teamwork

Fixing the Dryer: How to Tackle a New Project and Succeed

Throughout my life and career, I’ve been tasked with completing projects with neither the knowledge nor the resources needed.  Growing up without a lot of money, I became accustomed to learning how to do things on my own and always looking for practical, inexpensive solutions to everyday problems.  If something at home broke, I’d ask my parents what to do and they’d help me figure out how to fix it.

Recently, our on-its-deathbed dryer finally stopped tumbling.  It had been making sounds which we should have investigated, but alas, sometimes the saying “if it ain’t (completely) broke, don’t fix it.”  We had been expecting to have to replace the dryer sooner than later and I had planned on finding a working, second-hand one at the local Habitat for Humanity store.  We figured we could get one there for less than $50, which is less than what we’d pay to even have someone come take a look at our dryer.  Granted, our dryer was nice, but not worth spending a couple hundred repairing.

Me, being stubborn as I am, decided to see if we could fix it ourselves.  The thing was still heating and partly working, it just wouldn’t tumble.  Maybe it was a broken belt.  We figured the dryer was already broken, the worst we could do was break it a little more then give it away to someone who knew what they were doing.

I found dryer repair videos on YouTube so I learned a few tips on how to do repairs, and firstly, how to open the dang thing.  Once I got the dryer open and we slowly took it apart, we discovered that dryers aren’t so complicated inside.  We found the problems and less than $80 worth of parts later, our dryer is running in better shape than it has in years.  And we feel confident to make repairs on it in the future.

Had we never made an attempt to fix it, we never would have know how capable we were at doing it on our own.

Self-reliance has been one of the most valuable skills I’ve learned and it is applicable to nearly every situation in life.  When I did have to call a professional for help, as annoying as it may have been, I stayed in the room, watching what was being done and asking questions about the job.  If I had to pay someone several hundred dollars to repair my furnace, plumbing or an appliance, I wanted to know what the problem was, what caused it and how it could be fixed.

The same thing goes for complications that arise at work.  I’ve developed a mindset for requests of “tell me what you’d like to accomplish and I will find out if it’s possible.”  So many people are quick to shoot down ideas, which can actually complicate them more because if you only do bits and pieces of a project, you’re extending the time and energy it takes had you evaluated the request as a whole.

For example, a coworker wanted me to put together an order form in Excel that would allow his customers to calculate full container loads of a variety of products that were not only different sizes, but different designs and categories.  Originally, this had been done by a back and forth exchange in which the customer gave an overall request of what they wanted, my coworker would look up dimensions, minimum order quantities and product availability, consult with the customer about increasing or decreasing items to  fit and so on.  It was about a week-long process and very understandable why an automated order form would be highly desirable.  These were huge, once a year orders.

I spent weeks working on the spreadsheet.  There were so many factors to include, minimum order quantities, case packs, availability of design, products that could not fit on certain containers, etc; it was extremely complicated.  I had to generate item numbers, existing as well as contingent on a customer selecting them.  There also had to be a meter to show the container reaching full capacity and drop down lists that gave options off a previous selection.

I knew that once I completed this Excel order form, ordering was going to be so much easier.  The customers could order exactly what they wanted and do so quickly.  The salesman wouldn’t spend time trying to translate the customer’s order, the order processor wouldn’t spend time trying to determine item numbers or pricing—everything would be consistent and simple for everyone involved.

Every time I think I’m good at a software program, someone challenges me to stretch my abilities.  It seems the more I learn about Excel, the more I realize I’ve barely broken ground.  So I spent a lot of time Googling formulas and have pages of notes on how I performed my calculations.  I used data validation, vlookup, hlookup, lists, if, named ranges and countless other formulas to finally compile a near perfect form for the salesman.

It worked pretty well the first year, but with a few bugs.  It worked even better the second year and was near perfect.  I was even able to start training others on how to make changes, what not to change and successfully passed along my work in progress to my predecessor.  It was a success and because I put effort into making it happen, I saved weeks of work for the salesman, the order processor, supply chain, and most importantly, the customer.

The moral of my story is to never limit yourself because you think you might not be able to do something.  If you don’t try, you won’t know.  There’s a wealth of knowledge on the internet to explain how to do things, so take advantage of it!  Always take precautions and stop if you find that you truly are unable.  But if you don’t try, you’ll never know whether or not you can fix a dryer yourself.

5 Steps to Keep Piles from Preventing Productivity

Having stacks of paper on your desk can make you appear to be busy and have a big workload, but they can also cost you time and productivity by forcing you to sort through them every time you need to find something.  Yet we continue to let things pile up, along with our stress levels.

