The Post Office: A Model for Tandem Team Work?

Postal-Dog-WEBThe United States Post Office is not typically singled out for being a poster child for team work. However, last week I had nearly 40 big envelopes to mail for a marketing project. I went to the window and the agent looked at them and asked me the usual questions. “Are these all the same?” “Yes”, I replied. He questioned me further, “They are all exactly the same?” “Yes”, I patiently responded. He continued his querying, “There is no difference?” “No, not a hair’s difference.” I quipped. He then asked the usual questions about if there is anything hazardous, perishable, etc, etc? I replied, “No, nothing blows up, tears up or spits up.” Funny, he didn’t laugh.

Anyway, he weighed one of the envelopes and the cost to mail it was $1.40. I told him, if he just wanted to sell me the stamps, I’d be happy to put them on so I wouldn’t hold up the line. He thought, hesitated and told me that these are more like bulk mail and left the counter. I had visions of winding up in permit hell dancing before my eyes. Soon, another postal worker appeared out of the back room and came into the lobby. The counter clerk told me to follow that lady and that she would help me. I thought, “Right!”, I could see myself being strangled in the red tape of federal regulations trying to get these marketing envelopes mailed.

The female postal worker then took me over to one of those wall dispensers where you insert your credit card, weigh your item and then print the postage. I immediately thought “Oh, great.” You see, in the past, I have used these machines and observed others using them and it has not been pretty. I would almost rather go to the dentist. Operative word…almost.

At first, I thought this co-worker would just point to the machine and say, “According to Federal Regulations Section 2B, Sub-Paragraph, 8Q, Paragraph 328, you must use this machine to mail these types of envelopes.” Rather, she took my card, put it in the machine, weighed the first envelope, punched what seemed to be an endless series of buttons, the machine spit out the postage and Voila!, the first envelope was ready to wind its way through the mail system.

At that point, I thought she would then take off leaving me to my own devices to complete my, at least to me, important marketing task. But she reached for a second envelop repeating the steps for the machine to spit out the postage. Then I began to help, by handing her the envelopes. Our actions were a bit awkward at first, not knowing who was going to do what. However, shortly, we began to work in tandem.

This very nice postal worker picked up the stacks of envelopes repeating the process of weighing and punching buttons. I began to take each envelope off the machine, retrieve the postage from the machine’s mouth, tear off the backing, place the postage on the envelope and stack them neatly. While we did not verbally communicate to one another about who was going to do what, we continued this routine for nearly every envelope. When the final envelope was put on the machine, it quit, refusing to weigh, accept her punching or spitting out the postage. It was done. She kept trying to get the machine to work. In a final gasp, the machine coughed up my “foot-long” receipt and gave up the ghost. I said, “Oh, don’t worry, I’ll take this one to the window.” Whereupon I thanked her profusely for her help, gathering up the envelopes to mail and began walking to the mail chute. She stopped me and said, “Oh, no, I’ll take these in the back for you and take care of them.”

Isn’t this how teams work? In the beginning, we weren’t sure who was going to perform what task. But then a determination was made about who was more proficient at what task. We began the work and stayed with the task until it was completed. When running into a “technical glitch” with the machine, we each pitched in and helped, me taking the final envelope to the window and she taking the stamped envelopes to begin their journey to my potential clients.

What’s the point? Here we were, two perfect strangers. OK, nobody’s perfect, but this gracious postal worker and I had never met, yet we worked in tandem to get a task accomplished in half the time it would have taken me to do it alone. If we, as strangers can accomplish such a feat, why do team members who know each other and who work together daily fail to accomplish their important task of serving their internal and external customers?

Is this failure due to knowing one another, but having no understanding or appreciation of one another? Is it talking to one another, yet not communicating? When teams run into glitches, does one team member fill in, take up the slack, help out, or are team members failing to accept responsibility? When team members fail to work in tandem with trust, understanding and accountability, disaster follows. Does your team work in tandem? If not, contact me and find out how to change that to a yes!