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 organizations.
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 mutually accountable.”
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.