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Rental Essentials: Team Spirit

Sally in sales says Isaac in Inventory angered her wedding client by sending out black chairs instead of white. Isaac blames Dan the Driver for failing to pick up white chairs from the vendor. Dan says he couldn't pick the white chairs up because the truck broke down, thanks to Manny the Mechanic's failure to check the oil. Now Vinnie the Vendor is screaming to be paid, but Pam in Payables says Richard in Receivables isn't collecting on time. Sound familiar?

The only way a party rental operation can pull together is to stop sniping and try teamwork. And party rental experts say that the most important tactic to build teamwork is communication.

“Communication is key,” says Carlton Baker, president of Nashville, Tenn.-based rental company Party Place. “We have weekly meetings with all the departments to make sure they realize how important each department is to the success of the overall event and company.”

Abbey Event Services of Burbank, Calif., also holds weekly meetings, according to president Tom Gifford. The meetings provide an open forum to discuss issues or problems. “When we come across a problem, we make it very clear that we're not looking to get somebody in trouble,” he says. “It's about the circumstances that happened that led to a problem.”

Asking employees what they think can improve the situation. “You get a lot of buying into the decision, and the solution actually works,” he says.

Megan Jones, president of Celebration Party Rentals in Flemington, N.J., says she takes her employees' suggestions seriously. At meetings, “We look at what we can do to resolve issues and make us more efficient,” she says.

“We try to make them understand that what's not important to them may be important to another department.”
— Ben Shipper IV, Chicago Party Rental

Team spirit is her company's philosophy. “We let [employees] know that in order to satisfy the end person, the customer, we have to work as a team. When an accident occurs or someone forgets to deliver something, instead of pointing fingers at everybody, we try find out why it happened and how to rectify the problem so that it won't happen again.”

Cross Trainers

Ben Shipper IV, vice president of Chicago Party Rental in Chicago, uses cross-training to help each department gain perspective on other departments. “We try to make them understand that what's not important to them may be important to another department,” he says.

Cross-training has two benefits, Shipper says: It allows employees to increase their standing within the company because they understand the big picture, and it promotes employee retention. “[Our employees] enjoy the people they work with in a noncombative relationship, and they are more satisfied with their work,” he says.

Chicago Party Rentals sends its customer service representatives on jobs with its drivers so the reps better understand the drivers' duties. “The order is a just piece of paper” for the customer service department, but they “need to make sure that the contact name and delivery information is correct,” Shipper says. When the reps forget to mention that the delivery needs to go to a specific floor or a contact's full name, the result is headaches for the delivery crew, he adds.

Celebration trains all of its employees in customer service. “We're not trying to get them to sit in front of a computer and put orders in, but we want them to know how to deal with people,” Jones says. “Even if they may never have contact with the customers, we still train them.” Why? “We try to make them realize what an impact their job has on an event,” she says. “If they don't know, they're not going to care about their job.”

Jones says that Celebration has no snobbery between departments. “In the middle of the [holiday] season, when we're all really busy, it's not uncommon to find people who are in customer service helping to get the load out each day by washing dishes,” she says.

Party Place also expects its employees to provide assistance wherever needed. “If we have a department that gets backed up, we pull from the other departments to help,” Baker says. “It's a team effort.”

Make it Your Mission

Five years ago, Abbey created a mission statement including the tenet: “We will maintain a positive environment and treat each other with respect and dignity.” “It is something that we continually go back to when we're working through problems,” Gifford says. “When we hire people we explain to them that we are very big on cooperation and supporting one another and understanding how what we do affects each person in the company.”

Celebration establishes a fallback support system. “We have a system of checks and balances in place starting from the person who takes the order all the way through to the job site,” Jones says. “We do that because we figure it costs us [in] money to fix a problem … and [in] our reputation.”

Time Out

Many rental companies plan extracurricular activities to foster camaraderie among employees. “We do team-building activities, like taking everybody bowling on a whim,” Shipper says. “It creates a little competition between the teams and helps build relationships so they know a little about each other.”

Abbey hosts an annual picnic for its employees and their families. “We give out awards for Helper of the Year and Driver of the Year,” Gifford says. The awards aren't meant to encourage competition, however, but to provide recognition for a job well done, he adds.

Jones supports creating a noncompetitive atmosphere. “I know a lot of companies will try to gain team spirit by doing different promotions within the company like who can bring in the most sales or who can deliver the most jobs,” she says. “We don't get into those things because we find that then you are not working as a team.”

Pass the Compliment

Gifford says Abbey makes sure compliments go a long way. “If a client comes up to me to say that my staff did a good job, I'll ask them to tell my employees personally.”

He adds that the employees credit each other for hard work as well. “At our staff meetings we'll applaud one another if we do something good,” he says.

Jones also spreads the kudos to build team spirit. “We get people who are dedicated and who like to work with each other,” she says.

RESOURCES: Abbey Event Services, 818/569-3838; Celebration Party Rentals, 908/735-7368; Chicago Party Rental, 708/352-0662; Party Place, 615/641-1111

For archived articles on team building and team spirit click on the following links:

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