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Week of 11 September 2017: Be careful how you define your team, part 1

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I have had the privilege of mentoring a bright young man recently (our son, actually). When he came out of university, he worked at a boutique financial analysis firm for several years, leaving it this past winter to go to work for a company that is on a large acquisition binge.

At his new employer's, he and his two coworkers serve as the analysts for these acquisitions. All of the trio are under thirty. He had not been there very long until he started complaining about the hours they were putting in relative to the compensation they were receiving. He had already admitted to me that all three of them had taken less than what might be considered the going rate for their positions, because, way up at the top of this company, sits a very famous CEO. They want to put his company on their resumés. Not a bad strategy when most of your career is ahead of you.

I told him the request for more salary was a losing idea: "You just got there and you haven't proven yourself yet. On top of that, you went in knowing you were not getting top dollar."

I invited him over one day to sit down and tell me the whole story. I wanted to understand the makeup of the corporate group. Several things became very clear to me right away.


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First, this whole enterprise is a "lash up" of several somewhat unrelated enterprises that have been bought and shoved together (although at the top, there is a sensible and cohesive strategy for doing this). Some people in the corporate group are ducks out of water and completely unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the tasks they are being asked to do. One group, in particular, is led by a thirty-year veteran of a certain segment of the business who is now being asked to lead something he has never led before. The young analysts do not report to this person, but they report to the same boss.

This particular person is a source of some of the problems. He keeps asking these young analysts to take on one-off and ongoing tasks his own group should be doing. Mistakenly thinking that absorbing these tasks makes them look like great team players, the young analysts took on this extra work.

My next question was this: "Let's suppose the three of you are late on one of the tasks assigned to you by your boss and your excuse is you were busy doing work for this other group? How is that going to go down?"



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Then I gave him the lecture on what a team is. A team is your specific, small group of personnel assigned to do a specific job or set of jobs. Although I am not much of a sports fan, I can give an example from there. Suppose the quarterback notices that the waterboy forgot to fill the drink containers? Does he ask for a time out so the players on the field can do this job? No. While in the bigger picture, they are all on the same team, when it comes to specific tasks they are not.

But I wasn't finished there. There is a lot more to go in this lesson and we'll pick it up next week.

For safety this week, when a safety crisis unfolds, it is clear that the concept of team expands beyond my description above. Nevertheless, after the initial call for first responders and their arrival, all should obey the first responders' commands. Particularly in a large crisis, you don't want any one person deciding on his or her own what the response should be; doing so can make them part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Be safe and we will talk next week.


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