Has a coworker ever come to your desk when you were away, looking for something they knew you had but couldn’t find it?  You return to find them searching through your stacks and that feeling of panic increases as you worry about your piles getting disorganized.  Well there are a few simple steps you can take to get rid of the piles and stay organized and more productive.

  1. Get over the pile = productive mentality. We judge the busyness of others based on their desks.  The more you have piled on there, the busier you must be (although there is a point where they are seen as messy and too lazy to file anything).  It’s great to have a clean desk and you will actually be more productive and have less stress if everything is put in its correct place.  You will also be able to access paperwork much more easily if you know where it is.
  2. Have the resources.  It is hard to stay organized if you don’t have a system and a place for everything.  If you need to keep paperwork, make sure you have a place for it.  Make sure you have plenty of folders, file cabinets or banker’s boxes, and all the resources you need to get and stay organized.  Also important is a paper shredder and a garbage can.  Use file labels, alphabetizing and consistent file names to make filing as easy as possible for you.
  3. Have a schedule. Keep in mind your organization schedule does not and should not be the same for everything.  Some paperwork can be filed immediately while others are pending approvals or payments.  Just make sure you understand and keep to the different schedules.  It can also be very helpful to keep a “pending” area where this paperwork can be kept so you know exactly where to find it once you have what you need to file it.
  4. Go paperless. I am fortunate enough to have a great scanner to easily scan my paperwork to my email, so not only do I have a copy filed in my email, I have folders where I can easily virtually file my documents.  This makes it incredibly easy to find and file my paperwork without having to dig through folders.  I also have the ability to search using Google Desktop as well as store copies online using Google Documents or Dropbox.
  5. Stick to it. Once you’ve gotten rid of your piles and improved your organization, the hard part is over and all you need to do is to maintain it.  Whenever you see piles start to form, go through the paper and start filing.  You will notice a relief come over you as you put everything in its place.
Staying organized not only benefits you, it benefits those around you.  Several times, I have been able to assist coworkers because they have been unable to find paperwork or emails.  By staying organized, you are seen as being organized and reliable. 

What steps do you take to improve your organization?

5 Steps to Overcoming Disasters in Business

No matter how much planning goes into a project, sooner or later, something can go wrong and a minor disaster can occur.  We’ve all been there and you’ve probably noticed that different people handle these disasters very differently.

The way the disaster is handled can result in a very positive or negative way for the customer.  If you let yourself slip too far into what I call the “panic zone,” you become unfocused and unable to make rational decisions.  The panic zone causes stress and confusion and allowing it to take over will cause you to create a negative experience.

Here’s how you can make it a positive experience:

  1. Stay calm. Staying calm can be very difficult, but it is very important.  You’ve planned and expected your process to follow the plan so when it doesn’t, your whole mental process is thrown off, which is confusing and upsetting.  However, staying calm will allow you to make wiser, better decisions.
  2. Don’t focus on blame.  You may have noticed that for some, pointing blame is the initial reaction.  This is natural, but completely counterproductive for a positive outcome.  If you are wasting resources on blaming others, you aren’t solving the problem at hand which should be the top priority.  Also, if your team members are worried about being blamed, they are less able to focus on problem resolution.
  3. Focus on the end result.   Focusing your concentration on the end result will help guide your thinking to resolving the problem at hand.  If you can use tunnel vision thinking to block out distractions, you can better focus on problem solving and get to a solution a lot faster.  For example, if a shipment is late, focusing on how you can get it there on time will help you get it there on time faster than finding out whose fault it is for making it late.  That can be discussed once you are out of the panic zone and the problem is solved.
  4. Make it happen. If you have invested in resolving this problem, you must stay focused to ensure the solution happens.  Don’t rely on others to make it happen for you—this is your project so you need to stay on top of it.  Nothing is worse in problem solving than getting close to a positive solution then dropping the ball.
  5. Follow through. This goes hand in hand with making it happen.  Ideally, we want our customers to think that we never make mistakes and are always on top of things, but the reality is that we can’t always control situations 100 percent.  Customers generally are understanding and if you make the effort to fix a problem to create a successful outcome for your customer, they generally appreciate it.  Communication is key and it can make you look even better if you let your customer know that your focus is on making sure you’ve gone above and beyond to make sure they get what they want.

