I was recently asked by an exciting and highly successful young salesman, who had just been promoted to his first management role, to give him some “fatherly” advice on what I felt he should focus on to get started with his team. I would have preferred to have at least a year to prepare him for the management role, but we had only one hour together to chat about this vast topic, so it made me not only need to think about being concise, but also made me think about needing to drill down to the key elements of management that would really matter to a “newbie” and that, in his first 100 days as a manager, would define him to his people as their leader rather than as a peer.

Author: Tomwsulcer; CC0 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Tomwsulcer; CC0 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Here were the 10 key points that I discussed with him… 4 for him to pass on directly to his sales and support team, and 6 priority areas for him to focus on from the first day.

The 4 messages to his team were:

– Tell them who you are and in what you believe … That honesty (no lying, cheating or thieving) and integrity (what you believe is what you say is what you do) is at the heart of who you are and that this is what you expect from all of them. That nothing happens in the world until someone sells something, that this makes Sales the noblest profession in the world and that you will always be proud to be a salesman. That your role as their manager is to help all of them to be successful, and that you are available to them in whatever way that they need.

– Give them a dream … Set them a challenge to be the best (most successful, most professional, highest customer satisfaction) sales team in the company. That you expect the team to be a breeding ground for future leaders in the company and that you will work with all of them on their development for an opportunity to qualify. That you expect them to be the best that they can be at whatever they do. That you want other teams in the company to look at them as the standard to reach.

Source: Familiengrab_des_Otto_Schurig_-_Mutter_Erde_fec.jpg; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Source: Familiengrab_des_Otto_Schurig_-_Mutter_Erde_fec.jpg; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

– Tell them what you expect from them … That you are proud and excited to be given the opportunity to lead this team. That you intend to challenge them to “do more, jump higher, run faster” and to be more successful than any of the other sales teams in the company. That you expect them to always learn and grow so that things become easier as they become more skilled and capable. That you also expect to have a lot of fun along the way.

Author: Jimmy Harris; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Jimmy Harris; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

– Tell them that a team that works together is always more successful … That while we live in a highly competitive environment, the more that we can all work together and support each other the more we will all achieve. That great teamwork will always deliver more than the sum of its parts. That in the best sales teams, every member of the team succeeds not just a few. That you expect them to support each other so that every team member has a chance for success.

The 6 key areas on which I felt he should focus were:

– Ensure they all understand and accept their goals … It is important that people have a clear understanding of what is expected of them, and where/how they fit in to the dream that has been painted by their leader, over and above their financial goals. Most sales managers focus all of the goal-setting on the numbers to achieve, and the monetary rewards that come with achieving them, but this is not enough to build a high performing and professional sales organisation. It is also important to be able to answer the “Why are we here and why it’s important”, as well as the “Here’s what we need you to do”.

– Set the standards and know you will be watched … Many new managers believe that “if they say it so shall it be”, but the reality is more like “if they do it so shall it be”. No matter what a manager says, his people will watch his behaviour and will emulate this rather than follow the spoken words. I once had a manager who talked about working hard all the time, but regularly took long lunches and weekly golf breaks, both activities soon becoming a standard in the team.

– Remove the barriers … Find out what is getting in the way of your people being able to do the job well and make it your responsibility to remove the barriers to their success. Protect them from all sides from things that are time-stealers but that deliver little benefit to the company. This can be particularly true in matrix organisations where some people will “make work” to justify their existence.

Author: Kenneth Allen; Source: geograph.org.uk; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Kenneth Allen; Source: geograph.org.uk; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

– Build the team … Build pride in the team and the privilege of being a member, overcoming the Groucho Marx comment of “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.” Set high standards of membership and ensure that people are held responsible and accountable for their actions. The team will either ascend or descend to whatever level of standards you tolerate as being acceptable.

Author: U.S. Federal government; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: U.S. Federal government; via Wikimedia Commons

– Recognise and re-enforce excellence … Recognise and celebrate success and high performance often. It only takes a bit of imagination, rather than huge expense, to be able to recognise individual and team “highs”. I know of one large team that has a wide mix of nationalities working out of the one London office, and every time a team member achieves something worthwhile, the whole team stands and tries to sing their specific national anthem … maybe a bit corny to some, but it shows respect, is a lot of fun and it fits well into the diversity of the team culture.

