It must have been around 12 years ago: in those days I used to travel a lot and whenever I had spare time at an airport, I was either browsing through the bookstores or reading a newly bought book. In one occasion it took so much of my attention that I realized I heard someone call my name through the intercom and I had to hurry to get on board of my plane… During one of these spare moments at an airport in the USA, I bought the book “Nuts”*.
The subtitle of the book “Nuts”* is “Southwest Airlines Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success”. Now, we probably all have heard of the special way some Southwest Airlines cabin attendants do their security announcements (Google it!) and yes, that is part of the crazy recipe as well. However, what I remember most of the case as described in the book are two things:
- Every employee has room to stay true to themselves. Of course they have to live up to the basic security rules, but beyond that they are allowed, and encouraged even, to be themselves and take care of customers to the best of their ability. Southwest’s hiring process also encourages this and they are always looking for that extraordinary employee who is willing to go the extra mile for the customer.
- There is a high team focus amongst Southwest employees. For them it is “WE” instead of “I”. Whenever a plane needs to be turned around, every team member does whatever needs to be done to meet the fast turnaround times they aspire. I remember reading situations where a captain of a flight helped loading the luggage in the hold to speed up the turnaround process. After all, the responsibility to turn the plane around as fast as possible is not just the responsibility of one person or one subteam. The whole team is affected and responsible for customer satisfaction and thus responsible for the on time departure of a plane.
This, as I remember it, is described in the book as one of the cornerstones of the Southwest way of working. By itself no rocket science: when hiring the right people with the right attitude and when enabling and encouraging customer focussed teamwork, a lot can be accomplished. At the time of reading the book, Southwest, in their 30+ years of existence, was the only airline that had always, year after year, posted profits.
Nowadays, in many constellations where people are working together, this sense of true teaming is missing. Often when something goes wrong people claim that it is not their responsibility, instead of keeping the goal, or customer satisfaction, in mind and working towards a solution. People often refer to the “blame game”, which is a worrisome move. This happens from within an “I” focused thinking, to clean people’s own plate and play nice, instead of working with a focus on “we”, where we work towards the same goal together.
The power of “WE” in a team will lead to synergy, while the team operates as one at the same time. Communication among team members will be transparent and crystal clear and the “blame game” will not exist. Such a team will produce astounding results with happy customers. For these teams, like at Southwest Airlines, the three laws of working together as Ben Gomes-Casseres describes in his “Remix Strategy”*, will apply to teams as well as they do to business constellations.
Think about it for a moment: how effective is your team? Do you operate as one and create synergy? Is your team fully “WE” focussed?