Reflection: It is important to acknowledge that problems can’t always be resolved to the customer’s satisfaction.  Perhaps they ordered a custom product that got destroyed in a fire and replacements just cannot be produced in time or maybe the customer is not satisfied with how their order was handled, even with a positive result.

There are situations that are out of your control, but as long as you have done everything you can to reach a positive result, sometimes you have to settle with having an unhappy customer or losing a customer.  It is not an ideal situation, but it is a reality.  The best case scenario for that situation is that your customer is caught in their own panic zone so there’s always the chance they will realize your efforts and come back.

Just remember that the reason you are in business is because of your customers so they and their happiness need to be your immediate focus.  Any internal factors causing these disasters should be evaluated once the problem is resolved to prevent repeating them in the future.

How to be a Better Coworker (And Characteristics of Bad Coworkers)

The joy of working in a company is that you are working with company.  However, when your coworkers are less than ideal, it can negatively impact your day, mood and workload.  Then there are the people who are great to work with and make your job a little more enjoyable.

This week, I studied characteristics of great coworkers (as well as characteristics of bad coworkers).  Below are the top characteristics of great coworker according to answer on my LinkedIn Answers question, as well as those of bad coworkers.  Read on to see what traits were most and least appreciated in coworkers.

Characteristics of Good Coworkers

  • Communicator: shares ideas & knowledge, listens, honest
  • Team Player: works well with the team, complements skill sets, cooperative, positive, responsible, personable, compassionate, humble
  • Challenger: provides constructive criticism, challenges others, raises the bar, quality-focused
  • Innovator: creative, problem solver, efficient, open-minded
  • Hard worker: passionate, dedicated, punctual, takes responsibility for own mistakes, respectful, has integrity, serious

Characteristics of Bad Coworkers

  • Time Waster: unfocused, talks about non-work related topics too much, late, irresponsible, gossipy, dishonest
  • Finger Pointer: blames others for mistakes
  • Egomaniac: egotistical, critical, not a team player, condescending, unsharing
  • “Negative Nancy”: closed-minded, negative, selfish, inconsiderate
  • “Whatever Man”: lazy, indifferent

Words of Wisdom

“I would suggest the best way to be an ideal coworker is to be first and foremost honest and humble,” says Matt Clark on LinkedIn.  “Do not let your ego get in the way of building relationships and solving problems. If we could all just focus on our own areas to improve, we would all be better coworkers.”

“Look for the soft skills, listening, communication, and bit of compassion, otherwise known as emotional intelligence,” says John LaFay on LinkedIn.  “In the long run, these personal traits are a better investment than value matching.”

“If you can have a healthy working relationship with your coworker, he is a good coworker for you,” says Masood Sayed on LinkedIn.  “A good co worker for you can be a bad coworker for someone else.  It depends on how well you understand and communicate with each other.”

How Do You Rate?

While most people think they are a good coworker, it is important to step back and examine your own characteristics in the workplace.  How do you rate on the characteristics of good coworkers?  How would your coworkers rate you?

Recommended Reading

5 Unexpected Teamwork Tips I Learned From Watching “Bridalplasty”

I’m not one to keep up with the Kardashians, but I do appreciate a bit of garbage reality TV every once in a while.  My latest adventure was E! Network’s Bridalplasty, in which 12 engaged women compete for the perfect wedding, completed by multiple plastic surgeries in the process.

The show was what you would expect—cat fights, alliances, tears, yelling—the whole shebang.  But what I didn’t expect was to get some great pointers on how to be an effective team player in a business.  Reality shows are essentially a business—one of entertainment—therefore, business practices are exercised regularly on reality shows.

Here are 5 unexpected teamwork tips I learned from watching Bridalplasty:

  1. Don’t be a downer.  Women who had consistent negative attitudes did not do so well on the show.  No one wanted to be around them and they brought general morale down.  However, when a woman got out of her funk and showed a more positive attitude, she not only gained the respect of others on the show, she regained a sense of confidence.
  2. Pull your own weight.  One of the worst parts of working in a team is the lack of balance that can occur.  Usually, there is a leader who delegates tasks that the team is responsible for completing.  However, when someone slacks, the rest have to work harder.  Even if you aren’t working in a defined team, your entire workplace is a team setting since each department is involved in the processes that make up the business.  By pulling your own weight, you prove to your team that you are a team player and you  allow them to do their jobs.  Those who don’t pull their weight can and will be replaced by those who do.
  3. Don’t walk on other people.  While it was exciting to watch the self-proclaimed “Puppet Master” try to run the whole competition, she also created a house full of enemies by doing so.  This type of person can be very successful in life, but loses the respect and trust of others, ultimately having more enemies than friends.
  4. Be honest with others.Benjamin Franklin wisely said “Three can keep a secret if two of them are dead.”  Viewers saw in multiple cases how dishonesty ruined the game for many of the women and how honesty helped one win.  Telling the truth, while sometimes difficult, leads to appreciation, trust and respect from others.
  5. Underdogs can (and will) prevail! The great thing about underdogs is while they usually have to work a lot harder than others to achieve a goal (that’s what makes them an underdog), their hard work pays off and they are eventually rewarded for it.  Underdogs work closely with peers so they gain a lot of respect and support on their path to success.  People love for the underdog to come out ahead because it proves that anyone can be a winner, regardless of their situation.

