What does teaching driving & managing a frontline team have in common?

Monday 5 September 2016

“No, the clutch, not the brake,” shouted my friend during a recent driving lesson with his son, Tim. Tim immediately responded by screaming back, “That’s not helping Dad”, then pulled over and stormed out of the car in a huff. This was followed by an unprintable exchange of opinions and a complete stalemate with neither party wishing to get back into the car with each other.

Later, when my friend and I were discussing the situation, I suggested that perhaps, if this occurred again during another driving lesson, he could coach Tim as he would with one of his many team members at work. “But Mark, Tim’s my son, not a sales person buddy, he’ll be ok when he calms down”.

My friend slightly missed the point. The skills and approaches we use in business can and do help us every day in our personal lives – even with angry children. Let’s take the example of the driving lesson. How would the conversation have gone if my friend had started differently? “OK Tim, don’t worry about stalling, it happens.  Now we’ve pulled over to a safe location, what could you do to ensure you don’t stall at the lights again?” So by drawing out of Tim what he wanted to achieve, he was seeking his involvement and not telling him what to do.

Why is driving a car like managing a team?
Like cars, teams are complex, with many moving parts, some of which you don’t have direct control over. Some parts need to work in harmony whilst other parts can work independently. Sometimes things can go off plan (divert if you will), and at other times, both cars and people can stall. Therefore, applying a simple approach to developing your teams is just like learning to drive;

1.    People need to understand their goals and to be clear about what they need to do to achieve these objectives
2.    As a manager, you then need to understand just how well they are performing
3.    By observation, identify with them, how they need to change to achieve their objectives
4.    Support them in developing their skills
5.    Then evaluate to what extent they have improved their performance.

Five simple steps. And, of course, key to both learning to drive and to managing a team is practice. We can all remember that time when we didn’t know what each pedal did. Yet by practicing, everyone becomes unconsciously competent and happy to drive without a second thought.

To help people practice effectively, great managers need to observe and use constructive fact based feedback, see where they should offer help, praise and recognise good effort when appropriate.  And, often the greatest challenge for managers, address underperformance when required. This is exactly what Tim’s Dad did when they next got into the car.  Unsurprisingly, they are doing just fine now with not so many fall outs - and no dings or dents to date!

If you would like to talk about improving the performance of your sales and customer service teams, please do get in touch. I would love to hear from you.

This post was written by

Mark BW McDermott

Account Director

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