process improve the quality of your planning, it will motivate employees, building ownership and loyalty.

* Hold regular 'one-on-one' meetings with your staff. Make them frequent, private and personal. Ask questions that probe the employee's mind. Learn as much as possible about their overall level of satisfaction, their frustrations. Be bold enough to ask your employees straight out, 'how can I make your job a little bit easier'? You do this to show you care about your people. Once they know you genuinely care about them, they'll care too. People respond in their own way to work and stress. The more you know about each individual, the better able you'll be to deal with his/her issues and needs.

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