By Julio Covarrubias
Sr. Vineyard Manager, Wente Vineyards
Client of Bill Munn Management Coaching
We all know that in the business world, communication is extremely important. But often, it’s also a huge challenge.
I understand this challenge well. Within my own teams, communication and idea sharing used to be big struggles, for reasons I’ll get into below.
But when I got some great results by making sure my communication methods really fit the attributes of my teams, Bill thought the success story would benefit many of his readers as well.
So he invited me to share the stories here, which I am happy to do.
This is a success story about 2 types of communication:
- How I, as a leader, communicated with my team in a way that really made sense to them and led to big results
- How my team then made great leaps in how they communicate—with me and with one another
As a senior manager with Wente Vineyards, I oversee a group of teams made up of labor forces. I have worked my way up to this position from roles like those my team members now hold. Because of this, I understand them well and appreciate them greatly.
My team members are eager, hard-working people who have a great deal of pride in what they do and in the company as a whole.
But for many of them, their background and experience has taught them, “You do what you’re told, and that’s it. No questions asked.”
In other words, keep your head down and your mouth shut.
But I didn’t want that. Not at all. I knew it wasn’t good for them, me, or the company.
Instead, I wanted them to feel really free and open to discuss their challenges and share their ideas.
But they were hesitant. So I needed to do 2 things:
- Help them understand the why—to see the value of bringing their ideas to the table
- Help them stop being afraid to bring up a new idea. This would mean breaking a chain of thought and action, because their past experiences had taught them not to share.
Let’s be honest: lots of managers might say they want idea sharing, but their actions don’t really back that up. So even when I told my teams that I wanted them to communicate their ideas, they wouldn’t do it.
In every company, in every department, it can be hard for leaders to get their people to bring ideas out.
Often, this can happen because team members are afraid to share—whether they know it or not. When they’re dealing with their boss, they’re dealing with someone who has more power or authority, maybe more education or academic skills.
In the case of my team, this was stopping many people from sharing their insights and ideas.
So the problem wasn’t only that they didn’t truly believe their ideas could be valuable. Many of them were actually afraid to share.
3 Little Rocks
I needed a big shift. I needed to build them up and get the whole team into the same way of thinking.
I needed to say, “Don’t be afraid to speak out. I really want you to bring your ideas into the whole picture,” and have them truly believe it.
So I brought it to life for them with a story they could easily understand.
My teams work on the vineyards and farms. So one day, I picked up 3 little rocks from out in the field and held them up in front of a team.
“Do you see these rocks?” I asked. “If I wanted to sell them, how much would I get for them?”
They all agreed I wouldn’t get anything.
“So maybe you have 3 rocks,” I said, pointing to an individual worker, “and you might have 5, and you might have 2. You want to sell them? None of you will find a buyer for your rocks.”
“But what if we put them all together? When you fill a truck with little rocks, suddenly you have something of value: you have gravel. And once you have a full truck, you can sell it by the ton, by the yard, by the truckload…
“But you can’t get to that level of value until everybody puts their 2, 3, or 5 rocks into the truck.”
I encouraged them that when we talk about value, we need to think about the return. If we’re investing our time and energy, we need to make sure we’re getting something out of it.
And their ideas could help us with that.
“That’s what we want!” I explained. “A truck full of little rocks, which becomes gravel we can sell easily. A truck full of ideas.”
The response has been amazing! Everybody wants to be part of the truckload, because that’s where the value is.
Because my teams are the people on the ground, they see opportunities others couldn’t. So they’ll say, “I have this idea that could save us a little bit of time,” or “Maybe we could do this, which would help us do more with less energy.”
And when we multiply that out, the total result is incredible.
I am very proud of my team. And I’m very happy with how they are responding.
Promoting Problem Solving
Improving the team’s willingness to communicate has also helped me encourage better problem solving. Here’s an example:
When team members come to me with a new thought, I’ll ask them to come up with solutions or next steps.
Often, I have an answer for them already, but I’ll still encourage them to come up with it on their own, because I want them to realize that they have many of the solutions within themselves. I want to empower them to recognize this.
“Great,” I’ll say. “So what should we do? Put yourself in my position. I want you to give me solutions.”
When they’re encouraged to do this, and then encouraged that their answers are worthwhile, they feel an incredible sense of pride. And they recognize how many answers they have in them already.
My goal is to develop a team that doesn’t require me on-site, in-person, all the time. As leaders, we all have this goal!
To make it work, I want them to take control of what they’re supposed to do. And improving communication has been a great first step in allowing this to happen.
The Communication Car
All of this improvement in communication has also made it necessary for me to encourage responsibility.
To do this, I like to use the metaphor of driving a car:
The law gives you the opportunity to drive a car. But it is still a privilege to drive, and that privilege comes with responsibility—responsibility for where and how we drive.
In the same way, being part of a team provides us with a great opportunity. But it’s a privilege to be part of that team, and that privilege comes with responsibility for what we say and how we say it.
If we don’t recognize and respect that responsibility, then we’re carless, and our communication can even become dangerous for the health of the overall team—like a person who drives recklessly.
Sooner or later, we’re going to have an accident. Sooner or later, we’re going to end up in a situation where we don’t want to be.
This ties back into the 3 rocks: when we communicate about struggles and ideas, we need to do it with respect.
The car metaphor has really driven this point home for my team members.
Why Did these Stories Work?
I believe that the stories I used worked well for my team because they were easy to understand.
By focusing on how my team members should see the situation in the end, I was able to come up with other ways to explain myself—ways that would make more sense to my audience.
Every team is unique. The stories I chose were simple for my audience to understand. The examples were familiar to them, and it didn’t take a lot for them to really think about the message that I was trying to get across.
I will continue to use these stories with this team, because the response has been truly great!
Getting them communicating makes for a healthier team and a healthier company. I’m so proud of what they have accomplished and how far we’ve come.
And I hope this story will help you better communicate with your team, too. If so, please feel free to share your comments with me here.