With the golf club in my hands, I bent down ever-so-slightly to align myself with the ball. Five feet across his office floor, Tom laid down a trash basket, which I was aiming for.  As I took shot after shot (missing nearly all of them… Hey, it’s just not my sport!), we discussed his problem between four departments under his leadership: Sales, Marketing, Engineering and Customer Service. 

For nearly two years, Tom, senior vice president, watched as his teams competed for sales, or passed customers off to one another without identifying or addressing the customers’ needs. The sales team would make a promise to a customer then pass the customer along to customer service without ever ensuring they could make good on their promise. Of course, the customer service department wasn’t sure why the sales team made such a promise.

Communicate With Consistency And Clarity

Instead of communicating with the sales team, the customer service and sales team started complaining about each other. Meanwhile, the customers were frustrated because they were not getting what they were promised. Additionally, the engineering team, not knowing what solution was promised, had to start from scratch with the same customer.

When the customer became frustrated and went to customer service, the customer service team had no resources to address the problem, and no incentive to hunt down the solution. A lack of incentive to get great results lead this team to a costly turnover rate, making it difficult to plan for growth.

Don’t Lose Your Customers. Instead, Embrace Difficult Conversations 

Customers eventually started withdrawing their business, and Tom’s urgency for change grew, though his discomfort with difficult conversations thwarted his efforts. 

Because of a lack of clarity about goals and roles, his team wound up competing for sales, or passing customers off to one another without identifying or addressing the customers’ needs. 

The teams devolved into separate employees all looking out for themselves, serving no one, unanchored without a common goal to hold them together and at a loss without a responsible leader to unify them. The effects of poor communication resulted in lost profit and consequent lay-offs. Employee morale plummeted and, to this day, this department continues to struggle and lose business, along with talented employees. 

I was fortunate to work with one of the team leaders during this time, who was asked to investigate the communication challenges and restructure the teams. She implemented some positive change and developed a plan to put the teams back in communication with each other, defined their separate roles, and inspired them by aligning them with the vision of the department. 

While her work created some small changes, there was little to no responsiveness from the leader in charge of the entire department. He was unwilling or unable to handle conflict of any sort – he liked to keep things calm and he did so by simply saying nothing. His lack of response-ability was contagious. His team leaders mirrored his actions or inactions by shirking responsibility. 

The ultimate result: continued lost business, squandered talent, and an unhappy, unmotivated, uninspired remaining workforce, stumbling around, concerned only with survival.

While this may seem like a tragic tale, it is all too common. If Tom asked his team for honest feedback, embraced challenging conversations and took full responsibility for communicating a clear vision, you can imagine a much different result. His team would have understood their roles, stayed focused and committed to the success and vision of the organization and the needs of the customer. It starts at the top! 

Leaders who strive to create productivity and teamwork must first take time to consider the overall vision and mission of their organization. To get started, consider the following 5 questions: 

  1. What is your vision for your team? Consider the following components:
    Who we are; what we strive for; how we will get there.
  1. How have you communicated your vision to your team? What was your method of communication? If an outsider came in and asked one of your team members what your vision is, how would they answer? Do they know how they contribute to your vision? Why or why not?
  1. What is your team’s mission? (i.e. how do you, as a team, plan to achieve the vision?) If an outsider asked one of your team members what the mission is, would he or she have a simple answer? Would he or she know how they contribute to the mission?
  1. What does success look like for each of your team members? How does their success add to the teams overall goals?
  1. Is there alignment between your company/department’s mission and your individual team members’ goals in your organization? Why or why not?

A leader with vision who claims full responsibility for the success of his team will create an environment for increased engagement, productivity, motivation and loyalty. This is the trickle down effect of excellent leadership. Likewise, less successful leadership also has a trickle down effect, and the consequences are suffered by everyone in the organization, including customers, and are recorded on the profit and loss sheet for the company. 

Here’s to your greatness,

Misti Burmeister

For nearly two decades, Misti Burmeister has empowered leaders with the confidence and tools to solve people problems, increasing productivity and engagement across generations. She is a best-selling author, TEDx Speaker, award-winning entrepreneur, and community advocate.