The fire marshal came into our shop one day out of the blue and told us we had a problem. The back of the shop was too wide open, he said, and if a fire started, it would quickly spread across the entire building. And just like that, they made us put up a wall right through the middle of the shop.
If a tech had to cross the shop to get a tool, the techs from the “other side” would give him such a hard time that it usually wound up ruining his day. And that was not even the end of it. Before anybody noticed, the techs on one side would no longer want to interact at all with the techs on the other side. They stopped helping each other push cars, solve problems or answer questions.
It’s hard to believe, but something as simple as a wall had destroyed the culture we thought we had built.
Sometimes it’s a physical wall that creates divisions in your team. But even if your bays aren’t divided into two, there’s still the wall that separates your bays from your front counter.
And sometimes it’s more metaphorical, like the division between younger techs and the older guys, or between family members and the rest of the employees.
No matter what has caused a division, the end result is the same: communication breakdowns that reach all the way to the customer.
Pulling Out of the Nosedive
We had an infection in our shop. Because the “Westsiders” would not help the “Eastsiders” and vice versa, it made everyone’s job more difficult. Both the inspection and advising processes broke down, meaning we weren’t delivering the kind of superior service that we needed to set our shop apart!
I needed to tear down that wall without violating the fire code.
So, we started playing games. To build friendships and trust among the team members, we used something I called the “Buddy Contest” (see the end of the article). The rules were pretty straightforward: help each other and be entered to win a great prize. Suddenly, the techs didn’t see the “other side” as an enemy; they saw them as a path to winning a game and getting a prize.
But the point isn’t to play a game and hope for the best. Games are only a Band-Aid. No single team-building exercise can heal a shop with an infected culture. Without a larger fix, the problems will come right back and eat the shop from within.
Worse, if those divides run deep, you’ll see it in other areas of the shop. Employee conflicts rise as customer satisfaction drops. Processes break down. Turnover and attrition skyrocket.
Isolation in the Bays
Of course, it’s not always a new problem that creates a divide in your team. You don’t have to look any further than at the relationship between techs and advisors to understand how most divisions arise in a shop.
Technicians spend all day in the back of the shop with broken cars. They spend hour after hour busting their knuckles against broken metal, turning wrenches and fixing problems caused by other people. The job itself traps technicians in an antisocial headspace.
But they also get the love.
If everyone in the shop is doing their jobs right, the service writers see the people who come in just to thank us. They get the gratitude, the smiles and even the cookies and treats from happy customers.
And while every culture breakdown may not revolve around customer feedback, they probably all do revolve around the bigger issues in this scenario: respect, gratitude and communication.
Remove those things, and a late parts delivery suddenly starts to feel like the service advisor is sabotaging you, or a comeback starts to seem like a technician isn’t doing his job.
The solution? We had to fix the culture.
We had to make the shop a place where respect, gratitude and communication came first. And, yes, we still play games in the shop to this day — everybody loves them! But we also had to support the new culture with policies and procedures to make that change permanent.
How Do You Fix Problems For Good?
Before you can fix a problem, you have to recognize that the problem exists.
Which is why it’s so important to measure every day so you can know exactly where your shop stands.
The cliques in our shop were there for years, but I never saw them clearly until the firewall went up.
Today, I hardly need to step foot in the shop to know exactly what’s going on. If a tech is having a bad week, I’ll see it in the numbers. If the service advisors and techs aren’t communicating well, I’ll also see it in the numbers. If customers are dropping off, if there’s a breakdown in the advising process, if morale is plummeting, I’ll see that in the numbers, too.
When you know where the problem is, you can set up the right policies and procedures to fix it.
Sometimes, you may need only a team-building exercise to turn things around. But more often, the problem is deeper. In our case, the Buddy Contest was only the beginning. Once the team was working together again, we needed to create procedures to improve communication to make the two “sides” work together as effortlessly as possible.
As shop owners, you set the pace for the entire team. You can settle for the status quo. Or you can encourage communication, respect and fun in the bays and at the front counter.
You control whether the shop is going to be profitable, grow or shrink. You have to take the initiative. Get the numbers, get the right policies and procedures, and get everyone involved.
The Buddy Contest
Almost every shop I have visited or worked with is plagued by cliques, seniority issues and other “high-school popularity” problems, to one degree or another.
When teams divide up and refuse to work with each other, the result is never good! The service writers, managers and even the customers are getting a bad deal!
Here’s how it works…
Gather your entire group of technicians together. Announce that you have a new contest starting today and that everyone is eligible to win except the managers and shop foreman/lead tech.
In 30 days, everyone is going to meet again and be asked to write a name on a piece of paper. They will write down the name of the person who helped them the most over the last month. All of those names will be dropped into a hat. Because managers are supposed to help, they cannot win.
The person whose name comes out of that hat the most times is going to receive a prize. The prize could be cash, a gift certificate for tools or another prize that you see fit.
My guys love this game, especially because they feel it provides them a way to give each other positive feedback in a safe and anonymous way. The “Buddy Contest” is fantastic for building friendships and trust among your team members. Try it!
You can also download a PDF version of this article here.