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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the July

4, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Teamwork Models: Geese

Turns out that geese — those scourges of the

corporate

lawn — have a great deal to teach business about team building.

Primrose Reeves gives this example: "When geese fly in a V,"

she says, "the upward lift they give each other increases their

efficiency by 71 percent." Impressive. "I was teaching at

a manufacturing facility just yesterday," the MCCC instructor

and corporate trainer says, "and I spoke about the geese."

Whether manufacturing or service, every business needs to develop

teamwork strategies. "I see it in every sector," says Reeves.

Reeves teaches a five-session class on "How to Build

High-Performance

Teams" beginning on Monday, July 9, at 6:30 p.m. at Mercer County

Community College. Cost: $225. Call 609-586-9446.

Now teaching three to four days a week, Reeves draws on a rich

background

of work experience in her classes. A 1961 graduate of Lock Haven

College

who holds a master’s degree in educational media, Reeves has been

a Peace Corps volunteer — three times — and spent 20 years

working for the TKR cable company as, among other things, general

manager, national director of training, and senior director of

customer

service. She accepted a buy-out when company was broken up, and

returned

to teaching, where she began her career Odyssey.

"I the early-’60s I went to the Philippines with the Peace Corps

as a teacher," Reeves says. After that initial tour, she returned

to the United States, met and married a man ("no longer in the

picture"), who harbored an interest in serving with the Peace

Corps, but did not want to go alone. The couple joined up together,

and were sent to Kenya, where their daughter was born. Upon returning

home, they had another child, a boy, and when the children were three

and five, the whole family went on a Peace Corps assignment to the

Philippines.

After serving in the Peace Corps, Reeves, who had majored in biology

and education in college, decided she did not want to teach. She

worked

for the Girls Scouts of America for a time, and then went into the

corporate world. Doing so was not the norm for women of her

generation.

"As a female in the ’50s, competition was not encouraged,"

she says. Sizing up the scene in the for-profit world, Reeves

discovered,

however, that she could compete — and she liked the feeling.

"All

of a sudden I found an outlet for my competitive drive."

But while engaging in competition is important for success in

business,

learning to be a good team mate on the job is even more important.

Reeves offers this advice, some of borrowed from the geese, to

companies

that want to harness the power of a team.

Don’t make the same worker fight the wind all of the time.

"Geese share leadership," she says. "When the lead gets

tired, someone else gets into his place."

Jockeying for position is a waste of energy. "If we’re

so concerned about who’s in charge, we’re using our energy the wrong

way," she says. Better that each person knows, understands, and

appreciates the roles and responsibilities of his co-workers.

Take the time to teach fledglings the mores of the flock.

Geese watch their young carefully, standing by patiently as they first

work at swimming upstream or cutting a path through tall grass. In

the business world, this is called "mentoring," and Reeves

says it is an important part of building cohesion.

Stand by one another. Loyalty is back in fashion among

employers who found hiring and retention to be the biggest headache

of the past six or seven years. One way to earn it is through a team

approach that supports employees when they run into problems.

"When

a goose is sick, two other geese will stay with it until it gets

better

— or dies," says Reeves. This sense that each member of the

company will be cared for, whether he is up against a sales slump

or a family emergency, creates a feeling of security that can

translate

into a willingness to put in extraordinary effort when the company

itself runs into choppy water.

Reeves says employees working in an atmosphere with strong

teamwork

values will indeed put each other — and the company — ahead

of personal convenience. As an example, she points to the time when

she was general manager of a cable television office in Hamilton in

the days before digital, when TV set-top converter boxes were less

sophisticated than they are now. "They were controlled by

computer,"

she recalls. The Hamilton office had just installed a new computer,

and it malfunctioned, cutting off television reception to 12,000

homes.

"I got a call at midnight from the tech manager," she says.

"The only way it could be fixed was to have each customer call

in and read us the serial number on the back of his converter

box."

Knowing 12,000 unhappy people soon would be calling an office that

normally received about 200 calls a day, Reeves called all of her

managers and asked them to come in to work by 7 a.m. "They all

did," she says.

During two days of non-stop calls, employees from other departments

volunteered to pitch in. "The studio people said `Our work can

be postponed. We can help,’" she says. Camaraderie arose quickly

and spontaneously, and Reeves is convinced the reason was a

pre-existing

atmosphere where teamwork was valued.

Much as she learned about teamwork in the Peace Corps and in corporate

America, Reeves says the roots of her belief in its effectiveness

go even deeper. A native of West Chester, Pennsylvania, Reeves recalls

her father, a wholesale grocer, talking about "the importance

of families sticking together." Vital for families — whether

made up of humans or of geese — teamwork is also an essential

for successful companies.


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