Nothing Is Impossible

Nothing Is Impossible To The Person Who Doesn’t Have To Do It Himself

There’s an old story about the man who wanted to know the difference between heaven and hell. So he was given a chance to tour both places.

At first he was confused. In both places he saw great banquet halls filled with the finest foods. But an angel said, “Wait until the people come in. Then you’ll know the difference.”

The folks in hell came in looking skinny, gaunt, and sickly. Each of them had a long pole attached to each of their hands, and at the end of the poles were knives and forks. It was obvious, when these folks sat down, that they were angry and starving.

By contrast, the folks in heaven came in healthy, robust, and happy. They had the same long-poled knife-and-fork attachments stuck to their hands, but the difference was — they were feeding each other.

That’s the way it is in teams. If the team members are trying to take care of themselves, or if they’re refusing to serve one another, the team will be ineffective. But if the team members look out for one another, they can achieve some awesome results.

To get you started, let me suggest a few tips that will move your team towards “heavenly” results. First, MAKE AN HONEST SELF-ASSESSMENT. In other words, look at your attitude, and look at your behavior on the team. And then ask yourself, “How good would your team be if everyone on the team was just like you?”

I don’t know what your answer will be, but I do know this — you are not a neutral. Your attitudes and your actions make your team more or less effective. You make it a better or poorer place to work.

Second, HOLD OCCASIONAL ROLE CLARIFICATION SESSIONS. Bob Fisher and Bo Thomas talk about that in their book, Real Dream Teams. They recommend meeting with each person you depend on and depends on you. That would include your team members at work and your family members at home.

Each person comes to the session with a detailed definition of his “role” on the team. He simply writes down what his job is — as he sees it. Then the other parties share their information with one another.

Once that is done, each person needs to ask for feedback. He asks the other team members about any changes he might need to make in his attitude and behavior so he can be more successful in his “role.”

Fisher and Thomas found that this simple process was rarely used, but the teams that did so were handsomely rewarded. In more than 80% of the cases, the team members provided completely positive responses to one another’s requests. The other 20% of the time the team members had to renegotiate how they could work together more effectively in the future.

In essence, it was all about clarity. It was all about who would do what by when.

It’s like the time newscaster Sam Donaldson was traveling with President Jimmy Carter outside of New Delhi, India. They were there to see how a particular village solved its energy problems in a most creative way. The villages threw all their cow manure into a pit, and they siphoned off the methane gas to light the village lamps.

As they were standing on the edge of the pit, Donaldson asked, “If I fell in, you’d pull me out, wouldn’t you, Mr. President?” “Certainly,” Carter replied, pausing a bit, “after a suitable interview.” They achieved role clarity.

As I work with teams in various organizations, one of the most common complaints I hear is the lack of communication. And it is a problem. No team can ever achieve its full potential if there is a lack of clarity.

That’s what Mrs. J. Ward found out. After her father had been treated in the doctor’s office, the doctor asked him to call in the next patient. So her father opened the waiting room door and dutifully called, “Mr. Colchester, please.”

With that her father walked some 200 yards down the street towards his car. It was then that he heard a small voice behind him. It was Mr. Colchester, asking him, “Where are we going?” They obviously didn’t have role clarity.

Third, DO A FEW FAVORS. Dr. Robert Cialdini documented the power of this strategy in his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

In simple terms, we try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us. If someone has done us a favor, given us a gift, or invited us to some event, we feel obligated to give something back. It’s a big part of any effective team or relationship. And it’s a big part of the cooperation process.

So go out of your way to do thoughtful, helpful things for your teammates. Help others, and when you need help, they’ll be more likely to help you. It’s the old Biblical principle of sowing and reaping.

Two neighboring farmers learned that. Farmer Brown asked if he could bring his 12 female pigs over to farmer Jones’ to mate with his male pigs. Jones agreed.

So farmer Brown loaded his sows into his truck and drove them over to farmer Jones’ pig pen to spend the day. “I’ve never raised pigs before. So how will I know if it worked?” asked Brown. “Just look for unusual behavior,” said Jones.

The next morning, farmer Brown looked at his pigs, but he didn’t see anything unusual. So he reloaded the sows in his truck and brought them back to Jones’ farm.

It was the same on the third day. Back to Jones’ they went.

Being a bit disheartened, farmer Brown asked his wife, “Honey, are the pigs doing anything unusual?” “Well,” she said, “There are 11 of them in the back of the truck and the 12th one is honking the horn.”

Action on Team Building:

Invite your team members in for a role clarification session. Describe your roles as you understand them. And then ask your teammates how you could be even more successful in your role.

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  • Dr. Zimmerman, I enjoy your Tuesday Tips and Free Articles every week. They bring such inspiration to me. Thank You for the Tuesday tips and all the you do to promote team building and work place cohesivness.

    • Kathryn, I appreciate the feedback. It’s been so gratifying to hear from so many of our 70,000 subscribers. Best to you.