Set Your Team Communications on Fire For Unparalleled Success

Communication is Key

Set Your Team Communications on Fire for Unparalleled Success

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“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” — Phil Jackson

Our four hundred-million-dollar business was arranged by business units. There were four. Each of the business units had an autonomous Business Unit Manager, BUM. Each unit controlled its finance and labor resources. The four personalities were different but meshed together well.

Each of the Business Unit Managers (BUMS) was tough, intelligent, focused, driven and strong-willed. Each business built a unique component which was combined to create a product. We needed to come up with a plan that would bond our customer to us for ten years.

Our pricing strategy required that we take an EBIT (Earnings Before Interest and Taxes) loss, in the first two years, then rake in profit like bandits in years three through ten by improving our processes. The customer had agreed to a structured pricing plan that allowed us to improve our process and keep most of the savings for ourselves.

Our problem was we could not agree on how to split the savings among the business units over the years. Should we put all the process upgrade savings into one pot and split or should each unit keep their own savings for themselves?

The savings were important since each of the BUMs salaries were partially based on how their unit performed. Productivity savings added significantly to the bonus percentage. Corporate based my bonus on the performance of all four units, so I was rooting for them all.

The BUM’s were divided equally on how to proceed. The discussions were intense and furious with each side becoming more entrapped in their arguments each time we discussed the savings and their distribution.

The final call was mine as I would provide the Finance Director with the five-year plan by business unit. I needed to lead an off-site discussion that would produce a true win-win. We were affecting the team’s livelihood. We could not have the business leaders at odds over a deal that would last for ten years.

Our team often went out together to drink and eat appetizers at a local “watering hole” while we discussed tough business issues. Our normal after-hours off-site gatherings did not produce a satisfactory solution to the issues.

We decided that we would meet after work at an “undisclosed location” to complete out our strategy. The location was undisclosed because we had not decided where to meet.

One of the team members had a farm, so we agreed to meet there. Once we arrived, we walked outside and lit the biggest bonfire I had ever seen. There was this ridiculous pile of wood, some chopped onto logs, some were planks and the rest were chunks of trees.

The fire remained huge, mainly because as we talked through our issues, we kept throwing additional wood on the fire. The physical act of putting the logs on the fire and watching them burn was very satisfying. Adding wood to the fire felt good. The physicality removed much of the frustration that was blocking the discussion.

We sat outside drinking beer, eating chips, burning wood and planning for hours. As we sat around the fire, everyone relaxed, and we could listen to one another. To say the atmosphere was a departure from work was a major understatement.

We had a breakthrough when we agreed that neither of the proposed plans was the best way to approach the bonus situation. Once we agreed on that conclusion, other solutions became apparent.

By planning the order of the production activities, we were able to devise a bonus schema that satisfied everyone.

The hypnotic effect of the fire granted us access to our common humanity. The silence was challenging or insulting. The sound of the cracklings was soothing.

The bonfire burned off the unpleasantness that had infiltrated the discussions allowing us to agree as a team. No one left until the early morning hours once we put the fire out.

We left as a stronger team having worked through issues that could have made us fall apart. An unusual technique made a difference to an unusual team.

We lit a fire to work through our issues and to listen to each other. We fixed our problem and we built trust.

Don’t be afraid to use unusual techniques to find the right communication tool for your team. The results will astound and amaze you.


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