Category Archives: teambuilding

Keeping Up with the Joneses

Roberto Goizueta, the former Chairman of Coca-Cola, asked a question of his senior managers:

“What is our market share?”

“45%,” came the confident reply.

“How many ounces of liquid does a human being need to drink a day?”  Goizueta asked.

“64 ounces a day,” someone offered.

“On average, how many ounces of all our products does a person drink per day?” Goizueta asked.

“2 ounces,” said one of the executives.

“What’s our market share?” came his final question.

While I don’t think we should allow Coca-Cola to convince us to replace water in our diet with their products, I do think Goizueta’s question was visionary!  He saw that his leaders were operating under a limiting belief – that we only have to be better than our biggest competitor (in Coca-Cola’s case, it was PepsiCo).  He gave the executives a larger playing field.  In effect, he said, Pepsi is irrelevant.  Stop measuring our success by how we compare to our competition.  Start measuring our success by how we compare to our potential.

What a paradigm shift!  The problem with comparing yourself with others is that you only have to stay one step ahead to feel good about yourself.  If the one to whom you are comparing yourself starts to slide, you can slide, too, and still feel good about where you are in relation to your competition.  (See graphic below.)

You might say, “At least we’re not as bad as them!”  Or, “Yes, we’re slipping, but so is everyone else.”  That may numb the pain, but the truth is, you’ve lost your edge.  The sooner you admit it, the sooner you can get back into the game.

On a personal level, comparing yourself to your friends, coworkers or neighbors can become an excuse for not living according to God’s standard and calling on your life.  While you’ve got your eyes fixed on everyone around you, you will almost invariably start to drift away from where God wants you to be.  Where they are is irrelevant to your walk with the Lord.

It’s true that if you focus on those that are ahead of you in the areas you want to grow, it can motivate you to higher levels of performance, but be careful even about these types of comparisons.  They are dangerous for a few reasons:

  • If your competition slips or lets up for any reason, you might be tempted to, as well.
  • If a change takes them out of your life, you might lose your motivation for growth.
  • If they get too far ahead of you, you might get discouraged and give up.
  • And even if they motivate you to higher levels, ask yourself if you are really doing it for the right reasons.  Is it to look good to others, to feel like you are better than others, to “win”….or is it to live by a high standard or to please God?

Keeping up with the Joneses is a losing battle and only serves to distract you from the fulfillment of your greatness.  Let the Smiths or the Petersons take on the Joneses.  Compete with yourself until you reach your full potential.


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Filed under blame, Change, comparison, competition, Compromise, Daily walk, growth, Incentives, leadership, management, paradigm, paradigm shift, performance, Relationships, self-image, self-worth, Spiritual Growth, success, team, teambuilding


Thermopylae is a narrow pass (about 50 feet wide) in ancient Greece, between Mount Oeta and the Malian Gulf.  It leads from Thessaly (Thessalia) into Locris.  In ancient times, it was the main route by which an invading army could penetrate from the north into southern Greece.

It is best known for being the site where King Leonidas I died with his 1400 men (of whom 300 were Spartans) during the Persian Wars as they attempted to stop Xerxes and the Persian invasion of Greece in 480 BC. When Xerxes arrived with his enormous contingent of soldiers (Herodotus estimated it at 2.6 million, but it probably wasn’t nearly that high), he expected the small group of Greeks to retreat in light of his superior numbers, but Leonidas and his men refused to move.  In fact, they appeared confident, even calm, in the face of certain death.  Xerxes tried to wait them out for four days, but they wouldn’t leave.

When fighting finally began, it took three days for Xerxes to defeat the Spartans.  The Greeks easily repelled the initial attacks on their position, for what they lacked in numbers, they made up in determination and strategy.  The Spartans believed in a code of courage and discipline.  Retreat and surrender were not options.  They made their stand at Thermopylae, because the narrow pass nullified the threat of Xerxes’ overwhelming numbers.  Further, Leonidas knew that the Persians’ shorter spears made them unable to engage the Greeks at close quarters.

Had it not been for betrayal by a fellow Greek, Leonidas and his men might have held off the Persians indefinitely, but Ephialtes, a Thessalonian, showed the Persians how to use a path over the mountain to attack the Greeks from behind.  Once betrayed, it was all but over for the Greeks.  Leonidas was killed as he helped defend the pass.  Xerxes then dispatched his 10,000 Immortals, an elite fighting group.  The remaining Greeks retreated to a small hillock, where they formed a circle around the body of Leonidas.

Xerxes asked for the body of Leonidas in return for sparing the lives of the remaining Spartans, but the brave warriors refused.  Xerxes didn’t want to command his men to close in on the Spartans, because it was clear that the Persian armies were afraid of the Spartans.  They had never seen such determination and reckless abandon.  The Spartans didn’t care about preserving their lives.  They only wished to die honorably and protect the body of their leader.  Faced with his soldiers’ reluctance to fight, Xerxes ordered his archers to shoot arrows into the dense circle of Spartans until the sky was blackened and every Spartan dead.

Why did Leonidas and the Spartans fight so hard even after the battle was clearly lost?  Leonidas took counsel of an oracle before the battle, who foretold that either Sparta would perish or one of her kings would perish. By his death, Leonidas hoped to sacrifice himself to save his city.  And as it turns out, he did.  While the Persians went on to take Athens, they had been delayed long enough at Thermopylae to allow the Greeks to regroup and reinforce.  Later in 480 BC, the Greek navy defeated the Persians at the Battle of Salamis, halting Xerxes’ advance on Greece and putting an end to his imperial ambitions.  Had the Greeks not be able to repel the Persians, the later contributions of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and other Greeks would never have been possible.

