Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Value of Teams at Work

The Value of Teams at Work
And first a quote:
Teamwork is the ability to work as a group toward a common vision, even if that vision becomes blurry.
Author unknown
“Why use teams?” The use of teams in the work environment is definitely not a new concept. It still surprises me the extent of companies that do not utilize teams in many of the situations in which much value can be obtained. It is common sense (to me) that the combined brainpower of a work team made up of the right people will be many times more than that of any individual. This is true regardless of whether this person is the company President, Lead Engineer, Plant Manager or Quality Manager.
There is a simple team exercise that I use in some of the problem solving and refresher classes to illustrate this point. It consists of a box of numerous unrelated items (example – paper clips, thread taps, end mills, pencils, post-it pads, etc…) that is first shown to each individual where they record as many as they can remember after viewing the items. Next, I form “teams’ where they review each of the individual lists and compile a “team” total. In every instance of using this exercise the team always has a larger list. Why is this? It is because each of us have different backgrounds, knowledge, experiences, fields of study, etc… that allows us to recognize the items that fall within those boundaries. Others in the team have different experiences, backgrounds, etc…As a team however, we are able to capture all of these different experiences, backgrounds, knowledge, etc… and benefit from them. A very simple but great way to illustrate this point.

Potential Uses of Teams at Work:Below is a list of typical situations in the work environment that I believe the use of teams is justified and of great benefit:
a) Problem Solving
b) Advanced Quality Product Planning (APQP)
c) Planning a Quality System
d) Continuous Improvement Projects
e) Brainstorming Sessions
This list is not exclusive but just a starting point.

Why Teams Work So Well:Besides combining the total brainpower of the group, teams also satisfy many basic human needs.
a) Social Needs (Belonging) – the sense of belonging and being part of a larger group is filled when on a team that works well together. This is very similar to the reason that tribes have and are formed. The group is working towards a common goal (survival for example),
b) Esteem Needs – The feeling of having improved something in the work area, etc… is a great feeling of achievement. Many firms will openly post the achievements of teams as well which also falls into the area by rewarding those on the teams and reinforcing their use.
c) Self-Actualization – Solving problems is a natural human trait in my opinion.
d) Safety – Many times the teams may be fighting for the survival of the organization. Possibly solving a problem or issue that could result in the closure of the company, loss of a customer, etc… This is one of the more basic level needs of people which is to be employed, have a roof over your head, etc….

Infrastructure/ Support Systems/ Starting Steps:
Deciding to use teams in the work place is a decision that has to be made by management. The management team makes the commitment of freeing personnel from daily duties to participate on the team.

Most people do not naturally start out of the gate being able to work effectively and efficiently on a team. There are well known stages of teams that progress from the initial stages and continue until they are a well functioning team. These steps are as follows:
– Forming – early stages in which cohesiveness is not there yet.
– Storming – members are learning their roles and may be somewhat confrontational at times.
– Norming – members start to function as a team and work towards the goals of the team.
– Performing – members are versed in team dynamics, are achieving goals of team, operate smoothly.
Some things that a company can do to help alleviate the early stages of team ineffectiveness is training, assigning a good facilitator, providing clear goals, making sure that middle management, supervisors, etc… are supportive of their employees being empowered and willing to turn over some of that decision making authority.

Team Roles: Another important early step is to make sure that the team members know their roles and responsibilities in participating on the team. This can and should be covered in the preparatory training. I personally find it very beneficial to have a strong facilitator on the team, especially in the early stages of the team development. In the early stages the team members are normally more dependent on a facilitator to help keep the team process going, encourage input from everyone, keep the momentum positive, etc…
You will also need to make sure responsibilities for taking notes, action items, etc… are assigned and understood. I have seen a number of meeting where the meeting is held and there are no notes/ minutes taken and typically nothing comes out of it. Avoid this with careful planning.

Here is to improvement.