If You Want Teams to Work, You Need to Work Your Teams

Article originally published in

By Nancy Keny

I find I’m often asked to assist in the formation and facilitation of work teams. Certain principles are the foundation from which many thriving teams come.

What makes Honda of America and other companies so successful, says Tom Crawford, Assistant Manager for Honda of America, “Having a good plan, team work and lots of follow-up and monitoring so that corrective measures can be taken if need be.”

“But this is only the structure of success. Taking the time to understand ‘Who is the customer?’ and ‘What is their expectation?’ is crucial to a company’s long term viability. Often, companies forget that there are many customers along the route to the final customer. Although they may satisfy the customer who buys the end product, frequently the internal customer is forgotten or neglected.”

What this can do, says Crawford “is hurt a company’s morale, evaporate the team spirit and hinder long term success.”

How do you develop a fully functioning, efficient and productive team that ultimately translates into a successful organization such as Honda of America? By starting with the fundamental steps.

Step 1

The first step in developing your team is to define what “Team” means to your specific group. Webster’s defines Team as “a number of people organized for a game or work.” That really says nothing at all. It also defines it as “draft animals harnessed together”. Now that’s a definition! Each person will have their own idea of what “Team” means to them.

Take a poll of what each member’s definition is and write a collaborative team definition. This will be your mission statement as well. You always want to make sure that everyone starts on the same page.

Step 2

The next step is to define your team’s role within the organization. Be very specific. Most often, team members are a little uncertain about their role. With a sense of purpose comes increased productivity and cohesiveness within the group.

Answer the question: “What is our purpose?” Is it to set department goals, global goals, resolve conflict within departments, increase sales, increase production, decrease expenditures, choose office furniture, decide where the next company picnic will be? Be very specific!

Each Team will have their unique role to play. Once again make sure everyone is on the same page and going in the same direction. Don’t let your team flounder aimlessly let alone needlessly.

Step 3

Now that you know the role of the team as a whole, make a list of the specific strengths needed to carry out the team’s mission.

Do you need an individual with exceptional time-management and organizational skills to keep the group on task? What about big picture thinkers who will think of new and creative ways of solving problems? What about knowledge of different areas of operations such as finance, computer systems or employee relations?

Once you decide what is needed to be successful, find out who possesses these strengths and the best way to tap into or add them to the team. Everyone brings something unique to the group.

Step 4

Tackle team issues and obstacles which are getting in the way of productivity and communication as they occur. Don’t be hesitant about taking the necessary actions to correct them. Having routine open and candid discussions regarding blind spots or issues will only strengthen not stagnate your team.

Step 5

Next, decide on a consistent format for your team meetings and a decision making process that will facilitate the accomplishment of your goals. Frustration often comes when meetings are disorganized, decisions are tabled and progress is impeded.

Step 6

Once decisions are made, an accountability strategy must be in place to ensure that goals are followed through.

This includes the specifics of who will do what, by when and to whom they will report when the task or action is accomplished. A notebook sectioned off for each meeting with the agenda and a list of the above information will make accountability easier to track on a weekly basis.

Step 7

The most important step for creating a successful team is the ability to create a safe and respectful environment for individuals to take risks, participate and feel that they have made a positive contribution.

Says Crawford, “Having mutual respect for individuals and their ideas, such as new ways of improving and doing business, leads to success in the workplace.”

When people matter in the workplace, enjoy a good working environment and philosophy, then often their community and personal life are positively affected.”

Now is the time to re-evaluate your organizational teams and take the fundamental steps to create fully functioning, productive and positive influences within your organization. Otherwise, you have just a bunch of draft animals harnessed together.

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