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As regional president for one of the country's most successful paper products companies, Rich Lowe is a big fan of teamwork.
With teamwork, people pull together and great things happen.
Without teamwork, people might pull just as hard and exert every bit as much energy, but very little usually happens. The point was driven home to him early in his career with xpedx, the paper production and distribution giant that now stretches from coast to coast.
In 1993, as xpedx was expanding into its nationwide network, Lowe was given the assignment to oversee the merger of two East Coast paper companies that were being brought into the xpedx family.
Each of these businesses, the Carter-Rice Paper Company and Dowd Paper, had been in operation for more than a century. During much of that time, they were, if not exactly competitors (each specialized in a different aspect of the industry), then certainly rivals.
As Lowe remembers, "They both tended to look at each other with that smug 'Our product is the best' kind of look." "When we brought these two very separate and very different organizations together in the same plant, there was a general feeling, on both sides, that they might be in the same building now but they'd still keep their old corporate values, philosophies, and so on. It would be business as usual. They didn't exactly embrace one another." Enter The Game of Work.
From an earlier association with The Game of Work founder Chuck Coonradt, Lowe knew that a key part of The Game of Work philosophy is teamwork. If companies are structured along the lines of a well-oiled sports team, the result will be clearly defined responsibilities and objectives.
The idea is to transform employees into "players" and managers into "coaches," while business reports become "scorecards" and the purpose driving the entire "team" is "winning."
The Carter-Rice/Dowd merger, with its long-established barriers of competition and separateness built long ago and seemingly unmovable, desperately needed this kind of singleness of purpose, and Rich Lowe knew it. Without it, he knew people would still report to work every day, they'd still pull a full shift, and they'd go home feeling they'd been productive. But without a cohesiveness and togetherness it would be all but impossible for them to all be pulling in the same direction.
In spite of their hard work, they would merely spin their wheels and get nowhere.
Or, as Chuck Coonradt likes to put it, "In the absence of clearly defined goals we are forced to concentrate on activity and ultimately become enslaved by it."
With consulting aid from The Game of Work, Lowe quickly set to work educating those in the newly merged company that "work" would now become a "game" and they would be the "players."
Positions were defined, attainable goals were set, and a number of scorecards were established to track progress toward those goals.
Everyone could concentrate on winning, not just on activity.
"We took away the emotion and got efficient," says Coonradt.
"It was a real eye-opener for a lot of people," remembers Lowe. "We went through The Game of Work philosophy about every individual needing to know his or her part in helping the organization to win. At first it was a struggle for a lot of folks who were showing up every day, were keeping busy, and to them that was work. Now they were being told to take a step back and think about their contribution and what they had responsibility for on a personal basis. "I remember Chuck asked everyone to think about what they'd do if every two weeks before they got their paycheck they were required to send the company an invoice for services rendered. Just what would that invoice detail? It's a simple concept but it really causes people to reflect on what they really do."
As the employees of the two companies became more and more comfortable with the concept of individual responsibility and contribution they became more and more comfortable working with - as opposed to merely alongside - each other. "We had people who bought into what we were talking about and as a result they really started playing their position - to use Chuck's vernacular," says Lowe. "The mentality was 'What do I need to take ownership of and be responsible for to help the whole team win?'"
Once that became a part of the corporate culture, even more efficient scorecards and even more clearly defined (and loftier) goals were the result.
As separate entities, neither company was profitable. Merged together, they not only produced profits but became so successful that employees from both "old firms" enjoyed prosperity like never before. Rich Lowe was promoted to xpedx's west region and given charge of company territory stretching from Denver to Hawaii and Canada to Mexico.
No matter where he goes, Lowe's first order of business is to establish an atmosphere of personal responsibility and teamwork.
"I don't care what the group or the organization is," he says, "That first step, when you awaken people to what they really do and what you really need them to do to make the entire group successful, is incredibly valuable."
To learn more about how The Game of Work can help your business win call (800) 438-6074.
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