On February 5th the Nebraska Men’s basketball team got ran out of the Gym by the Michigan Wolverines. What followed was a brilliant yet simplistic strategy by 2nd year head coach Tim Miles. Instead of taking the authoritative leader approach and simply coming back to practice the following day and working his players to the bone, Miles went in the complete opposite direction. Instead he went to his players for their input and feedback on how to improve as a team.
He held one on one conversation’s with each player on the team and he held a team meeting with his players at the expense of cancelling an entire day worth of practice. What was the result? Nebraska went on to win 5 straight games and finished their season winning 8 out of their last 9. Why is this important? Because in sales, much like athletics, a leader’s ability to harness the power of collaboration is critical. And allowing your reps the opportunity to suggest their own solutions to challenges can be invaluable to success and performance.
This collaborative approach did not happen in a silo; in fact this is a best practice that Miles has woven into the fabric of the Nebraska basketball culture in his two short years since becoming head coach. It was evidenced again last Sunday night vs Wisconsin when one of Mile’s players came to him in the first half and suggested that they abandon their current game plan and adjust on the fly because their original plan was not working. What was the result?
Nebraska beat the number 9 ranked team in the Country and all but solidified their opportunity to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998. This is impressive, but it is truly unbelievable considering Nebraska was picked to finish dead last in the Big 10 by essentially every “expert” in the business.
Today, information moves at an unprecedented pace for sales leaders. To expect a sales manager to have all the answers to their team’s challenges is unrealistic. This is why the leadership component of being a great sales coach is so imperative to collaboration. If you can lead in a way that promotes strong relationships with those on your team, you have a great chance to create an environment where ideas are generated from the bottom up as well as the top down.
Had Tim Miles not created that environment with the players on his team there is a good chance that they would not be enjoying the current success they are attaining. This begs the question, how do you create a collaborative environment within your organization or team? I was particularly fond of this article from Forbes titled, “The 12 habits of highly collaborative organizations” I really liked the advice of allowing yourself to “get out of the way”. Being collaborative is not always easily because as a leader it can sometimes feel like you are supposed to have all of the answers, but that is just not true. The people who have all the answers are the people who admit how little they know.
Our research at the EcSell Institute offers some other tips on how to build collaborative environments that promote team information sharing and commodore. I have bullet pointed some of them below:
- Hold regularly scheduled one on one meeting’s with your reps that are focused on both personal and professional objectives and topics.
- Hold regularly scheduled team retreats. Use icebreaker techniques to support openness and imagination that will lead to an environment that perpetuates collaboration
- Challenge your reps to answer their own questions. Too often sales leaders serve as a reactive problem solver as opposed to a true coach. If you tell your rep how to solve the problem versus allowing them to come up with the solution you are missing a great long term opportunity. Ultimately, you want everyone on your team coming to you with ways to make the entire team more effective.
The concept of collaboration seems very simple in theory, but can be difficult to execute. My recommendation is for sales leaders to begin with baby steps and to be deliberate about outlining a process that will allow effective collaboration to occur. In time, this approach will pay dividends for sales leaders just like it is for Tim Miles --- and other long time suffering Nebraska basketball fans!