While reality shows are a great business model example, they are more accelerated so what happens in a reality show may not occur for several months or years in an actual business.  In the real world, coworkers aren’t forced to live together and have every move recorded 24/7 so it can take longer to build alliances and enemies.  But the main points of building a solid team are there and applicable to a work environment.

What teamwork tips have you learned from reality shows?

Recommended Teamwork Reading

7 Ways to Be a Better Team Player

A business is not unlike a sports team; they both consist of a variety of people with a variety of skills who share a common goal.  Each player has particular responsibilities and roles to fill, however, when a company has solid teamwork on the inside, it is clearly demonstrated on the outside.

Chances are, you’re not always going to get along with all of your coworkers.  Most sales people have much different personalities than most accountants, operations and selling function differently and there’s usually a divide between departments, regardless of where you work.

However, if you put forth the effort to be a better team player, you can help your company run like a well-oiled machine and not a rusty old pickup.  Here are some tips on how you can be a better team player:

  1. Remember the Golden Rule: Because businesses are professional teams, chances are, you are going to need help from a teammate in the future, regardless of what your position is.  The best way to ensure you have a good chance of getting that favor is if you have done something for others.  So many times, I’ve had to have the warehouse quickly pull and ship an order for me so I make every effort to help them whenever I can because if we help each other, we accomplish our goals faster.
  2. Say yes: Or at least say “I’ll see what I can do,” rather than always initially saying no without consideration.  Many times, when asking a favor of someone else, that person will say “I’m too busy” or provide a list of excuses why they can’t help.  Oftentimes, requests are actually simple and rather than provide a list of excuses why you can’t help, consider whether you actually have time to help.  If you honestly don’t have the time, say so, but your consideration will; be remembered when you need a favor in the future.
  3. Have a sense of humor: Nothing’s worse than breaking bad news to someone who can’t take it and oftentimes, in any business, you get your fair share of bad news.  Don’t be sour about things though; when times are stressful people are more likely to gravitate toward someone who can lighten the mood than to someone who stresses them out.  Additionally, if you are the one receiving the bad news, you will get that news much faster if the giver knows you won’t kill the messenger.  Laughter is contagious and makes for a lighter work environment.
  4. Acknowledge good ideas: It’s easy to get a hurt ego at work, especially if you’re surrounded by talented people.  Do yourself a favor and acknowledge when others have a good idea because it builds a positive work environment.  One of the greatest benefits of working with talented people is sharing ideas and improving your own skills.  When your team looks good, you look good as well and if you give credit to others, they will be quick to credit you.
  5. Avoid the rumor mill: Office gossip can run rampant and when it gets negative, it has a severe impact on employees.  When job stability or unfairness is mentioned, employees get concerned and go on the defense.  By putting a positive spin on any rumors or shutting them down from the get-go, you can change the mindset of your work environment.  Also consider the fact that if others badmouth your coworkers to you, chances are they’re badmouthing you as well.  If you can turn their focus to how others are helping the company, you can spread positive vibes instead of negative.
  6. Be responsible and dependable: If you’ve ever tasked someone with a project only to have them forget, you know the disappointment it brings.  Don’t be that person.  Find the best way to keep track of your responsibilities and follow through with them.  Provide updates and ask questions if needed.  That way, if you hit a bump early on, it’s much easier to resolve than if you wait until the last minute.
  7. Value your team: When things go awry, it’s easy to blame others, but blaming others is not productive whatsoever.  Focus on the end goal and how you can achieve it with the help of your team.  Your positive attitude will make each struggle that much less of a struggle and each success that much sweeter because you can all share in the success you earned together as a team.

Remember, there is no I in team.  Work for your team and they will work for you in return.

Recommended Teamwork Reading