At the recent Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association convention, prominent business consultant and nationally recognized “storyteller” Dr. Kenneth Blanchard put forth several ideas on how to communicate better in the workplace. He pointed out that working as a team goes a long way in the ultimate success of a business.

He also alluded to three characteristics of his “Gung Ho” theory — a theory that explains the importance of teamwork.

The first characteristic, entitled the “spirit of the squirrel,” refers to the squirrel’s ritual of gathering nuts and how each individual squirrel gathers nuts for the whole community. The second characteristic, the “way of the beaver,” refers to all beavers having the same vision and choosing a goal. In this case, their goal is to build a dam, together. The final piece to the theory is the “gift of the goose.”

The what?

Blanchard said the honking sound of the goose is a “cheer, for cheering on the other geese.” That cliché seemed to capture the essence of why so many contractors assembled in the California desert for five days. They came together to show support for each other — a strong trait among union contractors.

No contractor is an island

It strikes me that we have a very special thing going among hvac contractors. We tend to be helpful and supportive of our peers, whether they are down the street or across the country. Few contractors consider themselves “islands,” isolated from their competitors.

My first inkling of this spirit of cooperation surfaced during a visit to New Jersey earlier this year. A local New York-New Jersey utility had purchased a New Jersey contractor and it appeared that a formidable foe had entered the service agreement market in the local community of Whippany.

Local contractors John Conforti and Joe DiGangi could have thrown up their hands and folded their tents. Instead, they turned to the gift of the goose. Both men, close competitors for residential service, decided it was better to unite and fight. These contractors had the foresight to plan ahead and weather the storm that touched their lives, in a state that produces regular news of utility expansion and possible cross-subsidization.

Another example

Being able to cheer each other on is not only a trait of the union contractors, but non-union as well.

Who can forget the devastation that struck Grand Forks, ND? In April 1997, the Red River raged over the town dikes and destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses. Contractors immediately went to work and coordinated efforts to repair and replace water-damaged furnaces and water heaters.

I saw cooperation between Dave McFarlane, owner of a sheet metal business, and Jeff Wilson, general manager of an hvac company. They asked their workers to team up and remove damaged units, repair or replace ductwork, or install brand new systems. (I can only imagine there was some backslapping and high-fiving going on when the work was complete.)

Do you get the feeling that we have something special going on here? I do.

Now we have a new age of high-tech field products, two-way communications, business management software, and a whole gaggle of products designed to make our lives easier and to help our businesses run more efficiently. Sometimes we get a little bogged down with how things work and that’s when we turn to our peers for help.

If you ever get a chance to attend an industry trade show or an association meeting, take a moment to observe the spirit of cooperation amongst contractors. There you will see people helping each other to understand the issues they face.

Running together

At the SMACNA convention, Blanchard put the spirit of cooperation in true perspective. He talked about the group of Special Olympic athletes who were competing in a running event during a track-and-field competition. The nine handicapped competitors were off and running when one of them fell down and couldn’t get back on his feet. The other eight, seeing one of the competitors down and out, stopped running and went back to help him up. The nine runners eventually crossed the finish line together — holding hands.

Yes, the gift of the goose had struck again.

The next time you have a break in your busy schedule, call up one of your competitors and take him or her to lunch. Share your ideas or just talk about your families. Then drop me a line. I’d like to know how it went.