This morning you arrived at work early to check on a special project. As you enter the building you hear excited voices coming down the hall. As you walk through the office door, Mary, your Sales Manager, notices the surprised expression on your face. She says, “Hi boss! I took care of that project you gave me yesterday and it is running great. We will exceed our sales goals again this year!”
You see your staff huddled around a table working on the new proposal to improve customer service. They came in ahead of time to work on the project. Ceiling lights illuminate the charts and graphs showing progress made.
There are no walls or barriers separating your team from each other. The
room is full of energy, a charged, innovative environment of motivated team
members. They are proud of themselves and their accomplishments. Is this
a dream? Or is this for real?
The advantages of having people work together as teams still remain a
critical element in building a positive work environment and high job
satisfaction. In a rapidly changing world that values technology, speed,
and flexibility, teamwork unites individual efforts and is key for success,
innovation, and creativity.
Teamwork has improved morale, reduced costs, and dramatically enhanced
productivity in businesses. William J. O’Brian, the former CEO of Hanover
Insurance Company said many years ago, “The fundamental movement in
business in the next 25 years will be in dispersing of power, to give
meaning and fulfillment to employees in a way that avoids chaos and
disorder.” Teamwork is still a major ingredient in high performing
Teams can decrease the need for excessive layers of middle managers and
supervisors. Aetna Life & Casualty reduced the ratio between workers and
middle management from one supervisor to seven workers up to one supervisor
to thirty workers, while improving customer service. At a General Mills’
plant in Lodi, California, productivity escalated to 40 percent above
comparable plants because of teams.
However, many businesses do a poor job building teamwork. I have visited
organizations where open conflict existed between individuals and
departments. Imagine working for a company where individuals do their best
to sabotage each other’s efforts. According to the website Mediate.com,
managers spend 30% of their time dealing with conflict. How long can a
business stay viable when people refuse to work together?
Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith, in their book, The Wisdom of Teams,
provide an excellent definition of a team. They say, “A team is a small
number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common
purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves
In their book, the authors talk about the following successful criteria in
high performing teams.
Complementary Skills. Each person on a team possesses a particular skill or
talent. When blended, these talents and skills improve the capability of
the team. In a high performing team, members can perform each other’s job.
Committed People. Teams reach maximum performance when they are committed
to each other and trust management. Personalities and human dynamics are
critical to team success. Until team members trust one other, and
understand each other’s personalities and individual work styles,
commitment to the project is difficult.
Common Purpose. Most teams work on a particular project, task, or specific
type of work. Committees are not teams. The most effective teams are ones
that have a written charter outlining a clear goal, purpose, and mission.
Common Approach. You can’t throw some people into a room and expect them to
become an effective and productive team. Not having a structured way of
doing work is one major reason teams fail. For example, project teams
should follow a standardized methodology for solving problems, designing a
new service, and/or improving a process. Initially, teams require
training, mentoring, and coaching.
Greg Smith is a nationally recognized speaker, author, and business performance consultant. He has written numerous books and featured on television programs such as Bloomberg News, PBS television, and in publications including Business Week, Kiplingers, President and CEO, and the Christian Science Monitor. He is the President of a management-consulting firm, Chart Your Course International, located in Atlanta, Georgia. Phone him at 770-860-9464.