#449  from Innovative Leader Volume 9, Number 2          February 2000

Resuscitating Team Success
by Brad Humphrey and Jeff Stokes

Mr. Humphrey and Mr. Stokes, of Pinnacle Performance Group in Shawnee, KS (brad@pinnacle-performance.com), are authors of 21stcentury.team and Team Guides (Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer, San Francisco, CA, 1999).

A team, united by a common direction and given appropriate support, can provide great results. If teams can be so productive, then why have so many organizations seen so little positive results from their teams?  Frequently, organizations throw employees into a few hours of team training and then turn them free to do “team stuff.” No wonder such teams aren’t very effective.

Here are four significant strategies for team success: approach, deployment, improvement, and motivation.

Strategy #1: Approach

Before any preparation of work teams begins, a total assessment is needed of the organization’s mission, goals, strategic plans, commitment to employee involvement, etc. Teams must be cut from the same piece of cloth that other company priorities are cut. 

Teams require leadership skills. There must be total consensus if teams are going to become your firm’s future. While champions of teams are needed in the early start-up efforts, ultimately every company employee must think, talk, respond, and live teams.

Entertain just a few of the considerations:

• Do we have a business plan for the organization? Are we addressing five to ten years into the future?

• Would our customers/suppliers benefit from a team-based approach? What proof exists to support such benefits?

  How customer-centered are we? What proof do we have of such a commitment?

  How would work teams change our daily operations?

  Are we open to “opening our books” to our workforce?

  Who is going to champion teams? Do we need a steering team; who is on it; and what education will they need?

  Would our internal processes benefit from work teams? What proof exists?

  Is our company prepared to commit to five to ten years of change before we really see a different work environment?

  What level of education do our employees possess? What “basics” of education will we need to address first?

  What team structure will be best? (i.e., size, specialties/skills, cross-functional, leadership, etc.)

  Will work teams give us greater speed and flexibility? Quality? Customer awareness?

  What percent of our budget are we ready to commit to recreating our culture and work environment to suit a team-based work force?

Each consideration demands attention and discussion by senior leaders. There will be a great amount of time required to re-engineer your organization for teams. The costs for education and allowing people to “fail” in order to gain experience are also significant. Companies who choose not to address the considerations listed above will induce future team struggles, possibly even failure.

Components of Approach

  Evaluation of organization’s culture and future growth needs.

  Assessment of senior leader’s commitment to teams and teamwork.

  Appraisal of satisfaction and impact of teams upon customer relationships.

  Examination of internal processes and potential for greater employee interactions.

  Financial projections for total costs associated with change to team-based management.

  Development of a cross-level steering team to monitor deployment; assess needs of workforce; measure team growth; provide support to teams and to be a conduit between teams and senior leadership.

  Senior leaders and steering team to make site visits to other organizations engaged in moving to team-based work environments.

  Preparing new communication links within organization.

Strategy #2: Deployment

Deployment should only begin when the approach has clearly established the organization’s need for teams, confirmed the commitment from senior leadership, included teams as part of the strategic direction, and accounted for the financial investment that will be necessary.

Deployment is the preparation and implementation of the team culture. This strategy is the one most organizations would prefer doing first. Without exercising Strategy #1, however, the deployment will be a very costly experience.

There are several questions that should be considered:

  What mix of in-house training, computer-based training, videotape instruction, etc. is best avenue for learning?

  Do we have capable internal trainers and facilitators? If not, do we train internal people or consider outside experts?

  What work (production) schedule requirements must be maintained?

  What should the size of training classes be? Should they be mixed or should teams experience training together?

  When and where will training take place? Where will teams hold meetings, how often, and how long?

  What measurements will be used to track team performance?

  How will teams and individuals be assessed?

  What involvement will department and senior leadership have with training and team life?

  Who will we educate first? What assistance will be provided to supervisors?

  How will this new direction be unveiled? Who will provide direction?

Components of Deployment

  Selection of education topics and material for team instruction.

  Selection of external training resource or internal trainers.

  Rollout schedule of training and formalizing teams.

  Selection and training team sponsors.

  Establishment of team measurements.

  Presentation of the first ninety days for teams including meeting schedule and agendas.

Strategy #3: Improvement

Teams will stumble. The improvement strategy first recognizes needed adjustments for a successful team culture and then makes them.

Consider several improvement questions:

  Has formal training addressed our specific needs?

  What job skills do we need to move our team’s impact further?

  What resources are needed to make our teams more effective? What budget adjustments do we need to make?

  What stage of team growth are our teams experiencing? What will it take to move them forward?

  How effective do our teams address people and process problems?

  Is our communication system working? What future improvements will be needed?

  How accountable are our teams for performance results? Making improvements?

  Have our customer/supplier relationships improved? Do our teams have any measurable impact on these relationships?

  What involvement does senior leadership have within the team-based structure?

  Do we have improvements in our processes, “cycle time”, reduced steps, etc.?

  Are teams taking on responsibilities previously performed by supervisors and managers?

  What roles do our front-line leaders now fulfill?

  How are new employees being oriented about teams?

Components of Improvement

  Tracking team performance through measurements and accountability.

  Job skill assessment and identification of future skill training.

  Building greater team-to-customer involvement.

  Development of new employee orientation and training program.

  Establishment of regular team presentations.

  Realignment of the steering team and support roles of sponsors.

  Conducting a team and culture survey.

Strategy #4: Motivation

At the heart of any management approach is the spirit in which life is lived. That is, are those involved motivated to play the game by the rules? This fourth strategy is perhaps the strategy that most organizations are missing.

After the newness of teams rubs off and everyone has been educated, what keeps the fires burning? Motivation is the self-starting drive that must be present within the company’s culture. Senior leadership can establish accountability checks that serve to keep teams leaning into the wind. Some motivation will be impacted by pay, by recognition, by “ownership,” but the vast majority of motivation will still come from the individual who realizes the benefits of team life.

The following questions should be addressed:

  Is some form of team-based pay viable? Should teams participate in interviewing, hiring, counseling, and termination?

  What recognition options would generate more team success?

  What costs are associated with opening up our organization to others as a model of team-based life?

  What opportunities are there to increase team contact with customers and suppliers?

  What additional roles and responsibilities can be turned over to teams?

  Which employees would be interested in serving as a trainers or “consultants” to other teams?

Components of Motivation

  Compensation alternatives.

  Monetary and non-monetary recognition.

  Accountability checks for senior leaders, front line leadership, and teams.

  Creating greater understanding between people, teams, and customers.

  Creating ownership of tasks, roles, and responsibilities.

You’d be surprised at the impact, to your company and to the individuals involved, of  a good strategy for using teams.

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