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Have you ever watched a sports team play – a football team, say – and been so struck by the team’s precision, its effectiveness, and its certainty about who’s doing what, when, that you thought to yourself, “Wow! That is one incredibly talented team”?

I know I have. And yes, they are talented. But what we don’t see as we’re watching the team execute on the field is what happens behind the scenes that make those great team performances and those great individual performances possible. Specifically, we don’t see the creation of the team’s playbook. That’s a really critical piece of the puzzle, and it’s something every professional team spends a lot of time on, even though the fans aren’t watching! When a new player arrives on the team, what’s the first thing he has to do? Learn the team’s playbook! Without a viable playbook, the quarterback might just step up, take his position, call out a play, and see the entire team look up at him in total confusion, each with an expression that translates roughly as “What are you talking about?” 

The football team’s playbook is the compilation of the rigorously vetted best practices that will be implemented during the game. It’s the product of a lot of discussion, a lot of research, and a lot of important internal decisions about what works and what doesn’t. It draws on player experiences, coaching experiences, and the shared experiences of both players and coaches – in practice and during games. I’m talking about US football because I’m an American, but the same principle applies to rugby or soccer or basketball or any other team sport you want. The point is, continuous improvement requires a playbook, and your team’s playbook should be just as carefully thought out, just as carefully documented, just as carefully studied and practiced, and just as frequently updated as a professional sports team’s is. Of course, this operating principle is not limited to the world of sports. Pilots may have decades of experience, but they still go through a checklist each time they fly. Surgeons have an established sequence of doing things – an order of tasks that need to be done in the right order for the procedure to succeed, even if the doctor has performed the procedure a thousand times. We need ask our salespeople to do the same kind of checklist work. We call the tool for making that happen the Pre-Call Planner.

The takeaway here is both simple and far-reaching: Create and circulate a documented playbook of best practices for anything and everything that occurs on an ongoing basis. Create a playbook for yourself. Create playbooks for your team. Create clearly documented, tested, step-by-step processes for more consistent outcomes, and make sure your employees know you expect them to follow those processes.

Your playbook is your operating system. It should be a shared collection of action items, talk-tracks, and best practices that enable your whole team to stay on the same page, deliver predictable outcomes, and operate at the highest possible level of efficiency. This should be embedded into your CRM. It should be a written document, not an “I’ll know it when I see it” mental list of priorities. That last point is vitally important. “Winging it” doesn’t win games – or championships. For both a sports team and the sales team that supports your organization’s revenue goals, a good playbook is the opposite of “winging it.”

Great processes are not static. They are subject to scheduled reviews and updates. Processes that become outdated become unused, and that's exactly what you do not want. So set up an annual audit of the processes your organization follows. Each review should be a Team Storm session led by someone who uses the process in question regularly, and each should result in a revised, dated document with the very latest best practices, a document that all the other members of the team feel good about using. That way, it’s a “we” playbook, something everybody helped to create and everyone can use to execute the things that are most important for them to do. And thanks to the annual schedule, your organization is not bogged down by constant process review.

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