How Teamwork Helps Ensure Success

Recently, I conducted an all-day seminar for one of my clients. The company is a small kitchen and bath dealership with revenues of $2 million in 2002; the firm has been in business 12 years and has six employees.

The owners said that they currently had the best group of employees they'd ever had experienced, hard-working individuals. However, there was a problem: The group was lacking a sense of teamwork. Everyone, including the owners (a husband and wife), did their own thing their own way.

Though this is a problem I've witnessed before, it's one that can be solved by employing a number of ideas to reinforce the notion that, in a small business, if everyone works together as a team, then each employee and the group (or team) will be better for the effort.

The need for a team
Teamwork can work wonders when it comes to pushing your company forward. A well-functioning team will make all of your employees feel more important and empowered. In addition, they'll develop an unusually strong and productive working relationship with their colleagues.

Building a team is a simple concept once you recognize that teams are made up of individuals with diverse skills and talents. Each team member will have a clearly-defined set of skills that needs to be identified and measured against the skills of other team members. Once each team member recognizes what he or she can best accomplish for the team, achieving the goal or objective becomes not only attainable, but also eagerly anticipated.

Managers and supervisors who direct and influence teams are encouraged to consider the diverse strengths of each participant. The team leader (boss) is responsible for tapping into the strengths and abilities of each team member and using those strengths to achieve an overall objective.

Team goals and objectives should be set by the team not merely dictated by the boss. This will generate more positive participation, as well as a conscious effort to achieve the goals that have been set.

Teams offer the company the opportunity to achieve results in a more efficient manner. Because teams are more flexible, they'll leverage resources more effectively and can respond more rapidly to constantly changing market conditions. Teams will also allow individual employees to learn from each other, thus increasing their competence and broadening their experience.

Let's paint a portrait of today's average kitchen and bath dealership. The business is 10 years old, the owner is a CKD/CBD and accounts for 60% of the company's $1.5 million in annual revenue. The owner/boss is very good at designing and selling, but falls short in the important areas of financial and human resource management due to time constraints.

The staff at this firm has grown to six employees. The main training experience has been OJT (on-the-job training). Each employee is pretty good in his or her own right, but there's no real teamwork. The "boss" either doesn't know how to build a team, or just has been too busy producing designs and sales.

But, now, the "boss" has decided that the firm needs to get more organized, more professional, more productive and, yes, more profitable. Building a team is how he or she wants to make this happen.

What follows are some of the questions and answers the "boss" may have:

1. Why should I develop a team?

Teams are a powerful management tool that you can use to strengthen your company. Teams have the potential to improve the speed and accuracy of setting goals and resolving problems. You can create an atmosphere that generates fewer mistakes and better customer service which, in turn, creates happier clients and employees.

2. What will be the greatest challenge I'll face in developing a team approach?
The greatest challenge will be the temptation to change the rules and expectations for performance once the team starts working. You cannot change the rules and still have a productive, efficient team. Only the team can change the rules.

3. What is the role of the company leader?

The "boss" must be able to identify and articulate the team objectives in a manner that will generate passion and commitment by the team members. The team leader should serve as the mentor and facilitator and will have to furnish the resources to allow the team to be successful.

4. Why is it important for the team to have guidelines for a communication strategy?

To insure optimum input and performance, each team member must feel comfortable working with other team members. Everyone must have a clear sense that ideas and comments will be received and heard in an open, responsive and respectful manner at all times. Doing weekly staff meetings at the same hour and same day each week, with an agenda that everyone contributes to, is a great format to get started.

5. What if there is conflict within the team?

If the conflict is personality-driven or because of petty jealousies, the boss will have to address these. If it's in some other area, then a difference of opinion or ideas demonstrates that the creative process of problem-solving is working. Team members should be comfortable challenging each other. The manager's job as facilitator is to maintain and encourage positive and respectful disagreement.

6. How do you assess the strengths and weaknesses of team members?

This is where clearly written and defined job descriptions for each team member are important. Couple this with twice-a-year formal job performance evaluations.

7. How do you establish team objectives?

Having clear, concise, measurable objectives is a key to team success. You should establish: (a) team, and individual, sales and profit goals; (b) customer service satisfaction goals; (c) training goals; (d) showroom presentation goals; (e) close ratio goals, and (f) any other goals that will be important to team and company success. All goals should be well defined, fair, achievable, consistent and rewardable (see example on Page 28).

Company employees who make up a team can be likened to a chain: the team, or chain, will only be as strong as its weakest link. And, a good "boss" will continually be striving to develop the strongest chain of employees possible.

Teamwork is fun and it's rewarding. Start putting it to work for you today.