Is your operation built to win? Things to consider when building an agile and balanced team

Oct. 18, 2021 / By Desmond Bibby

If you had the opportunity to compete in the Olympics in your chosen profession, as an individual or as a department, do you think you would be good enough to win a medal? What if there was a Super Bowl, World Cup, Final Four or National Championship for your department? How do you think you would fare against your competitors? When you consider that Olympians and professional athletes spend just as much time training as you spend working in the office, I think it’s fair to compare expected outcomes. Whether you are spending hours in the gym or spending hours creating a PowerPoint presentation, the end objective is to win and be considered best in class. 

If a professional athlete wants to win a Super Bowl, a gold medal, or the U.S. Open, they have to prepare, train and practice the same way a manager has to if they want to win a new contract, request funding for a new project or even justify an employee raise. The main difference between the two is that 50,000 people are not going to pay for parking and purchase tickets to watch mid-level managers fill out headcount requests, participate in accounting events, receive grades on presentation style, set quarterly sales strategies or complete their corporate compliance videos. However, all of these things matter, and just because you won’t win a medal or trophy for doing these tasks doesn’t mean they don’t attribute to your success and set you apart from your closest competitors.    

How do you measure up to your competition? Have you ever thought about which key performance indicators (KPIs) are important to elevate you above your competition? I am not talking about market share, product offerings or stock price. I am talking about things that you can’t find on an NYSE datasheet or from Wikipedia. If you watch a football game there are all these different stats: run/pass percentage, average rush yards, defensive rankings, etc. What would your stats look like? How many years of experience does your accounting department have, what’s the average ROI for your marketing campaigns, what percentage of your managers have advanced degrees, how many of your sales associates are multi-lingual? Do you know these small yet important things about your competition? If you don’t, then how do you know if your team is built to win? 

Building a strong team with a winning mindset takes more skill, experience and risk than most people expect. Like in competitive sports, business teams must find the proper balance between speed, strength, endurance, offense and defense. Often, if you excel in one area then you are weak in the other. Take NFL offensive linemen: They are massive human beings that are very strong, but they aren’t very fast and can struggle with agility. Industry experts are sort of like offensive linemen. They are very knowledgeable and academic; they think about, ponder, study and weigh out all of the risks, rewards and options, so they don’t make decisions very quickly and may make any at all. Wide receivers are the opposite of linemen, and could be compared to people that are fresh out of school and just starting their careers. They are fast, nimble and adaptable. If your operation is out of balance in these areas, you may have a scenario where you have too many smart people who don’t act, with too few young workers to move projects along to get a usable product out to the consumer.  

You may know how your team is built and its strengths and weaknesses, but do you know how your competition is built? Let’s turn to football again for our analysis:

  • Are they built like an offensive line with the tendency to run the ball? Are they big, strong and focused on pushing their products forward, gaining 2-3 percent market share at a time?
  • Are they built to pass, so they sacrifice a little bit of size so that they can move side to side, back and forth, and focus on protection of valuable assets, threat avoidance, while also moving forward quickly and with great efficiency?
  • Are they a defensive operation, waiting for you to move so that they can react and counterattack with their own offensive?
  • Maybe their offense is centered around providing a better product that is priced just a little bit differently, but it solves the one the problem that your product failed to address.

If you know this about your competition, then ask yourself if your team is built to take advantage of these tendencies and circumvent their game plan? 

Knowing your competition is just as important as knowing yourself. You can’t change your competition and how they do things, but you can change yourself and your team’s approach to learning, execution, practice, training and preparation. As I stated earlier, there is no game or event to watch between you and your competition. Families aren’t going to finish their turkey and sweet potato pie on Thanksgiving, then sit on the couch to watch you and your competition conduct dueling PowerPoint presentations on your third quarter performance and project status reports. Your game is conducted every day when you log in and start drafting that first email, open up your first dashboard, ask your first interview question or begin your first test of code. What you should know is that your competitor is lacing up their cleats and taping up their ankles to play the same game you are. Can you beat them? 

Desmond Bibby is business operations manager for the Regulatory and Government Affairs team at 3M Health Information Systems.

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