Tips on Teamwork From the Man Who Reinvented Starbucks

When your company loses its way, you must help your team rediscover its purpose and find its focus.
June 12, 2012

Businesses are only as successful as the people who work for them.

Keith Yamashita, the founder and chairman of SYPartners, recently spoke at the Behance 99% Conference on creativity about what it takes to create truly effective teams.

Yamashita has consulted with some of the most innovative names in business, including Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and Steve Jobs, about how to revitalize their brands and create trust within their organizations. We caught up with Yamashita over the phone, and he shared with us some of his insights on how to build a successful business culture.

Yamashita was called into Starbucks the same week Schultz returned to the company back in 2008. The company had lost its way, and Schultz was trying to reclaim the company's image. But it was during some of the darkest days of a recession, and morale was low.

"We were trying to figure out what was the core character of the company," he says. "We worked side-by-side with Howard, and commited to doing a deep analysis of what's really going on. His main hypothesis was that Starbucks had wandered from its core essential character."

All Hands on Deck

One of the first things Schultz did was ask the top 14 leaders to meet in a loft in Downtown Seattle. They were told not to bring anything; just themselves. When they got there, they were given an iPad and a simple card, which said, "What's required to reinvent an icon?" The room was covered with Beatles paraphernelia, and on the iPad were all the songs the Beatles ever created.

After two hours, the team was asked what they could do to reinvent Starbucks — beginning with the question, what makes the company unique? Management ultimately re-wrote the mission statement "at every level of the business," says Yamashita.

That was just the start of some dramatic changes that would ultimately take over the corporation. Today, says Yamashita, Starbucks has a cohesive management team, "all of whom play to their strengths, using their unique 'super power.' They're a purpose-based company, because the company has re-commited to what the company stands for."

Forming a Team

Great teams start with great leaders. He describes Schultz as "very aspirational, and very optimistic. He was really introspective and open to new ideas. Very open to sitting down with customers and hearing how a company can do better."

But that's just the first piece of the puzzle. A leader must know how to create cohesive teams. "First, you must have a sense of purpose," he says. "That's what Steve Jobs taught me. The belief that what we are doing will make a difference in the world. Great teams understand the forces with and against them — what stands in the way."

Building Trust

The second part is trust. "Teams that perform really well have trust between people," he says. This begins with any combination of two people working together. It can take up to 18 months to figure out how to effectively work with a colleague, he says, but he works with companies to speed up that process. "What is the other person's unique strength? What are their misconceptions about you?"

Finding Focus

And the last key element is focus. This is different from purpose; focus revolves around the idea of conquering the incremental tasks that you need to reach the broader goal. "It's surprising how many teams aren't focused," he says. "There's a lot of talk about efficiency, but success lies in working mindfully, with purpose and mission.

"There are two things people have been crying out for in the work world for decades: mindfulness about what matters and being mindful about how each person shows up. My practice is based on the idea that everyone starts out great, but conformity makes us un-learn that creativity. We want to rekindle that courage in people."

Has your small business ever reinvented itself?

Photo credit: Business Insider