Your team is not at full strength, yet you still need to get things done – what might you do?

todd herman web

Ever since June 2005, I've written original content for my monthly e-newsletter – no matter what. Regardless of how busy I am, I always make the time to write something I'm proud to publish.

I recently found myself in a tight spot – I needed to publish my monthly e-newsletter in four days, and I had NO idea about a topic! You might say, "Todd, no big deal, let it ride until next month – it's just a newsletter." But is it really JUST a newsletter?

My Monthly E-Newsletter – What's At Stake?

A key question I learned to ask from reading the book Whoever Tells The Best Story Wins is this – “What’s at stake?” For me, most everything I do centers on actions which will affect the financial performance of the firm – thus, the stakes are VERY high!

So I asked myself “What’s at stake?” about my e-newsletter, and I came up with several observations:

  • My business is built on projects requiring a “Complex Sale” – a LOT of trust and education is required to secure such a sale, and my e-newsletter helps on both counts.

  • One former business development associate FELL IN LOVE with the progression of “Customer Touchpoints” – Know, Like, Trust, Try, Buy, Repeat, and Refer – from the excellent book, The Referral Engine.

  • My e-newsletter is a vehicle to help a LARGE number of people (about 1,800) come to Know, Like, and Trust me – especially since I frequently write about a personal event or something I’ve seen in a client situation.

  • Writing my own monthly e-newsletter for nearly 12 years also subtly communicates a VERY key point – I have PLENTY of creativity and ideas, the stock-in-trade of a consultant!

My overall conclusion of “What’s at stake?” My e-newsletter is a KEY vehicle for helping a large number of people Know, Like, and Trust me – prerequisites for receiving referrals for, and being invited to meet on, a potential project – so writing and sending it monthly are non-negotiable activities.

A Tight Spot, Times Two

My new Business Development Associate and Executive Assistant (BDA/EA), the person I rely upon most to get my own tasks done, is off to a great start – still, she's relatively new and still learning the position, and has not yet developed the capability to help me "jump start" my creativity.

Another key player on my team, my Coach, is someone who has worked with me for a long time and has been my "creative spark" on several occasions – however, she had just lost her mother, so she was not available.

No ideas, deadline approaching, and no one to jump start my thinking. What to do?

I'd shared my Coach's loss of her mother with a mutual friend – she has a wide range of skills and experiences, including being my original Coach and co-creator of both our e-newsletter and overall Business Development approach. We'd worked together from early 2004 to early 2010, when she changed her career direction – and I'd stayed in touch with her ever since.

Lucky for me, she texted to say she'd be willing to help out if I needed anything while my current Coach tended to her family. This friend helped me break through "writer's block" on SEVERAL occasions – so I took her up on her offer, setting up a phone meeting the very same day.

A Basketball Analogy Takes Shape

We began our call, and I shared with her some ideas I'd jotted down. She noodled them for a few moments, and then commented she always thought I was very good at tapping into each person's unique talents. This was not an idea I'd listed, so I asked her to elaborate – she recalled some work we'd done together nearly a decade ago! Stunned, I asked her how she remembered this – her answer: "Well, I'm moving to Wilmington, and I just packed some John Maxwell books and Phil Jackson's Sacred Hoops book you and I had read and discussed." Wow – talk about timely.

Now the creative juices were flowing for both of us! I mentioned Phil Jackson's use of the "Triangle Offense" and how that provided numerous ways for his players to score, then she Googled "triangle offense," found a 17-page article on using this offense, and read off a few key points for us to discuss.

These points and the topic of basketball triggered my memory of a "Theme of the Year" for my firm from many years ago – "It Takes Ten Hands To Score A Basket," a favorite saying of legendary UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden. Coach Wooden instilled the value of being a team – versus a collection of individuals – in all of his players. One player certainly can't beat five players, and even four players is unlikely to beat five players – thus, five players playing their positions, and using their ten hands to share the ball with their teammates, was what Coach Wooden wanted to see.

We continued our brainstorming – an experienced, healthy team is what every coach wants, yet we saw an excellent counter-example of this at Duke University this past basketball season. With key players injured, and even Coach K himself out for several weeks with back surgery, the Blue Devils were off their game during the ACC season. (Neither she nor I had much sympathy for the Devils' travails – she's a VERY happy UNC Chapel Hill alum, while Wake Forest is my alma mater.)

All of a sudden, we came up with an analogy that worked! I was like a basketball coach who needed to get his team to "score," yet had an inexperienced player in a key position, while my veteran player was out because of her mother. I needed a substitute who could fill a hole in my roster, and I just happened to have found the perfect sub – my friend on the other end of the phone!

"You Can't Let Your Problems Be A Problem"

John Maxwell's outstanding book, The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader: Becoming the Person Others Will Want to Follow, lists as quality number 14:

Problem Solving: You Can't Let Your Problems Be A Problem (page 95)

Dr. Maxwell goes on to list five qualities of leaders with good problem-solving ability:

  1. They Anticipate Problems
  2. They Accept the Truth
  3. They See the Big Picture
  4. They Handle One Thing at a Time
  5. They Don't Give Up a Major Goal When They're Down (pages 98-100)

He also gives this great piece of advice:

Surround yourself with problem solvers. If you aren't a good problem solver, bring others onto your team who are. They will immediately complement your weaknesses, and you will also learn from them. (page 102)

Let's look at my situation and apply Dr. Maxwell's writings. In truth, I had four problems – a rookie BDA/EA, my Coach sidelined, a bad case of writer's block, and an immovable end-of-month deadline. Still, I couldn't let these BE a problem to my MAJOR goal of getting the April e-newsletter written and sent. I stepped back and saw the big picture – I've had writer's block in the past, and I've always gotten through it, so I could do so now using the same techniques which brought past successes.

I was lucky my original Coach contacted me to offer her assistance – still, even if she had not, other friends and former colleagues have helped me smash my writer's block, and they were queued up for calls. I had enough people in mind to give me solid odds of someone both being available and saying "Yes." I absolutely needed one of these folks to complement my writing skills, and to compensate for my momentary lack of ideas. I got the best one possible, and the preceding section describes how our collaboration played out.

One final comment – the book's subtitle is: Becoming the Person Others Will Want to Follow. Two examples of how this applies to my situation.

  • My friends and former colleagues on my call list are not on my payroll, so I did not have any employer-employee leverage to use – rather, I had to rely on our mutual goodwill, built up over many years of knowing and working with each other.

  • I rely on the roughly 1,800 subscribers to this e-newsletter to pass along my firm's name to someone who might need our services. By my delivering value to them every month via this e-newsletter, many are happy to hit the "Forward" button when the time is right.

In both cases, I believe these people want to follow and help me, because of the investment I've made to help them.

Getting My Team to Full Strength – And This Is The Result!

In case you haven't guessed, this newsletter actually tells the story of how it came to be. I had to get a certain activity done – writing this newsletter – and I was stuck, my BDA/EA was still a rookie, and my Coach was sidelined. My team was not at full strength, yet I needed to find a way to complete my activity – no matter what.

Any given business has a certain amount of required activities to be done, carried out by a combination of People, Process, and Technology. Your Process and Technology can't work themselves, so – unless and until they are re-engineered to require a smaller number of People – you need your full team on the court to get things done.

Yes, it does take ten hands to score a basket – and, if you've only got four players on the court, the other team is not going to play one person down to match your four. You better get a fifth player out there before play resumes, no matter what – and that's what I did.

Getting your team to full strength might require creativity, perseverance, and even a bit of luck. Is your team light on experience or down a player?  If so, let's talk – I might be able to help your team get back to full strength.



Todd L. Herman