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Who Packed Your Parachute? Tasks, Trust & Talent to Build the Best Teams

Dealerships are built teamwork.  And as a leader, you may not always know who and what contributes to your success.   You can learn from others to build great teams to be the employer of choice.  You can also learn from those who aren’t so great.

A good lesson of teamwork in a large, performance-oriented organization comes from the Navy:

One day, former fighter pilot Charlie Plumb sat down in restaurant and a guy a couple tables over kept looking at him.   Plumb didn’t recognize the man, but the man recognized him.  Pointing, the man said “You’re Captain Plumb!”

Plumb looked up at him and with a nervous laugh said “You’re right, I’m Captain Plumb”. 

The man continued “You’re that guy who flew fighters in Vietnam.  Part of that Top Gun outfit, shot down off the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk.   You parachuted into enemy hands and spent 6 years as a prisoner of war.”

Dumbfounded, Plumb replied “How in the world do you know all that?”

Breaking into a smile, the man said, “Because I packed your parachute”.

Speechless, Plumb staggered to his feet, and shook the man’s hand who said and “I guess it worked!”

Did he track every pilot and parachute, Plumb asked?   “No,” the man responded, “it’s enough gratification to know that I’ve served.”

This answer, a feeling of gratification and contribution, is one of the lessons about what contributes to great teams.   The man’s task was to pack parachutes, and he did it well.   Pilots trusted that the parachute would work to save their life.  The man was gratified by his unseen contribution.

This is a great example of a contribution to a Navy wartime team.  What can we learn from other organizations to build a great culture that attracts and keeps good people?

Top Teams contribute, listen, and respect each other.

In 2012, Google embarked on a large, multi-year study of inside teams – what did the best ones have in common, and how could they be replicated?    From their analysis over several years:

“We looked at 180 teams from all over the company.   We had lots of data, but there was nothing showing that a mix of specific personality types of skills or backgrounds made any difference.   The ‘who’ part of the equation didn’t seem to matter.   At Google we are good at finding patterns.   There weren’t any strong patterns related to who was on the team.”

Their conclusions: In addition to good management behaviors – strong communication, avoidance of micromanaging, and conveying the role and impact of the work - the teams were strong when the team:

-            Had balanced conversation, with each member contributing equally

-            Listened to each other

-            Respected each other’s feelings and needs

If this all sounds somewhat touchy-feely, it’s because, well, it is.   And that’s what ultimately separates the great teams, that people want to be a part of, from the others.

Learning Good Management from the Worst

The great management guru and comedian George Carlan said,

“Somewhere in the world is a doctor that’s worse than all other doctors… and someone’s got an appointment with him in the morning’. 

In the world of dealerships, somewhere there’s a dealer that has a bad reputation as an employer and is less of a choice to work for than all other dealers.  If you wanted to be one of the less desirable dealers, you would:

Keep the bad apples.   To build the least desirable place to work, experience tells us that an important action is to keep the bad apples as long as possible, relieving management of tough actions while giving the apples time to do their work bringing your dealership closer to being the least desirable place to work.

Micromanage.  For those that aren’t bad apples, a second action is to balance being the best micromanager around, dictating the smallest details while simultaneously ensuring confusion and doubt where possible. 

Sow mistrust.   Keep work interesting by talking behind each other’s backs and sowing the seeds of mistrust with gossip, judgement, and power moves. 


Flipping that around, to build a great company and be the employer of choice, you would build great teams through:

Talent – managers are good at communication and get rid of the bad apples.

Tasks – there is a clear understanding of work to be done, the contribution of that

work, and then employees are given freedom to do their job.

Trust – teams not only listen to each other & respect each other’s feelings; they

develop trust for each other.

And don’t forget that there a many people who stay late, or mentor others, or help others laugh and learn without ever seeking credit for it.   Seek out the parachute packers.

Jim Henderson learned the power of benchmarking and financial models while leading Dealer Best Practice Groups for Currie Management Consultants. Jim founded and successfully sold two technology-focused companies. He understands the positive power of culture in a company.  

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