Ten Money Questions: Brian Cole Miller
Brian Cole Miller is the founder of Working Solutions (Workingsolutionsonline.com), a consulting firm that helps leaders build effective, successful teams. He has worked with all kinds of teams in many different types of organizations. Miller is the author of five books. His latest books is called Nice Teams Finish Last, which argues that when teams try to play nice, they are actually undermining themselves. I caught up with Brian to ask him Ten Money Questions.
1. What inspired you to write Nice Teams Finish Last?
The fact that so many teams are too darn nice. On the surface people get along. Team meetings seem blah. Decisions are made rather quickly. Disagreements are rare and/or short-lived. They keep up this illusion of “teamwork.” But in reality, it’s anything but a well-functioning team. People don’t give each other honest feedback (for fear of hurting feelings), so they talk about each other behind their backs. They don’t ask for what they need (so as not to seem too aggressive) so they create work-arounds to avoid difficult situations or people. They don’t disagree with each other openly about ideas or approaches (for fear of creating conflict) so they agree passively, and then (at best) mildly support the mediocre decisions, or (at worst) sabotage the decisions. All this in the name of being nice. Too many teams suffer from too much “nice.” Decisions are made, but then have to be revisited because they didn’t have the honest exchange of different opinions to make the BEST decision. Processes are created to work around conflict or difficult people rather than deal with them directly and sensitively to RESOLVE things and become more efficient. I just figured someone needed to stand up and call out all this dysfunctional “nice” behavior that most people are misled into thinking is appropriate.
2. In your experience with Working Solutions, how important is team building to a company’s bottom line?
Vital. I wouldn’t be doing what I do if I felt otherwise. In today’s environment, technology and materials are pretty much universally available across the board. Everyone seems to agree that human capital is the only way to differentiate, the only want to excel. Well, the only way for humans (emphasis on the plural, there) to succeed together is to work as a team. Sadly, those team skills are rarely taught in school; rarely taught in the home, either. So my mission is to help develop those skills in teams anywhere and everywhere. My goal is to help an organization to learn how to team so well that they no longer need my help!
3. What’s your first significant memory related to money?
Allowance raise day at the Miller home. Despite not having much money at all, my parents felt it was important to teach my six siblings and myself the value of money very early. We each got a small allowance, commensurate with our ages. Every year in September, we had a family meeting where we were told what our new allowance would be. Sometimes allowances went up by a nickel, sometimes a dime, but sometimes just a few pennies. I would then plan out the new stuff I could buy with all that extra dough! Truth be told, though, I rarely followed through with those fun plans. I was a saver from day one. So most of the raise was put into my piggy bank for Christmas presents I’d have to buy in a few months, or to save up for something extra special for myself.
4. How does money play a role in your relationships, romantic or otherwise?
My partner and I don’t blend our money completely, but we also don’t keep it separate either. He has his income; I have mine. He pays some bills; I pay others. Self-employed, my income fluctuates dramatically. So sometimes he pays some of my bills; and sometimes I pay for a new furnace or fun vacation. We relied on his steady salary to help us save for our retirements as well as for the kids’ college (we are raising all three of my kids—I’m widowed).
5. What is your worst habit around finances?
Not balancing my checkbook. I haven’t done that in over 10 years! If the bank says I have so much, I assume I do and trust them. Who knows if they’ve cheated me out of any money over the years?! I’ve been burned a few times—assuming certain checks have cleared and then overdrew my account when that late hitting check finally cleared. Ugh! The embarrassment of bouncing a check was almost worse than the fees that accumulated all over the place!
6. What is one personal finance habit you’ve adopted that has done you well?
SAVE! I’ve saved well since I was getting allowance at age 5, and doing a paper route shortly thereafter. Even when I was working my way through college, and every penny seemed to be necessary for expenses, I saved. After college, when money was tight for living in an expensive area (San Francisco), I saved. Our first kid was born and still I saved. This is the only way we were able to afford a house in the Bay Area. It’s the only way I’ve been able to help put my kids through college (although I’ve also insisted they pay one-third). And it’s the only way I’m confident retirement will be good.
7. What sort of financial risks did you take to start your business?
Luckily, very few. As a consultant, the start up costs are minimal. Thousands of dollars, not tens or even hundreds of thousands. I’m so incredibly debt-averse, personally, I’d never be able to borrow to start some kind of business (and I admire those willing to take that risk!). All of my start up money (as well the keep-myself-afloat-during-down-times money) has been out of my savings account, not from the bank.
8. What advice would you give to other writers about promoting their work?
Don’t depend on the publisher to do all the work! Most publishers will work to promote you, but you’re not their only author. Be willing to write free articles for magazines, give free speeches at conferences, etc. Also, a good title goes a long way towards gaining the attention your work needs to even get noticed. I could have named my book “How to Help Your Team Succeed,” but who would be interested in that? “Nice Teams Finish Last?” Now that title makes you wonder: what the…???
9. How did you develop your business and financial sense? Did you have a mentor of sorts, or learn through experience?
I learned mostly through experience. In hindsight, I would get a mentor, too. Back then, I was too arrogant to think I needed one. I was lucky moreso than skilled, though—I see that now!
10. When you’re not busy coaching team leaders and promoting your book, what are some of your favorite ways to unwind?
I love to create games. I started doing this with my siblings when I was young. Then, when I was out of college, I created games and activities for my single adult youth group. Now, I do it for a living, and even when I’m not working, I’m still mulling over team-building game ideas in my head for my next gig. I don’t just use games, of course, but I do use them whenever/wherever appropriate. Outside of work, my partner and I love to travel. Anywhere and everywhere! I also love to cook/bake. If it has chocolate in it, I wanna bake it. If it’s a salsa, I wanna make it!