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Monday, February 25, 2008



by Kelly Bennett, WORLDPAC Training Institute (WTI) Business Development Instructor

In this fictional letter from a new shop owner to his former boss, Kelly Bennett discusses basic business principles that apply to the automotive repair industry.

Making MEETINGS WORK! focuses on how fun and productive events build better communication and trust among coworkers.

Dear Kelly,

I’m glad to report that my work days are more enjoyable that they used to be and I’m starting to feel much better about my business, but I’ve noticed that my employees don’t always seem to be on the same team. It’s often the front counter guys against the guys in the bays. There seems to be a rift between the departments. We didn’t have that when I was working for you. How come?

- Erol

Dear Erol:

You know, I’m starting to think that I need your e-mails as much as you need mine! You make me remember so many things about my business and how far I’ve come.

One issue that used to cause me sleepless nights is exactly what you’re talking about: the battle between the front-end and back-end of the business. The service writers would complain about “those darn technicians” who didn’t write down what they’d done so the work could be properly explained to customers.

For their part, the techs constantly complained because their comments were being ignored by front counter staff. “Why should we bother identifying further needed repairs when no one out front knows how to sell them to the customer!” Their impression is that the counter guys have cushy jobs where they just talk on the phone all day.

And on top of all that, I would sometimes hear complaints about both departments from my administrative staff. It seems like someone was always upset with someone else. And when things got really bad, the snarky remarks were replaced by the cold shoulder. It was peaceful on the surface, but there was an awful lot of resentment churning!

One day at the bookstore I saw the section on team-building and was impressed with how many books had been written about the subject. I figured this must be an important topic, so I picked out a few books, and began a lifetime of learning about leadership and team building. One of the first and most important things I learned was that when a team is struggling, it’s most often the coach’s fault. This rang particularly true to me because I knew that I had no idea how to lead a team. I’d never been taught. I soon realized I was more of a cop than a coach.

We only had meetings when things were completely out of control and I was fed up. Our meetings were never positive. I would rant about how the guys treated each other, or how they needed to spend less time on the tool truck, or stop making personal phone calls, or start cleaning up after themselves. No wonder everyone dreaded my meetings!

After reading a few books on the subject, I decided to take a different approach.
  1. We started to have regularly scheduled meetings. Yes, that meant we had more of them, but they weren’t only held when we were in a crisis. That meant cooler heads prevailed, and we could tackle things in an orderly manner. And no distractions were allowed. We had the phones go to voice mail and we locked the door. As far as customers knew, we were simply ‘Closed for Lunch.’

  2. I provided food – and not just boring old pizza every time. I found out what everybody’s favorite dishes were and started surprising them with things they’d really appreciate. Sometimes the meals were home-made (you know how I love to cook), sometimes they were ordered in, but they were always special. I think that helped get across to the guys that I appreciated them and their time.

  3. We started every meeting with a team building game. Now, I know you’re going to think your people won’t want to do that. It’s true that some people are shy and some hate to participate in group activities. But, believe me, having fun together really helps build relationships and contributes to team spirit. We bought a book called More Games Teams Play by Leslie Bendaly and set aside about five or 10 minutes at the beginning of each meeting to try something new. Sometimes I made it interesting with a cash prize at the end.

    I wanted to stress the importance of co-operation and trust. It was surprising how many little lessons we learned while playing games.

  4. It wasn’t all fun and games, though. There was always an agenda, prepared ahead of time, and distributed so people could come prepared. It always helps the discussion if people have had a chance to think about the subject for a day or two. And of course we always had room on the agenda for any new items that might come up between meetings. My ultimate goal was always to resolve disputes and streamline production.

  5. Everyone on the team had an opportunity to chair the meeting – including the apprentice. I expected them to write the agenda, maybe even create a short PowerPoint presentation. They could make it as serious or as funny as they wanted with humorous pictures or video clips. It is so impressive how prepared the person would be who is in charge of the meeting. They brought their own creativity to their meeting.

  6. We always had one person speak on behalf of their department so they could explain what kinds of challenges they were facing. It was amazing how willing the other departments were to change the way they did things in order to help another department. Over the years, we have found that these meetings have had a huge impact on our team. We work more closely, more considerately, and most times we can resolve issues before they become problems.
Remember, it’s not about getting everyone to like each other. That’s not always possible. But even people who are very different should be able to co-operate at work.

Remember the scene in that movie “Remember the Titans” where the coach takes the football team out for an early morning run? He brought them to Gettysburg – a Civil War battlefield where many men had died. And he said something very powerful about teamwork. “I don’t care if you like each other or not, but you will respect each other.”

It’s not our job to make our employees like each other. We just have to get them to respect each other. And that means they’ll work together.

- Kelly

Visit the WORLDPAC Training Institute (WTI) to learn more about Kelly Bennett's Business Development Classes and additional training opportunities.

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