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BirdsEye View

teamwork works - lessons from the geese

This week's article is a "repeat". It was first published over ten years ago in the American Banker. As I was cleaning the attic and going through old files, I came upon it and felt that the message is as fresh and relevant today as it was on 1992. It talks to the economics of teamwork, and I always found it to be compelling. I hope you share their perspective, and would like to hear from you either way.

Also, note in BirdDroppings an article by my daughter Liat about interesting and new restaurants in London. She has a great palate and calls it right every time, including the Polish-Mexican restaurant in Shepherd's Market, which sounds vile but is, in fact, quite a delicious find. Just click on www.anatbird.com for the full story as well as a schedule of our Forums, agendas, travel tips, recipes, book reviews, my family's pictures (including our most recent trip to Egypt) and other information.

Teamwork Works - Lessons from the Geese

The late Darrel Sifford, who was a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, related some facts about geese in a column published before his death which I found fascinating.

Geese, it turns out, have figured out some keys to corporate culture that many in our industry have yet to learn. Here are the facts:

  • As each goose flaps its wings, it creates an updraft for the bird flying behind. By flying in a V formation a flock adds 71% to the range of any one bird alone.
  • Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag of going it clone and quickly returns to its place.
  • The geese in formation honk to encourage those upfront to keep up their speed.
  • When a goose is sick or wounded, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay until the sick member of the flock is able to fly again, or dies. They then launch out on their own, joining another formation or catching up with their own.

These goose behaviors tell us that strong identity and clear strategic direction are the secrets to making the most of each member of an organization. An explicit, unifying mission creates organizational leverage and builds momentum through a sense of shared vision, teamwork, and ultimately reward and satisfaction.

When all employees know where their bank is gong and believe they will be taken care of when times are bad, they will give 110%. The gains in productivity and customer satisfaction could potentially outweigh many times over the time and money invested in employee motivation.

Bankers who commit themselves to a clear strategic direction and communicate it to their employees have done well. Banks such as Frost, Webster, Citizens Business Bank, First Banks of CO and others make it evident that the benefits of a well articulated and defined strategic focus and corporate culture, coupled with taking care of one's own, are huge. These banks often promote from within, filing key jobs from the ranks. They have a very clear idea of "their way" of doing business, and the employees fit a certain profile. The result: corporate loyalty; minimal defections, and a reputation for excellence.

Many SuperCommunity Banks exhibit similar characteristics. They care for their people and are interested in the human side of the business. They realize that people are their most important asset and invest in them accordingly. When they acquire other banks, they seek for economies of scale without the bloodbaths. Employees recognize that and respond with greater commitment and productivity and with minimal turnover (which, in turn, enhances customer retention).

Banking companies that are known for a rough-and-tumble "barracuda" culture, like several of the mega-banks, have been reaping the bitter fruit for years. Treating people as replaceable production units does not inspire them to give their best to the company. Fostering internal competition works to a point, but when all bets are off and corporate commitment is uncertain, customer service and overall quality suffer, leaving many customers and employees alike irate.

We should learn from the geese: There is strength in team playing. Working together does not necessarily mean sinking to the lowest common denominator. It could mean raising everyone's performance to a higher standard.