Recently, I attended a concert with four dentists who I had never met before. The doctor I sat next to asked what my company was called. When I said, “The Crew Process,” she asked what “The Crew Process” was? I explained that I spend my days turning employees into “Crews.” Her response was, “How is that different from ‘teambuilding’?”
I took a breath and explained. Robert Teets expected that people working Together (Everyone) would Achieve More (Profitable Management for the Subcontractor. McGraw-Hill, 1976). I agree with him. But I have also learned in the three decades working with dental offices around the country that, while I love the sentiment, “team” does not equal “teamwork.”
While watching a basketball game with one of my sons, we began to talk about the Chicago Bulls “Dream Team” which included Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen and, of course, Michael Jordan. We talked about their winning streak of the 1990s and how they dominated the game at that time. I let him know that the Dream Team was the basis of many discussions throughout the business world as the model of great “teamwork” within corporate structure.
However, there is a flaw in the “Dream Team” logic.
Let’s first look at the key player, Michael “Air” Jordan, the lynchpin. He was the key, in most people’s eyes, to the Bull’s success. In 1984, Jordan graced the cover of Sports Illustrated with a banner saying: “A Star Is Born” and was voted by the NBA as their All-Star Starter and Rookie of the Year. The Bulls finished their season with 38 wins and 44 losses. The next year, Jordan set the record for most points in a playoff game. The Bulls finished the season with 30 wins and 52 losses. In the 1986–87 season, Jordan became the only player (other than Wilt Chamberlain) to score 3,000 points in a season. The Bulls finished their season with 40 wins and 42 losses. In the 1987–88 season, things seemed to change. Jordan became the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year and the Bulls finished their season with 50 wins and 32 losses. 1988–89, he led the league in scoring, averaged 8 rebounds and 8 assists per game, and the Bulls finished with 47 wins and 35 losses. In 1989, Phil Jackson took the lead as coach of the Bulls and Scottie Pippen joined Jordan on the court. The Bulls finished their season with 55 wins and 27 losses. In the 1990–91 season, Jordan won the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award, for the second time, and the Bulls began a streak of three NBA Championships!
What most people don’t realize, is that the Chicago Bulls didn’t become a TEAM in the mythical way Robert Teets expected. No, what happened is the Bulls found the “swing” as described by Daniel James Brown (The Boys in The Boat. Penguin Books, 2014):
“Something happens that’s hard to achieve or define. Many never find it. Others can’t sustain it. It’s called the ‘swing.’ It only happens when all oarsmen are rowing in unison, such that no single action is out of sync.”
The synergy that the Bulls players created on the court was not created by a sense of teamwork, but rather a desire to be on the same path while on the court. In recent interviews with Dennis Rodman, he was quoted as saying that the “…only time we had a conversation was on the court, and that was it.” Scottie Pippen said, “I’ve never had a conversation with Dennis in my life….” They came together to find a “swing,” and a commonality of purpose. Syncing to a goal exceeds a need to “like” each other. It comes from daily interaction, respect, and comradery.
My favorite media example of how Teams and Crews exist concurrently is the television series M.A.S.H. The show follows doctors, nurses, and support staff in a mobile army surgical unit stationed in 1950’s wartime South Korea. Each character in the unit has their own unique personality and there is a comedic thread that runs throughout the show. There is a “best player” surgeon who is the MVP of the unit who sets the tone for the rest of the group.
The nugget of information that most business leaders today miss in the story of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital occurs when the company clerk, Radar, first hears helicopters off in the distance and the call is made to the rest of the unit. Laughter and chaos are immediately replaced with precision and surgical skill. Triage is done. Roles are assigned. Surgery is completed, and lives are saved or lost. The event ends, and the Crew falls back into a Team.
What I love to do, as a Crew-builder, is to find the commonality of goals in the practice. The “why” each person comes to work each day. Does that “why” align with the “why” of the practice? The Dental Assistant coming to “get a paycheck” and the Dental Assistant coming to “help patients achieve dental health” approach the game differently.
The next time you have a team building opportunity, consider your goal. Are you getting the best player of the team on the court? Are you creating the best group of players in the game? Are you training for the celebration… or the event? Consider both Team building and Crew building. One celebrates winning the game, the other celebrates the execution of the game — and WINS!
Crew Builder #1
- Create a list of “Yes” or “No” questions that relate to the core values of your practice. For example: We believe that an Implant is a better solution than a partial denture? We believe that losing $100 is more important than losing a patient?
- When you have your list, create a cardboard paddle for each person (the size and shape of a pin-pong paddle).
- With a large Sharpie, write “Yes” on one side and “No” on the other.
- Hand out the paddles. Assure everyone that there are NO wrong answers and that this exercise is designed to help establish core values.
- With the paddles down at everyone’s side, ask one of your questions out loud.
- Each person should respond to the question by displaying either a “Yes” or “No” response, using their paddle.
- Have the group review everyone’s responses and openly discuss the differences between answers.
Crew Builder #2
Empower your Crew to “market” the practice. BUT they must do it using six words or less. The focus of this exercise is to create a Practice Brand Slogan (PBS). The PBS should express the philosophy, people and processes of the practice in the briefest way possible.
Some of the most famous PBSs are:
Allstate Insurance – “The Good Hands People”
Nike – “Just Do It”
Apple – “Think Different”
The New York Times – “All the News That’s Fit to Print”
L’Oreal – “Because you’re worth it”
KFC – “It’s finger lickin’ good”
McDonald’s – “I’m lovin’ it”
Verizon – “Can You Hear Me Now?”
Lay’s – “Betcha Can’t Eat Just One.”
U.S. Marine Corps – “The Few. The Proud. The Marines”
Here is the challenge to your crew:
You are on an elevator at a large dental conference. There are several people in the elevator from different practices. A woman in the elevator asks, “Do you all work in dental offices?” Everyone says, “yes.” She turns to each and says, “What makes your practice different?” In six words or less: What is the PBS for your practice?