What happens when you love a company’s product but then glimpse how the sausage is made behind the curtain? In our family, we’ve grown to rely upon Amazon for so much fulfillment. I still miss the old Lighthouse bookstore of my youth in Rye, NY with its stacks to the ceiling, easy chair for browsing and that smell – that smell of old, brown leather-bound volumes. But how can you beat getting the exact book you want, delivered to your door, the next day. Ah, but there’s always a price to pay.
It seems all is not well in Amazonia, according to the New York Times’ recent scathing indictment of the country’s most valuable retailer. With its market value at $250 billion with a B, its CEO, Jeff Bezos, listed as the fifth wealthiest person on earth and name recognition as the site to get anything delivered to your door (now, including a bottle of Jack Daniels in an hour…soon to be delivered by drone,) it seems the culture of Amazon is ruthless, brutal to families and unforgiving to all who even do their best. Our favorite retailer cannot hold onto their employees who typically flee before their first year. According to PayScale, it only could be worse if you worked for Massachusetts Mutual, the bottom of the barrel for turnover.
For a team builder like myself, the jaw-dropping details are almost Orwellian. Employees are pressured not to raise families and if they do start to raise children, it is suggested they move on. It seems you get paid for a 40 hour week at Amazon but unwritten company policy demands double that. There is no “free” time as everyone is expected to answer all emails, texts and calls at all hours in their drive for “excellence.” But the kicker has to be its twisted take on the hit reality show, “Survivor,” where your co-workers secretly “vote you off the island.” This isn’t just anecdotal. It is endemic and institutionalized. It is the culture in their Seattle offices.
Even if you have never seen it, “Survivor’s” main attraction was the dysfunction inbred into its rules. The competition was so fierce that the only way to survive was to build alliances, however shallow, just to destroy the other guy. The enemy of my enemy is my friend…for now. While I loved to tune in to see what clever “team builders” the producers had in store for the poor guinea pigs on the island, it became too painful to watch the subterfuge and, well, outright lying the participants needed to achieve their million dollar prize. The embodiment of anti-team building, Amazon and “Survivor” both give me the Willies.
Which is why I fell in love with a little gem of a documentary on Netflix about team effectiveness and unity despite all costs, even when losing was something to be expected. “Next Goal Wins” is not just about soccer. It’s about finding that wellspring of human affirmation, deep down when all seems lost.
American Samoa’s national soccer team had never won. Not just a losing streak. Ne. Ver. Won. And they are in the history books for the biggest lopsided loss of all time: 31-0 against Australia. But the “boys have heart” says imported Dutch coach, Thomas Rongen, who flies in to attempt a miracle. No spoiler alert. Watch the film and you will learn about the true essence of a team. Every CEO should show this story to the rank and file for it shows the essence of success.
“Success for us is working as a team, win or lose, as long as the world knows that American Samoa will never give up.” Nicky Salapu, goaltender (on the 31-0 loss)
You see what he is saying? Success is a virtue, not a bottom line. As Coach Rongen implored to them, “Show me how to fight; I’ll show you how to win.” Amazon can espouse all the “values” it wants but if it is pitting employees against each other for the purpose of increased profits, I’m allying with the Samoans.
The irony is that in the last decade, many companies asked for a Survivor-themed team event. Oxymoron is an overstatement. My business is to help employees find that sweet spot where internal competition transforms to cooperation throughout the company. Too much competition and the event devolves into sabotage between teams. Too much cooperation and folks get jaded with the “Kumbaya” attempts. When “it” happens, it is a sight to behold and everyone participating understands. And I am sure they are grateful for their company’s interest in the well-being of the workforce.
Let’s just say, I would welcome a call from Jeff Bezos but I certainly don’t expect it. He’d have to want his employees to actually work together. On the other hand, if the American Samoa soccer team called, I’d fly tomorrow. In their tropical paradise, I am sure they would never vote me off the island.
And as always, reach out if you want these lessons integrated into a lively program for your team.
hat tip: David Lewis, for recommending the film