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Last summer, I spent a long weekend in Spain with our team from the 90s, last century! We calculated that we kept seeing each other for 25 years since the last of us left the former company.

Why is one team successful and another not (or less)? Much has been written about it. I examine our story in light of what we, 25 years later, consider the keys to our success. Then, I do the same, aligning our team with the theory of the 7 habits of highly effective people by Stephen R. Covey.

Our own story

When I applied with Maple Leaf in 1993, I initially did not qualify for an interview. The reason: lack of FMCG experience. After a few weeks, the recruitment agency approached me to see if I still wanted to come for an interview. I went… and was hired. That’s when I first learned the secret of a winning team. The manager said, “Your personality fits the team. We can teach you the knowledge and the industry; we can’t change your character.”

From colleagues…

What did I find? A small team of enthusiastic people. All equally ambitious, entrepreneurial, and passionate about the company and the products we sold and marketed.

I indeed fit right in, and everyone was very willing to teach me everything and show me everything. Selflessly. There were no egos, and there was no jealousy. On the contrary, there was a culture of togetherness and generosity. It was also remarkable that everyone could be themselves in their uniqueness and thrive on their own strengths and abilities. Once the plans were approved, and the direction was clear, everyone had the freedom and space to ‘do their thing’ in their unique way. We trusted each other completely; also the management had confidence.

We sought each other out for brainstorming and sometimes provided feedback to each other; always open, honest, and respectful. This way, plans and implementations became even better. We were successful. Was it the time, the product, the collaboration, or a combination? Who can say. It worked.

We were all about the same age and were in the same phase of life. This laid the foundation for understanding and empathy. Humor did the rest. We literally shared joy and sorrow. We brainstormed about product plans. We showed each other our campaigns. If someone made a mistake at work, we were there for them or helped them out. A relationship ended, with ‘Sinterklaas’ we all stood in front of her desk with small gifts. If there was a premature birth, we all went to the hospital. We even played together on a company hockey team. It didn’t matter if you had played hockey before or not. The only one who didn’t want to play became our coach.

…to friends

We still share joy and sorrow. Already for 25 years. All this time, we sought each other out. Sometimes two worked together again (as colleagues or in a supplier-customer relationship), sometimes we discussed problems in pairs. And every year, we had two dinners with everyone and two dinners with only the ladies from the department (sorry, gentlemen, other things are discussed then😉).

We became friends, and that was sealed with an anniversary trip last summer. At the end of the trip, we all said unanimously, “Never have I had a short vacation with so little hassle with so many people; where everything went so smoothly, with so much fun!”

The same team story; told from the 7 habits of highly effective people

That we got along well was one thing. But unknowingly, we acted according to the principles of the 7 habits of effective leadership. Read on and discover these keys to success:

Each of us is proactive. (Habit 1). We step forward when needed, but… we step back to give someone else space if they see an opportunity or have a need. Without discussion, based on trust, knowing that the other person is doing this for a good reason. Example: I’m a difficult sleeper. There were all double rooms and one single room in our accommodation last summer. “I want the single room,” I said immediately. Without discussion, that was accepted. A colleague, now a friend, later said, “I know you’re not asking for this for no reason.”

We worked with plans; then and now. The plans were clear and inspiring and gave everyone focus and direction. (Habits 2 and 3) We knew where we were going. This was evident again at our anniversary trip. It was determined beforehand what was needed: tickets, rooms, caps with prints for fun. Each person took the part that appealed to them.

If I look at ‘begin with the end in mind’ at ‘a higher level,’ we see that each of us has been tried and tested through life. We now know what we want and don’t want and have the courage to act on that. Everyone is allowed to be who they are. There is complete acceptance. Underlying this is that we share the same values and norms, finding recognition and understanding with each other.

Our drive and mutual trust are the building blocks of our success story. You don’t have to check on each other, which makes things go faster, and decisions are made more quickly.

We all have a win/win mentality. ‘I want to succeed, and I want you to succeed too.’ The team always stood above the individual, and we collectively pursued a goal. In our enthusiasm, we built on each other’s plans and ideas. (Emotional Bank Account, Habits 4 and 6)

Initially, if you look at us from a distance, you see a group of enthusiastic people all talking at the same time. There is a lot of noise and much laughter. Except when something important is happening, and we really need to listen. Then we switch to empathizing, asking questions, diving deeper, and getting to the core. Truly being there for someone. Without judging anyone. (Habit 5)

Finally: We take care of ourselves. (For example: During the mini-vacation, everyone takes their moment, retreats into their own bubble, and then reconnects.) We have remained curious, always open, invested in relationships, and reflect regularly: “Is this it? Are we doing well? etc. (Habit 7) That’s why we have been together for so long.

If you want to know more about winning teams, building trust, and improving cooperation, contact me. I’ll come by, and I might bring one of my colleagues from the TeamCoach Bureau with me.

Quote van Koot

TEAM – Together Everyone Achieves More