– Don’t over-manage … Give people the freedom to make mistakes, and give the team the right to self-manage as much as possible. People who are scared to make mistakes are too scared to step out of traditional boundaries, and as such will do what has been done before, rather than what needs to be done today in an ever changing world. New managers tend to focus too much on control, rather than to focus on re-enforcing the needed behaviours.

It is also important to remember the words of American Industrialist John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937) who said “Good management consists in showing average people how to do the work of superior people.”



I doubt that in my 45 years of work I have ever been involved in a structured company brainstorming session that came up with some truly creative and innovative ideas that were actually successfully implemented or produced any discernible positive results for the company.

I accept the maxims that “None of us is as smart as all of us” and “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts”, but I believe that team brainstorming sessions are in the main a waste of time, energy and effort and do little for building teamwork nor driving innovation or creativity.

By Agripolare (own work); via Wikimedia Commons

We have become so obsessed with the whole concept of teamwork that while it rightly sits in every organisation’s value statement, it seems to have reached a point that there is a belief that if it is such a critical element of business success then it must be used in everything that we do.

There is no question in my mind that teamwork is a critical element for say sporting teams, and that it plays a major role in some elements of business need, such as putting together a team to fight and win a major competitive bid, or design and build a new product line, where bringing in different and complementary skills are critical for a successful outcome. It is also critical to build a co-operative company culture rather than one based on conflict.

I do not however believe that putting a group together in a formal brainstorming session achieves anything important beyond using up some time (usually at a management meeting) that the organiser is not sure how to fill effectively.

By Agripolare (own work); via Wikimedia Commons

One company I worked for had two meetings a year of the Senior Executive Team (SET) which consisted of the 12 member executive board plus about 30 of the next most senior executives in the company who would meet for two days to talk about the meaning of business life and other noble topics. They always included an afternoon of brainstorming/workshop sessions on topics selected by the CEO, and the goal was to have specific recommendations come back to him and the board in the form of presentations from each of the workshop groups. These Powerpoint presentations were duly collected with all due respect, but in my entire time on the board, never once did we ever discuss, review or implement any of them, so one has to ask the obvious question of “Why were they done at all ?”.

I believe that one of the main reasons is that in a hierarchical, structured company this is one way, albeit false, to make people believe that they have the ability to input into company direction.
These brainstorming (or workshop) sessions are meant to show that those at the top have an interest in the opinion of those below them. This is in the main false when it comes to such workshop output, as it is rarely new, different or innovative. It would have beeen unusual for example for the CEO to come up with any topics for discussion where direction hadn’t already been decided beforehand, which was something that the whole SET actually understood anyway, so most treated these sessions just as a welcome break from the powerpoint “tell” sessions that made up most of the meeting.

Author: Anthony Dubois; Source: Site du SCI; via Wikimedia Commons

I feel that the main reason that these brainstorming sessions are a waste of time is that innovation and creativity have to be part of a company’s DNA, so that it is an on-going, continuous process and not something that is driven by the occasional formal session. (See Innovation posted October 4, 2010). There is a belief amongst many in management roles that groups of people working together will come up with better ideas than one person working on his own, or a work team going about its normal tasks. Studies have shown that this is not necessarily true. A 2010 article in The Journal of Creative Behavior reports that “Groups of individuals generating ideas in isolation (nominal groups) generated more ideas and more original ideas and were more likely to select original ideas during the group decision phase than interactive group brainstormers.”

If you create an environment that encourages people to think and experiment I believe that they will do so. If you don’t, then no matter how many brainstorming sessions you have, if the culture is not supportive of creativity, it will not work.

The other belief is that in brainstorming sessions, the best ideas will float to the top as the work-group recognises these gems and then supports and builds on these in the brainstorming process. I have found that this also is not true. The ideas that come out of most brainstorming sessions are generally those that are advocated by the most vociferous and assertive of the group, rather than necessarily the smartest nor the most creative. The talkative, loud and dominating will always tend to override the quieter and less pushy ones in workgroups.

You can have as many brainstorming sessions as you wish, but I believe that they will never have as much impact on innovation and creative thought as building a culture that encourages people to feel safe in having new ideas and trying new approaches.

A lot has been written on “The rules for successful brainstorming” but I believe that even if these rules are followed the resulting output will still tend to be fairly ordinary. The simple fact that there are rules involved at all opposes and negates the environment needed for true creative thought.

Ultimately putting a group of people in a room and telling them to be original, imaginative and to “think outside the box” is ensuring that none of this will be possible.