Crashing leads to teamwork

In the 2003 Tour de France, American Tyler Hamilton was involved in a group crash resulting in breaking his collarbone. Rather than withdrawing from the Tour, in support of his team leader, Hamilton finished the stage and the 21-day event including an epic stage win. Later that same year, while bicycling down a hill in town at 35 mph, I was involved in a freak accident of my own. While laying on the street, I recalled Hamilton’s feat and vowed to at least ride the final miles home. I couldn’t even get up off the road. Turned out that my bicycle was destroyed, and I required an ambulance ride and multiple surgeries over the next few months.

At the time, I was employed as the Assistant Controller for a well-known association. I suspected the Controller (my boss) might question the freak nature of the accident, so rather than calling in, my wife drove me to work so I could speak to my boss in person. Partially medicated and wrapped like a mummy, one look was all it took to convince her that I was not faking it and immediately led me to HR to start the process of temporary disability. Their compassion and assistance were beyond anything an employer would be required to provide. From a professional perspective, that was lesson number one from this event. “Take care of your employees because they will take care of you”. Their simple acts of kindness were the foundations upon which this employee’s loyalties were solidified.

The second professional lesson from this was drastically different. “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket”. During my three-month disability leave, no other employee took over my job duties. Upon returning to work, as I caught up on bank reconciliations, I realized that close to $200,000 worth of customer credit card transactions during my absence had gone unprocessed. Upon my discovery of the issue and immediate disclosure to management, the credit card payments were processed and the association collected their funds. However, many customers were upset by the delays and some payments were refunded. Bottom line, a simple task left incomplete led to financial loss to the association.

As I have progressed in my career, this lesson has stuck with me. Whenever possible, I cross train my employees to have at least rudimentary knowledge of each other’s tasks. I put myself in the same category. I expect my employees to be the experts in their areas, but if I have at least that basic understanding of their roles, we are better able to support each other. Granted, certain employees are better suited for their tasks, but, in the worst of times, my team can support each other. Many times, I have had employees who are reluctant to share their knowledge out of fear for losing their jobs. But once the team understands the supportive nature of cross-training, their fear turns into embracement. Tyler Hamilton’s crash had absolutely nothing to do with accounting functions, but the correlation between the two events has led me to be an advocate for employee cross-training. If we train together, we won’t crash as a group.

What can you do in your organization to help keep your team from crashing? What sort of training opportunities have you been passing up to help your team succeed? Both of these questions are ones that managers should be asking themselves. As managers, our responsibilities include the sustainability of our organizations and the continued education of our teams is paramount to our long-term success. What tidbit of training can you pass along to your team?

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