The train story – Ronnie’s wisdom on how to unite a team and create a culture

Ronnie Altit is a colleague of mine through the CEO Institute and co-founder and Managing director of Insentra, a channel focussed specialist IT Services company. He recently picked up highly commended in the category of ‘Personal innovation – Leadership’ category at the ARN awards and rightly so.

His award was based around the extraordinary culture, staff retention and team spirit at Insentra. His success is based on an analogy of what it’s like to run a business and build a culture. I think it’s priceless. I’ve taken the liberty of transcribing Ronnie’s vision and embellishing it with some of my own experiences and thoughts. What do you think?

Ronnie explains, “Running a business is like running a steam train. We think of Insentra as a steam train. I, as MD, am the driver. The train has cost a lot to set up. The enclosure, rent, maintenance, the price of coal. The train is shiny and new, we are full of pride and hope and we are under pressure to keep it moving and get to our destination successfully. I have a dream. But the train can’t run on its own.

I have invited every member of the Insentra team to get on board and shovel coal into the fire to help the train move forward. They could work on any train. They’ve chosen to be on the Insentra train – ours.

Every now and again the train is going to need to climb a hill… that’s when the company gets really busy. At this time, everyone will need to shovel coal together and a lot harder, to help the train get to the top of the hill. That includes me, as the driver.

Through this process it is going to get hot, dirty and messy. People will probably tread on each-others toes and maybe even accidentally hit the other with a shovel… all in the name of trying to get that train up the hill. We are head down shovelling coal. We’ve got to get over that hill or we get stuck. And there are other trains coming up behind us. There is only one track.

The hill will then be conquered. We physically straighten up and take a moment to enjoy the view and then we will downhill coast for a period. At that point everyone will be able to take a breath and prepare for the next hill. Then the train will pull into the station.

At this point, more people may be taken aboard to deal with the track ahead and those who don’t want to shovel coal on the Insentra train have the opportunity to get off. The new people shovelling coal will need to be trained in how to shovel coal the way we do it, which will allow the longer term coal movers to step up and develop the new, more junior team. And so it continues.

The team are also aware that if they become undecided and have one foot on the train and one foot on the platform, or hanging off above the track precariously, the train driver and his engineers (the management team) want to know and want to rectify any issues preventing them from staying on the train.

If they have outgrown the train, the driver and engineers will assist them in finding a new train more suited.

For those who want to stay and love it on the train, we will work hard to train and expand their horizons, so that when they meet their destination, they are able to make a new start from a higher view point. That’s what we love best, when our coal shovellers start to live their dreams – on us.

Ronnie explains, “Our staff love the train story. They all feel a part of the same machine travelling on a railroad which ensures all of them are taken together, on a journey, along the same track, knowing that each of them individually and jointly are what makes the train move. The better they work together, the better the train will stick to its timetable and reach the destination”.

In my own experience, running your own business is a brave, tough journey, but if your team are all on the same journey, united on the same train, we can all get to where we want to, as a team.

Ronnie’s vision rang true for our CEO Institute syndicate and we all took away something for our own teams. Maybe share this with your team. I’m spreading the stream train story.

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