Ever played one of those educational survivor games? They typically have you shipwrecked or surviving a plane crash with a group of individuals and what appears to be a random collection of salvageable items. You have to rank the usefulness of those items in helping the group survive. You do your own evaluation first, and then you work as part of a small group, which ranks items after considering all opinions.

Aside from survival tips, what you learn is that "group think" surpasses individual brainpower almost every time. About 80% to 90% of groups get a score higher than that of any individual in the group. On those occasions when an individual scores higher than the group, it usually signals that the group leader failed to get everyone's input.

Lesson for remodelers

So why don't remodeling company owners share their challenges with staff? Why don't we get everyone in the company working on how to achieve a 40% gross profit? Or figuring out a plan to sell and produce $750,000 this year? Or creating a system to streamline the sales-to-production hand-off?

This openness does come naturally to some. But for most remodelers, it's scary. They're used to running around like the Little Red Hen, doing everything for the company. They hide their financial reports, certain their 3% net will cause a revolt among employees.

Even more prevalent is the notion that when there's a system needed, or a checklist, or a list of core values, the simplest, quickest, and most efficient way to produce it is for the owner to do it himself.

And maybe it is. Initially. But how then do you sell that system or checklist to your staff? You created it, but they don't "own" it. There's no buy-in. Once introduced, there may be argument and resistance. The time saved on the front end will likely be lost in the implementation. In fact, it's a prescription for overall failure.

If we look at the entire process of devising a solution, applying it, improving it, and making it a habit, the simplest, quickest, most efficient way to succeed is to involve everyone from the start. Not only that, but -- as survivor games demonstrate -- the group is likely to come up with a better solution.

Success is always messy

Group think is not neat and tidy. Democracy takes longer. Survival games demonstrate just how consensus operates -- that is, how a group of people with varying opinions gets to a final decision. It's like a jury: There is usually a prevailing opinion, and less enthusiastic members need to agree they can live with it.

These games also teach the importance of developing the right strategy before you start answering what you think the question is. How those salvage items are ranked, for instance, depends entirely on whether the group decides its best survival strategy is sending the two hardiest members for help, or sticking together and waiting to be discovered, or taking off together to seek help. If half the members are thinking one solution and the others are envisioning another, we know we'll have dissension because we haven't decided our basic strategy yet.

Sit back and relax

I haven't even mentioned one of the biggest benefits of group participation. It frees you up as owner. Imagine you're preparing your company for your four-week trip to Fiji. By the time you leave, you know they'll be equipped to handle the toughest problems together.

So start planning which bathing suit you're going to pack. Share the good, the bad, and the ugly with your staff, and stand back and prepare to be surprised by just how well they do. --Linda Case, CRA, is founder of Remodelers Advantage Inc. in Fulton, Md., a company providing business solutions through a network of experts and peers. (301) 490-5620; linda@remodelersadvantage.com; www.remodelersadvantage.com.