True story. I’m in a sixth-grade PE class and we’re running relays. Instead of around-the-oval relays where you pass the baton from behind, we’re running back and forth on a straight line. You run straight at the person you’ll pass the baton to; they take it and run right back the other way.

I’m running third. You know what that means. I’m passing the baton to our anchorman, Jon who’s one of the fastest kids in school.

The races start and two things become clear. 1) We’re losing, 2) Jon is really mad at me. I don’t know why. The fact that I’m not The Flash isn’t exactly a state secret, but it should be obvious that I’m giving the team everything I have.

Finally, I ask him what’s wrong and he says, “Change places with me and hold up your hand. I’m gonna show you what it’s like to get a handoff from you.” With that, he walks back about 20 yards, then runs at me full tilt and slams the flat butt end of the baton straight into the palm of my hand. It hurts like hell.

It’s About the Handoff

There were probably better, less painful ways for Jon to get his message across. But I got it. The funny thing is that I thought I was being a great team player. To make up for my lack of speed, I was reaching out my arm and aiming the baton at Jon’s hand in order to get it to him as fast as possible. I was minimizing my time, but in doing so I was both hurting him and keeping him from getting off to a fast start. What he needed was for me to hold the baton upright so he could just grab it and run. That made my leg a fraction of a second slower and his leg several seconds faster.

Your company is like a relay team. The “baton” is the work that moves from one person or team to the next as you turn a Lead into a Sale into a Delivery into Cash. Just as a relay team can’t win if their handoffs are poor, neither can your business.

We usually think of great team players as people who are friendly and who help out when asked. But your true great team players are the ones who reliably make great handoffs.

That doesn’t happen by accident. Leaders in great companies make sure everyone understands this:

  • “Your #1 job is to make the job of the next person in line easier.”

Saying it isn’t enough. Everyone needs to be clear who’s next in line, what a great handoff looks like from that person’s side, and how to deliver that handoff consistently.

Imagine what your company would be like if everyone in it was focused on setting the next person in line up for success. It comes down to this:

Great Team Players = Better Handoffs = More Wins.

You’ve got this. Go for it.