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A highly successful basketball coach took over as coach of a struggling university team. During the first day of practice, the coach sat all the players down and asked them how close they were with their teammates.

They all said, "Oh, we're real close." Then the coach proceeded to ask each player about his teammates. Do you know what their fathers and mothers do? How about brothers and sisters?

And not one person knew a thing about their fellow team members' families.

Many business leaders preach, "Know your customer." How about "Know your team"?

At MackayMitchell Envelope Co., we often use a questionnaire called the Mackay 33 for Managers. It's designed to provide a personal profile of the likes, dislikes and unique individual needs and qualities of each of our employees.

It is based on observation, not investigation, and is intended to motivate people and design individual career paths. We want to know their goals and aspirations. What motivates them? What are they most proud of achieving? What are their strengths/weaknesses? Do they have proper role models? Are they team players?

We also developed a Mackay 33 for Employees, which gets into company attitudes toward employees. Both forms are available for free under the Resources section of the Harvey Mackay Academy.

Your success as a leader — and your organization's success, as well — depends on your ability to get the best from your employees. Often, you spend more time with your workforce than you do with any other group, even your family. Isn't it important to get to know them as people and not just co-workers?

You can't expect it to come automatically, though. You have to search carefully for each person's exceptional talents. For every person you lead, see how thoroughly you can answer the questions below:

1. How well do you really know the employee? What can you quickly recall of the employee's family, personal goals, hobbies or other outside interests?

2. What do you know specifically about his or her career goals, both short term and in the long run?

3. What single word best describes the person's job performance?

4. If this person resigned today, what would you miss most?

5. Can you name the person's greatest strength or skill?

6. Can you think of the last time you discussed this person's skills or talents directly with him or her?

7. What have you done recently to make the person feel like an important member of your team?

8. How recently have you asked for this person's ideas or input?

9. What specific, positive comment about this person's talents or contributions could you make today?

10. After looking at the answers to the previous questions, what could you do right now to get more from this employee?

Leadership in any organization with more than one employee needs to understand the importance of fostering an environment where teamwork is paramount. A really helpful feature of the Mackay 33 is that it provides guidance for assembling a team based on each employee's strengths. It doesn't stop with managers knowing something about employees. Co-workers must also get to know enough about each other to be able to relate well. Offering ice-breaking opportunities helps promote a sense of team.

I came across a rather novel approach recently — the toilet-paper challenge. Gather employees around a table or stand in a circle and pass a roll of toilet paper around. Each person may take as many or as few squares as they wish.

Then, each participant has to state a tidbit about him or herself for each square they took — "I play pickleball," "My first job was at a radio station," "I show siamese cats" — you get the idea. Nothing more than what they are comfortable sharing with the group — just a little glimpse of their outside or interior lives.

Seeing people from another perspective also exposes hidden strengths and shared interests. And the fun factor is an added benefit for any workplace.

On the website of Scoro, the software business service, Merily Leis offers a fascinating example of teamwork: the Rolling Stones.

"Each of the band's members is a talent in his own right, but it is the chemistry the band has with each of them that works best," Leis writes. "Being part of the Rolling Stones remains the best way for each member to achieve their individual goals."

Mackay's Moral: Teams work best when they are in tune with each other.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail