Vice President of Customer Support-Employer Solutions at Sage Software, Inc.
Empowered teams, self-managed work teams, project teams … the list could go on forever. Over the years the trend in teamwork theories seems to have changed as often as the seasons. No matter the gimmick, successful teams have two major characteristics – a common goal and management commitment. Success in teams that have these attributes can easily be measured in their productivity increases.
Team creation presents a challenge for leadership because there are so many ways to segment a group into teams. While some would say it is useful to focus only on products, job titles, or work shifts, most have found this does very little for increasing productivity. Consider varying the experience and knowledge levels of the individuals and focusing the team on one common goal. This will produce exciting team dynamics and allow participants to focus on the goal, not on just their specific knowledge base. When you measure the difference between individual and team success, teams are always overwhelmingly more productive. The key is selecting members that complement each other in personality, skill, experience, and others.
Once teams are formed and productivity is on the rise a structure must be employed to promote this behavior. A common mistake made by managers and human resource management professionals is to implement a team structure yet continue to use their current individual performance system. If you want team performance you must reward as a team not as individuals. It is necessary that a consistent message in structure and rewards be created. Members of the team should understand that rewards are given to them based on success of the team rather than individuals. The team must be a component to an already existing incentive program and must be integrated with all other metrics and goals. A common method is cascading; department goals relate to organizational goals, team goals relate to department goals, and individual goals relate to team goals. With this method the individual sees how their contributions can impact the organization in both positive and negative ways.
Now that the structure is in place, it is time to sit back and watch the team work. This is probably the most difficult time for a manager as one lets go and lets the team make the decisions whether right or wrong. Many first time team managers tend to step in and interfere prematurely. The dynamics of well-organized teams may take time to develop but the confrontations and issues are learning experiences and part of a growing period. Not allowing the team to work out their own issues creates an environment where the team will not succeed because the message is clear that the manager is still in control of the decisions.
In a recent process re-engineering project here at Sage team development was the key to success; management saw increases in overall productivity and improvement in the work relationships between individuals. Our human resource manager said, “Not only did our overall processes improve, but I began dealing with less employee conflicts. The number of people in my office with questions or issues has been substantially reduced. Also, the slight competition amongst the teams and the peer pressure it created has drastically improved individual employee performance.”
Developing a team strategy is challenging, but it will return your investment quickly. Effective teams not only increase performance but can also make the manager’s job a little easier. Remember, the key ingredients to successful teams are a common goal and commitment from management.