There Is an “I” in Team

There Is an “I” in Team

No, you don’t need glasses and you’re not reading a typo. While “There’s No “I” in Team” is a popular catch phrase imprinted on posters, stationery, and awards, I don’t think that tells the whole truth. Without a doubt, the synergy of a team does bring extraordinary results. But if it weren’t for the commitment and talent of the individuals who work collectively as a team, outcomes would not be so stellar.

The “I” in team is not a selfish one. Military battles would not be won, buildings would not be constructed, products would not be created, sports teams would not bring home trophies were it not for the men and women whose values and skills complemented the others.

Knute Rockne said, “The secret is to work less as individuals and more as a team. As a coach, I play not my eleven best, but my best eleven.” In 1980, Coach Herb Brooks, who died in 2003, followed this strategy when he put together a U.S. Olympic hockey team that beat the Soviets in Lake Placid. In the movie, Miracle, which told the 1980 Olympic team story, Brooks said, “I’m not looking for the best players, I’m looking for the right players.”

These coaches created a culture of team success by setting the bar extraordinarily high for each person to play his best for his position. And each of their players assumed total responsibility for his performance. It’s a combination of hiring right, clear performance standards, individual skill and personal accountability that creates winning teams.

Here are some thoughts on how your agency can enhance the “I” in team to achieve exceptional results.

Break down the silos. I speak with hundreds of agencies a year who have separate Personal Lines, Commercial Lines, and Benefits departments. Whether the business employs fifteen or fifty, I regularly hear frustration expressed in the form of “them” and “us.” A few reasons for this include one department not understanding what another department does, management decisions made uniformly without regard to different businesses, employees, or customer needs, or business decisions communicated inconsistently.

Here are four strategies to break down the silos:

1. Utilize a company Intranet program to post vacation dates, employee additions, accomplishments, agency news, educational offerings, scheduled guests, and so on. Give everyone equal access to company information to break down silos.
2. Schedule formal shadow training sessions for all employees. Shadow training is when an employee spends time with individuals in departments other than his or her own. First-hand observation of other departments, jobs, and customer interactions bring understanding and cooperation between different business operations.
3. Schedule monthly state-of-the-office meetings led by agency leaders. Review what’s new in each department including personnel, technology, carrier changes, etc. Even if some of these topics are on the Intranet, a live exchange and the ability to ask questions and be involved is crucial for “I” success.
4. Top agency leaders should interview employees individually to gain insight into their world and solicit ideas every year. Employee input leads to enhanced employee and customer satisfaction, productivity, and profit. Humanizing the leader/employee relationship strengthens both parties.

What will you do to break down the silos and develop stronger “I’s” on your team?

Trust. As an inexperienced commercial casualty underwriter, I resisted delegating work to others on my team. I believed I could do things faster myself, do a better job than a coworker, or didn’t trust the job would be done on time. My supervisor strongly encouraged me to delegate and put it to me this way. “Not letting others do the job we’ve hired them to do is an insult to them. Not delegating according to how the organization is built can be perceived as doubting others’ ability and intelligence and undermines their contribution to the organization. Every person is of value to the team and deserves trust and respect.”

Support the “I” in team by trusting others to do the job they’ve been hired to do.

Think from your customers’ point of view.

Here are two very different approaches to the “I” in team and how two agencies addressed customer needs and expectations.

Two independent agencies in a small town of 25,000 people were entering into a merger. The merged business was taking on a new name and moving to a new location to house both agency operations. The agency principals saw to it that press releases were done, letters were mailed to all customers, and effective print ads appeared in the local newspapers. Even with these good marketing efforts, the staff wondered whether the customers would read about the change and if so, how the change would be perceived. One of the Personal Account Managers suggested that she and her three counterparts call each of their 800 customers personally. They all agreed and within the first ninety days of the merger, all 3200 personal lines customers were contacted by phone. It was team effort of “I’s” that got their message out and set the standard for the proactive culture of this new agency venture.

For some agencies, developing the “I” in team may extend to partners outside the organization. Many insurance companies offer customer service centers to help agencies sell and service personal lines and small commercial business. Agencies who take advantage of this service include those who have difficulty hiring for those positions or whose business plans target larger revenue or specialty classes of business, yet they still need to provide these coverages to some customers.

In both situations, agencies developed “I” strategies to strengthen the team, their brand, and to raise the individual level of service to the customer. Ask your staff for suggestions to better serve your customers.

Offer career development opportunities and strategies.

I love attending live theater. Even with the best preparation by cast and crew, live productions always have an element of uncertainty as to how things will play out – not unlike our business world. But in the theater world, the old adage “the show must go on” is taken very seriously. Each role has appointed understudies to step in when necessary. Some understudies must learn two or three different roles in one production. For many understudies, it’s their training for and performance of larger roles that boost their confidence and careers to new heights. Even more important, it’s the commitment of these “I’s” to the team that makes certain customer expectations are met.

What roles are the members of your team preparing for? What skill development, designations, and customer knowledge should the “I’s” be learning and training for so the team will always be ready when the curtain goes up?

Team success depends on consistent top performance of individuals. Break down corporate silos, trust each other, keep the customer’s point of view in mind, and nurture individual careers to find your “I’s” in team.

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