The Spartans had cohesion.  They stuck together no matter what the threat.  They didn’t do it because it was their job as soldiers.  They didn’t do it because of the paycheck.  They didn’t even do it just for their love and respect they had for their leader.  They did it, because they had a common purpose that was larger than all of them.  They had a unifying vision and a common enemy to that vision.

If you want the commitment of your team members, you’ve got to give them something worthy to fight for….a common purpose, a common enemy, something larger than the fading motivation of a paycheck.

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Filed under Challenges, commitment, conflict, determination, discipline, Engagement, failure, focus, leadership, management, motivation, overcoming obstacles, ownership, passion, performance, Persistence, pressure, priorities, purpose, sacrifice, team, teambuilding

Pick a Winner

How many superstar athletes do you know of that went on to become great coaches?  Not many, I bet.  It rarely happens, because the skill set that makes the best athletes has very little overlap with the skill set that makes great coaches.  In fact, some of the things you need to be great as an athlete (i.e. a burning desire to be the best) work at cross purposes to what you need to be a great coach (i.e. a burning desire to help others to be the best they can be).

This principle is true on our teams, as well.  The best individual producers are not necessarily the best qualified for leadership.  Yet, because we don’t know how to identify leadership potential, we promote on what we can measure: aptitude in their current role.  This is a simple approach, but it’s often ineffective.  Promoting your top producer to manager may create more problems than it solves.  Achievement-minded people often struggle with leadership, because it requires that they switch their focus from their personal goals to the goals of the team.  The drive that was so necessary in their previous role often causes interpersonal problems with their team members.  Their strength then becomes a weakness.

Achievement-minded people also find it difficult to delegate.  From their viewpoint, no one can do it as well as they can (and they are probably right – they are the superstars, remember).  Besides, much of what they do so well is rooted in talent.  While skills can be taught, talent is part of our genetic code.  Michael Jordan can teach you some of the fundamentals and advanced skills of basketball, but he can’t teach you to be great unless you are already naturally gifted athletically.

Instead of promoting the same type of people over and over and expecting different results, why not try to identify an individual’s talent for leadership?  While this can be challenging considering our team members’ job responsibilities, it isn’t impossible.  As you talk to your team members, keep your antennae out for the following leadership competencies:

  • Leadership in other environments (church, community, trade organizations, family…)
  • Dissatisfaction with the status quo
  • Willingness to take on more responsibility
  • Ability to overcome obstacles to complete a task
  • Respect of his/her peers (not to be read “Liked by his/her peers” – they are not the same thing)
  • Integrity
  • Willingness to give away credit

Obviously, this isn’t a comprehensive list.  Add competencies of your own to round it out.  If you can’t glean enough information about your team members from observation and interaction, give them an opportunity to lead a project team or task force.  Let them head the next meeting.  Put them in charge of organizing the team off-site.  If all else fails, ask them to give you examples of each competency from their personal experience.  Starting with the right criteria makes all the difference.

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Filed under delegation, leadership, management, mentoring, Promotion, Succession, teambuilding

Common Goal / Common Threat

A few years ago, a documentary movie called “March of the Penguins,” was released.  If you haven’t see it, get a copy.  It’s a beautifully photographed movie with some interesting metaphors for teams.  For example, emperor penguins make a yearly 113 km trek across the ice of the Antarctic in order to mate in the exact place where they were born.  Each mother lays a single egg during the coldest time of the Antarctic year, when temperatures can reach as low as -80 F / -62 C.  First the mothers and then the fathers take turns incubating the eggs to keep them warm.  They do this by resting the egg on top of their feet and covering it with the lower part of their belly.

The mothers pass off the eggs to the fathers a few days after they eggs are laid so that they can return the 113 km to the sea for food.  (Both fathers and mothers have been without food for about two months at this point.)  The fathers then have the responsibility of protecting the eggs during the 62- to 64-day incubation period while the mothers are away.  They spend the entire two months standing with the eggs perched on their feet and under their bellies while 160-km-per-hour winds whip around them.

While the male emperor penguins can be fairly aggressive animals at other times, they lay their differences aside during the harsh Antarctic winter.  Thousands upon thousands of fathers huddle closely together to protect themselves and their eggs from the cold and the wind.  As the days pass, they take turns rotating to the warmest spots at the center of the huddle.  With this unified strategy, the fathers are able to protect most of the eggs until they hatch just a day or two before the mothers return with food.

The partnership of the mother-father team is incredible, but what really impressed me was the fathers’ teamwork.  Instinctively they know that trying to weather the winter storms individually will lead to disaster, so they combine their resources (in this case, their body heat) for the good of the colony.

Nothing seems to bring a team together more than a common goal or a common threat.  The penguins’ common goal was survival of the colony. Their common threat was the difficult Antarctic winter.  When a team is faced with a cause that they can rally behind, they set aside their personal differences and focus on the task at hand.

You can put this principle to work in your team by:

a) Identifying a goal that everyone on the team can get excited about. It has to be something that most or all the team members feel is worthwhile and possible (not to be read, “easy”…easy goals don’t motivate any more than impossible goals.)

b) Identifying a threat or enemy that everyone on the team can get enthusiastic about beating. Sometimes the threat you identify is a thing (like sin, poverty or even tasks that are pulling you away from your main priorities).  Sometimes it is a negative consequence (like losing funding, having to put restrictions on a project or being unprepared for an event).  And sometimes, it’s a person or group (like Satan and his armies).  Whatever threat you identify, it has to be something that most or all of the team members feel is worth beating or preventing.

Teams that are focused on personal differences are not focusing on team goals. If your team is slipping into this trap, start looking for something everyone can get excited about.

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Filed under christianity, family, Group dynamics, isolation, Relationships, teambuilding