Does Your Team Know Their Backup Roles?

Communication is critical, and having a plan is crucial to your success

Next time you get a chance, watch five-year-olds play sports. It is a glorious display of pandemonium in the best possible sense. I watched my five-year-old play T-ball last week, and it reminded me of some of the worst jobs I had where nobody knew what they were supposed to do.

The way this little league works is quite a thing to behold. Each kid gets a chance to bat and run the bases. No outs, no score. It gives all the parents a chance to relax and watch their little one explore the game of baseball. Some kids have serious talent. Others, well, get an A for effort.

After about 17 swings, the batter makes a connection, and the ball is sent into play. Every kid on the field runs for the ball. Eventually, one of them picks the ball from the cloud of other kids and throws it somewhere in the general direction of first base. The next kid grabs a bat and steps up to the tee. Rinse, lather, repeat.

As I glanced across the field, I saw older kids playing baseball on another diamond. Their play is much more organized. When someone hits the ball, every player scrambles to a specific position to help carry out the play. If it’s a grounder to the second baseman, the right field runs in, and shortstop covers second base. If it’s a fly ball to the outfield, an infielder runs out to the shallow outfield to play the cutoff man. If there is a play at home plate, the pitcher backs up the catcher. Every player has something to do once the ball is in play. Nobody stands around doing nothing.

Does your business have these backups in play? Does each team member know where they need to be when the ball is in play? Have you ever caught an employee standing around?

Let’s get this out of the way: An employee that doesn’t know what they should be doing is a problem you need to fix.

In the restaurant business, there is a clear rule that works: If you have time to lean, you have time to clean. It is a simple concept, and the rhyming makes it easy to remember. When you do not have an immediate task to complete, find something to clean.

What about an office job? Does that mean pick up a vacuum? Your employees need the answer to this question.

There are also backup principles in play. If the ball is hit toward the first baseman, the third baseman and left fielder should know how to react. In basketball, each player is responsible for offense and defense. In football, the quarterback may have to tackle an opponent to prevent a touchdown if there is an interception.

Do you have backup positions in play in your business? What happens if every available associate is on the phone? What happens if there is a line of customers out the door? What happens when you run out of supplies in the middle of a critical job? Can accounting take customer service calls? Can warehouse associates run the cash register? What if the power goes out? What if the internet goes down? What if the whole point of sale system crashes? Can you take manual orders? Can you keep the lights on?

One of the greatest dangers on a team is when one of the members says, “That’s not my job.” Even worse, they stand around because they have finished their immediate task and do not know what to do next.

There is always something to do. Your team should know this and be prepared for any scenario. It can be regular meetings, cross-training sessions, a disaster recovery plan, a formal employee backup diagram, or daily emails. Communication is critical and having a plan is crucial to keep you successful in your business.

When the ball is in play, your team better be playing their positions.

Dana Curtis

Dana Curtis


Dana Curtis is the founder and CEO of Biztools, a strategic consulting firm that helps small businesses multiply revenue through improved customer experience and pivot to new markets.

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