Give Your Players the Power to Pull the Cord

players power pull cord toyota employees

In the field of car sales, Toyota is a major player. Learn how letting their employees “pull the cord” can help your team become more successful.

Toyota does things differently, some would say better. But allowing their employees to “pull the cord” is revolutionary, risk-taking, and HUGELY successful. Find out why…

While better leadership is vital within all successful teams, Toyota has gone in a completely different direction – instead of focusing exclusively on improving the skills of the leaders at the top of the corporate skyscraper, they’ve gone down to the people actually tightening the bolts on the assembly line and given them the power!

In 2014 Toyota sold over $216 billion (with a B) dollars’ worth of cars worldwide. That not only made them the #1 car company for 2014, but made their sales more than double many of the other companies that made the Top 10. And while that is a TON of money, they were selling basically the same product as everyone else in the Top 10. Every company on that list was selling cars of some sort. Sure, some were luxury cars, some were economical, some were big and some were small, but they were all selling cars. Why then was Toyota able to outdistance their competition and make people want to buy their cars more than everyone else’s?

Being the best at anything leaves a trail of success, and to improve our own success we should frequently examine what other successful people or companies are doing, no matter what field they’re in. Toyota’s success is legendary, and thanks to my nephew Danny who has visited the Toyota assembly plant in Georgetown, KY, I found out exactly why.

Toyota thinks of its employees as “team members” and actually involves them in the production process. Instead of simply treating employees as people who “put the car together”, they go a step beyond and encourage them to take an active role in the quality of the cars they’re making. Here’s how:

  1. The Power to Pull the Cord – Toyota calls it the “andon cord” and it’s the cornerstone of Toyota’s philosophy. Employees at Toyota treat the next person on the assembly line as their customer and as a result, they will not pass a defective part on to that person. If a person finds a problem with any part of the car they’re working on, they “pull the cord” and stop the line – so they can fix the problem before the car goes any farther down the line.

In the world of automotive manufacturing, stopping the assembly line is unheard of! You aren’t making money if the line isn’t moving. When quantity is the goal then employees don’t want to find problems, they want to get as many cars down the line as possible, no matter what shape they’re in. But, when quality becomes the goal, then the power to “pull the cord” is essential.

Application to Softball – Within our softball world, we have this same choice on a daily basis…do we want quantity of reps, or do we want quality of performance? We’ll all say that of course we want quality, and yet too often at practice, we just pile reps on top of reps. That’s the car equivalent of speeding up the assembly line and simply running more cars down it. Sure, some of them are a mess, but for the most part, our cars are good. So what if you changed the way you do things and made quality your DNA. What if you gave your players the power to “pull the cord” – or “stop the drill”. Instead of passing a bad play on to their teammate, they could actually have the freedom to stop the play, correct the problem and then resume! That’s pretty powerful stuff, right?! Sure, you might get off schedule – but, would you? Is your goal at practice to be efficient or to be successful…think about it.

  • 10 Spaces – Outside the assembly plant are 10 spaces. These are actual parking spaces like you’d see in a normal parking lot – except there’s nothing normal about these slots. After every vehicle goes through the assembly line they’re inspected by employees (remember, team members) who scrutinize it down to the last detail, including randomly sending some on to the test track for more testing.

If anything at all is wrong with any car, it’s assigned one of the “10 slots”. When all 10 slots are filled the entire plant shuts down until those problems can be identified and fixed. So not only can any employee stop the assembly line at any time within the assembly process, but the entire plant can then shut down once a car has been completed. Remember, stopping the line in car making is right up there with walking the lead-off hitter! It’s a no-no, and yet Toyota allows it to happen, even encourages it because of their belief in quality over quantity.

players power pull cord 10 slots spaces

Softball Application – We could easily apply the 10 slots approach into our practices. Maybe make it 5 slots – which means not only can any player stop the drill at any point, but after 5 slots have been filled (for whatever reason), we stop the drill, find the problem and fix it before resuming.

Now here’s the Key for Softball – we think we do both of these things now. We will stop a drill if it’s a mess, try to fix it and then resume, right? The difference is that “we” stop it, not the players. As coaches, we’re the Toyota equivalent of managers. Toyota doesn’t give the power of Pulling the Cord or the 10 Slots to the managers, there’s nothing empowering about that! They give their team members that power! The people actually doing the work, putting the cars together are the ones who know if something needs to be fixed before it’s passed down the line to their teammate. We need to give our players the power to stop the drill or fill up the 5 slots.

When the power comes from the team, then the team is powerful. But when the power comes from the coach, then the coach has all the power! Empower your team! Get your players together and discuss these concepts and let them decide how they’ll apply them within their practices.

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