Teamwork on an Olympian Scale

August 23, 2016
  • Bob Chapman
  • Bob Chapman
    CEO & Chairman of Barry-Wehmiller
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If you’ve paid any attention to the Olympics over the last couple of weeks, you likely saw many star athletes achieving incredible individual success.  But there were also many events built around teamwork.

Business can be very similar. We can become so focused in working toward individual goals or just taking care of the tasks required in our particular role, we often don’t stop to think about our teammates whose jobs are different than ours.

And that’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes our workplace “events” are completed as individuals while other times as a team, just as in the Olympics. However, when we continually focus on ourselves and the task at hand, we miss out on the rewarding experience of working to achieve something great together. When you foster a caring people-centric culture like ours, you build trust and empathy and connectivity. You become connected – like a family. That connectivity becomes a great source of strength, especially in difficult times.

About three weeks ago, at our corporate offices in St. Louis, a few of our people noticed sparks flying from an electrical switch box in our parking garage, located below our building. The power in the building was immediately turned off for fear of fire or worse.

As we eventually figured out, water had backed up in a drain in our alley and eventually found its way to this very important part of our building’s power system.

20160819_195703_resized-800x450“It was a big threat,” said Willie Robinson (right,) one of our maintenance technicians and part of our Facilities Team.

Our building was evacuated and everyone sent home. Then, the race was on to unclog the drain and address immediate issues to get the building back open as soon as possible. Our Facilities and IT Teams scrambled to get everything figured out.

“We had team members in high heels running down the alley with extension cords,” Willie said. “I wish everyone could have seen how our two teams collaborated. It was effortless. No one asked a question.”

“You just kind of did whatever you could to get things back up,” said Craig Hergenroether, our Chief Information Officer.

Unfortunately, due to the immediate shutdown of our power supply, our IT servers were affected. Craig said that in his more than 40 years in the business, he hadn’t seen this set of conditions or a more serious disaster.

Fortunately, we have a disaster recovery plan and IT services based in other company locations. For the time being, Craig and the IT Team were able to get most of our services back online quickly, so the large majority of our team members around the world didn’t even notice.

But the work had just begun for our IT team in St. Louis. Backups were also affected by the shutdown. Our servers basically needed to be recreated from scratch, the entire data center had to be reconstructed. Craig called it a “disaster inside a disaster.”

“For all intents and purposes, it was like the building was destroyed,” he said.

Our IT team worked, literally, around the clock for a solid week. Team members would leave when they were too tired to carry on, go home to sleep and come back to start all over again.

“I wanted to give out capes to all the superheroes,” Craig said.

And just as our IT Team rose to work past the emergency, our people in every other company department also rose to the occasion. Meals and snacks were provided by the other teams but Craig said that wasn’t the most important support they received.

“It was always, ‘How are you doing, not How is the system doing,’” Craig said. “It was always about our health and how the team was doing.”

Not everyone in the building had the expertise to rebuild a data center. But just as in a caring family, they did what they could to help out in their own way. At the very least, they showed they cared about their teammates.

“When you are as tired as this team was, it wouldn’t take much to send someone over the edge,” Craig said.

But when your culture is that of a caring family, everyone pulls together in a crisis. As our Chief People Officer Rhonda Spencer, said, “Culture is who you are on your worst days.”

“I saw people who genuinely care about each other, about the company, and about helping… really just helping to do whatever is needed,” Rhonda said.  “We can have vision statements on the walls that talk about trust and responsible freedom, but in the end, on your worst day, culture is the Chief Technology Officer alongside the maintenance team lead working to help in any way they can.”

Weeks later, the work still isn’t finished. It’ll be months before everything is fully back to normal. But the experience has been and continues to be a good reminder.

“Out in that parking lot, we were one team,” Willie recalled. “That’s what I embrace about our culture.”

Our company keeps growing. In St. Louis, we have more than double the team members we had ten years ago. Barry-Wehmiller recently acquired its 84th company and we will continue to grow beyond our current heart count of 11,000 people. But we always need to keep in mind that wherever we are around the globe – and sometimes even in the same town – we’re all one team, one family.

As Willie very eloquently said, “Rear wheel drive will only get you so far. We need all wheels to get where we’re going.”

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