Today, we have almost forgotten about the importance of face time in building familiarity and mutual trust — the requisites for teaming seamlessly under pressure. Some companies have gone so far as to promote the concept of “virtual teams,” whose members have never met one another, and never will. This approach can work for engineering and other technical projects, but if you have to perform for clients and customers, forget it. As the CFO of a Fortune 500 company told me recently, “All of the big banks and professional firms tell you they are ‘global.’ But most of them cannot field a team of people, drawn from these far-flung operations, who know and trust each other and who have worked together before. You really notice when the individuals on the team are relaxed, communicating, and having fun together — or, as the case may be, introducing themselves to each other for the first time outside your office door.”
That behavior is a tip-off, says the CFO: “I notice how they are getting on with each other because this tells me what a long-term relationship with me and my organization might look like.”
The Beatles demonstrated that true esprit de corps comes from intense, shared experiences.
Beatles Principle Number 1: Invest in and build face time between team members long before they are required to appear together.
Most rock groups produce essentially the same types of songs, over and over again. The Beatles’ secret to retaining and growing their audience over time was the breathtaking and continual evolution of their music, from album to album, along many dimensions. Their musical explorations took them into new and unfamiliar themes, musical styles, arrangements, instruments, and recording techniques. With songs as varied as “Yesterday” and “Revolution,” they sold more than 1 billion records in not much more than a decade.
Like many eclectic innovators, the Beatles borrowed extensively from other genres and combined these ideas into something new. Starting from a base of rock and roll, they added touches of Indian music, country and western, rhythm and blues, classical, music hall pop, acoustic folk, and jazz. They turned record covers into works of art (Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) and virtually created the rock video. The Beatles did not actually invent most of these musical ideas, but they reached out and dared to combine them in new ways that vastly expanded the vocabulary of rock and roll.
No subject was too mundane or outlandish. A newspaper article about the death of a Guinness brewing heir spurred John Lennon to compose “A Day in the Life.” A parking ticket became “Lovely Rita.” Paul McCartney’s sheepdog inspired “Martha My Dear,” and an offhand comment from an overworked chauffeur turned into “Eight Days a Week.” The Beatles had profound powers of observation. They absorbed the world around them, framed it musically, and gave it back to us.
Complacency — being content to sing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” over and over again — is the enemy of sustainable success. The way to keep clients and customers for life is to evolve your songs with them — to constantly expand your repertoire. Amazon has done this by slowly adding merchandise categories to its original core of books, Porsche through its successful Boxster sports car and Cayenne SUV lines, and Apple Computer with its popular lineup of iPod music players and related software.
Beatles Principle Number 2: Evolve your “songs” and bring the same level of ideas, new perspectives, excitement, and enthusiasm to your hundredth meeting with a client that you brought to the first.