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Don Yaeger: How Little Details Can Solve Big Challenges

Try to dissect why a great team wins a championship and you’ll quickly see it’s all about the moving parts. Can the offense use speed and timing to score frequently? Can the defense make the necessary adjustments to get the job done? Can every player on the team remember their own responsibilities and execute their tasks when needed? It’s fascinating to see how independent assignments can influence the collective success or failure of the team.

This month, a lot of national attention was placed on a plaque inside the football locker room at the University of Notre Dame that insinuated an easy return trip to college football’s BCS National Championship game. But I will tell you there’s another sign in the Fighting Irish locker room worth examining.

There is a poster that instructs players specifically how to keep their respective areas. It includes a detailed description of where the cleats should be placed, how the knee and ankle braces should be hung, and even where the practice jersey should drape within the locker. Each player is required to consistently arrange his locker as diagramed on the poster.

For me, the significance of this poster is an absolute of how great teams and successful businesses are able to take the step from good to great; they simply pay attention to the little details. 

By establishing such a thorough locker room protocol, the Notre Dame players have taken a few minor decisions off the board. The time wasted trying to find equipment needed for success can now be used for bigger tasks and making decisions that could prove pivotal in achieving greatness.

By instilling such a simple yet detail-oriented procedure, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly was able to make it easier for his players to do what’s expected of them. He was able to unlock more time for his team to focus on being better players. He was able to build a structure that showcased unity, discipline and an attention to detail.

What if an assembly line at an automobile plant didn’t have a well-devised procedure? What if the nuts & bolts worker wasn’t as efficient at following protocol as the wheels and tires guy? The overall product is still viewed as faulty, regardless of which moving part actually failed during the assembly.

Every successful business has moving parts. The Great ones understand that their final product relies heavily on the attention to detail at the beginning stages. By creating a simplified procedure, great leaders emphasize that the little things are just as important to the overall success as the bigger items. Once that becomes part of the culture, it makes working on the bigger tasks much more effective.

What routine do you follow consistently that adds value to your own productivity? What little detail can you tackle today that could make your bigger challenges run more smoothly?

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