244 – Leading as Peers

The secret to teamwork is to know what game you’re playing.

At a small, but busy, restaurant in Asia, the entire staff is trained in every job of the house. Everyone does everything from washing dishes to mopping the floor to running food, seating guests, taking wait numbers, busing tables, even preparing the meals. The menu is simple, so no one needs to be an expert chef. That simplicity might be part of the owner’s strategy, though he wouldn’t tell me his trade secrets.

But, it always caught my attention that no one ever had to direct anyone else to do any job. They had a shift manager deciding when people could go home; that was about it. Yet somehow, every job got taken care of quickly and seamlessly. A staff member would stop busing a table to greet a guest at the door, then take up the role of host for the next two hours while another employee stepped in to finish busing the table. It works like that all night, night after night.

It’s not that the staff thinks of themselves as a “team”, they just know how to do every job and they know the business should operate. Dinner guests should have a certain experience, the staff do whatever needs to be done to make that happen. That’s the simple direction given to everyone.

Teams have problems when they don’t know what game they are playing. Someone wants to be the MVP or the boss at the company thinks that a kind voices in the office will get more sales .. try telling that to the Wolf of Wallstreet.

You might not have the privilege of being told what game you’re playing. Under bad leadership .. or no leadership .. you will need to figure that out yourself. A partially-absent supervisor might never be happy, so you be diplomatic instead.

Look where the need is and fill it. You don’t need to be “above” other people in order to lead from among the group. Be a contagious example and don’t pretend to beat any drum. If you end up drumming, let others take turns. The best way to lead peers is to remain one yourself.