Building a Great Business

(First published, August 2012)

How does one build a great business? Most people focus on the importance of satisfying customers. Some focus on satisfying employees. A few focus on satisfying shareholders.

These three important groups of stakeholders are interlinked to each other when it comes to building a great business. Typically, any action that satisfies one group will have positive impact on the other two groups also. Sometimes, however, an action that delights one group may actually clash with the needs of another group.


  • To explore the interrelationship among customers, employees, and shareholders.
  • To predict the impact of business-building activities among these three groups.


10 to 30, divided into teams of five.

Time Requirement

30 minutes

Supplies and Equipment

  • Flip chart and felt-tip markers
  • Pads of Post-It® notes
  • Timer
  • Whistle


Prepare a 3 x 3 grid. Draw the grid on a flip chart. Label the three columns customers, employees, and shareholders. Labels the three rows with the same words.

Organize participants into teams. Assign five members to each team. (It does not matter if some teams have one more or one fewer member.) Ask team members to sit around a table and introduce themselves to each other, if necessary.

Identify the three stakeholder groups. Explain that building a great company involves satisfying three important groups of people: customers, employees, and shareholders. Briefly explain who the members of these three groups are. Point out that it is possible for the same person to belong to more than one group.

Explain what goes in the grid. Point out that the grid has the same labels for the columns and rows. Point to the three boxes along diagonal line from the top left to the bottom right. These boxes have the same label for both the column and the row. (The other six boxes have different labels for the column and the row.)

Explain what goes in the diagonal boxes. Tell participants that they will place ideas for satisfying members of each of the three groups in each box. Point to the top-left box and write, “Manufacture high-quality products” as an example of what goes in this box.

Explain what goes in the boxes above the diagonal. Point out that sometimes actions that satisfy one group may also satisfy another group. Point to the three boxes above the diagonal. Tell participants that they will place ideas for mutually satisfying the two groups associated with each box. Point to the top-right box (that belongs to the shareholder column and the customer row) and write, “Give discounts to frequent customers to gain their loyalty” as an example of a mutually satisfying idea. Explain that this action will please both the customers and the shareholders because loyal customers buy more products.

Explain what goes in the boxes below the diagonal. Point out that sometimes what satisfies one group may clash with the needs of another group. Point to the three boxes below the diagonal. Tell participants that they will place clashing ideas that may satisfy one group at the expense of the other. Point to the bottom-left box (that belongs to the customer column and the shareholder row), and write “Give excessive discounts to customers” as an example of a clashing idea. Explain that deep discounts may delight customers but may displease shareholders because profit margin will go down.

Explain the contest procedure. Distribute pads of Post-It® notepaper to each team. Tell all participants that they will have 10 minutes to write different items to be placed in the nine different boxes of the grid. Each piece of the sticky notepaper should contain only one item. A team may not write a second item for a box until they have written at least one item for each of the nine boxes. After the 10-minute interval, a judge will identify the best item in each box. The team that wrote the most “best” items will win the contest.

Pause for 10 minutes. Encourage teams to discuss various ideas, write each of them on a piece of sticky notepaper, and post it on the appropriate box of the grid.

Conclude the activity. At the end of 10 minutes, blow the whistle and ask teams to stop writing and finish posting their notes. Ask participants to review the ideas on various boxes in the grid. At the same time, ask the judge to review the items and select the best item from each box.

Announce the results. Ask the judge to read the best idea from each box. Ask each team to keep track of how many times its ideas were selected. At the end of the judge's announcements, identify the team with the highest number of selected ideas. Declare the team to be the winner and congratulate its members.

Debrief participants. Have a discussion about the relationship among the three groups of stakeholders and the impact of different activities on these groups. Ask participants for guidelines to increase mutually satisfying actions and reduce conflicting actions.