I am not a die-hard NASCAR fan, but it has always amazed me how closely the people involved with racing work together. Watch the pit crews, for example; every movement is so carefully choreographed that they can refuel, change tires, even make minor repairs, all in just a few seconds. A race can be won or lost by what happens on Pit Row. So, sure, the driver gets most of the recognition, but he or she is really part of a team.
In business we often have the same thing. The salesperson is the public face of the company, the one who goes out there and makes the critical deals. He or she should get recognition. But without the rest of the team, sales would not be possible.
If we want our teams to succeed, maybe there are things we can learn from NASCAR.
Communication does not just mean talking; it has to go both ways. Each member of the team has a different perspective, even access to different information, and the team needs everybody’s input in order to get ahead. The driver might notice the tires aren’t taking the turns well. Alerting the crew chief is a good start, but the driver also has to listen when the crew chief responds “you’re taking the turns too fast—slow down 10 mph and the handling will improve.” In business, if the salesperson notices the marketing kit isn’t generating a buzz, he or she should say something. But the other part of communication is that when the office staff says “the marketing kit isn’t working because you’re focused on the wrong prospects,” the sales person has to be willing to listen.
All the communication in the world won’t do much for teamwork if there is no trust. The driver doesn’t have time to double-check what the pit crew is doing. The crew chief cannot afford to second-guess what the driver says about how well the car runs. And a salesperson has to trust, and be trusted by, the other team members for the same reasons. Part of team-work is that each person can depend on everyone else doing their jobs at the right time and in the right way. Without that, the work just can’t flow smoothly.
3. Let Others Do Their Jobs
Some people refuse to delegate. This one really comes down to trust, too, but that’s not how these folks think—they just want to help. If this is you, it’s important to realize the best way to help is to do your own job and let other people do theirs. If the crew chief is busy micromanaging tire selection, he or she won’t be fully available to the rest of the team. Likewise, if the tire specialist starts second-guessing the crew chief and trying to run everything, then who is paying attention to tires? Success depends on each person fulfilling their own role, not one person trying to take over everyone else’s. No matter what your role is, whether you’re the salesperson, the owner, or an offsite contractor, your team-mates need you to do your job and let them do theirs.
4. Win and Lose Together
In NASCAR, either the car wins or it doesn’t. It is impossible for, say, the tire specialist to do such a good job as to come in fifth even though the rest of the team comes in fifteenth. Everyone wins together or loses together, so everyone needs to share credit. The driver couldn’t race alone and therefore shouldn’t bask alone in the glory. Salespeople can’t sell alone, either. The assistant, the analyst, the owner, and everyone else are necessary parts of the team, so they all deserve recognition. When the team wins, all the team members win and each of them needs to thank the others for helping them get there. Without that basic appreciation and fairness, most people just don’t stay motivated.
5. Lead by Example
No matter what your role is on the team, you can exert leadership by doing your job as well as you possibly can. You don’t need to tell other people to raise their game, you just need to raise yours. Others will follow. The kind of well-coordinated teamwork we see in NASCAR depends on a team culture of excellence, where everyone does their best and knows the others will do the same. If you’re in a management position there are things you can do to foster such a culture—you can hire the right people, you can recognize and reward excellence, and you can treat your team-mates with trust and respect. But whether you own the company or were hired last week to clean the office restrooms, there is one critical thing you can do to inspire excellence: be excellent yourself.
Go out there and win that race.