Setting a Team for Success
Work groups are characterized by the least amount of interdependence. They are based on organizational or managerial hierarchy. Work groups may meet periodically to hear and share information.
Teams are highly interdependent - they plan work, solve problems, make decisions, and review progress in service of a specific project. Team members need one another to get work done.
Organsitions love to set up a 'team' to get things done, what they generally build are work teams and there is a subtle but important difference here, for the sack of this article we'll call them teams however.
When these groups are set up it's normally to try and solve a challenge that the company faces, to really drive focus. It could be an ad hoc team who will come together solve a big problem and then return to their normal jobs or it could be an on going team, irrespective they have similar challenges.
Interestingly there are normally a three things that the organsition does to undermine the teams and set them up for failure and it's entirely the down to the organsition's management not doing simple things that would ensure success. We'll use 2 teams as examples – a Continuous Improvement Team and a Health & Safety Committee / Team.
1. No Clear Purpose
In both of these team examples the same thing happens. The organisation decides to get a group of people together who they think will make a difference, it may be people that they have 'selected' or it may be volunteers who stepped forward at the thought of being able to make a difference.
At the first meeting they all pile into the room full of hope and excitement that they are about to kick into something that will help their colleagues and the organsition . In terms for a H&S team they tend then to get a list of accidents and hazards thrown at them to review and figure out what to do about now that the horse has bolted. The improvement team is almost identical, but they tend to be swamped with scrap records and low performance or low moral issues.
They get drowned in detail and told to figure a way out, is it any wonder that these teams are generally quite subdued and ineffective? They have no purpose other than critique what has happened.
2. No Money
When either of these teams do come up with an idea or a program they think would make a real difference the first thing that most hit is that they have no funds. No budget has been set up for this team to spend as they need to in order to improve things. Once the idea filters out of the team they have to go cap in hand to the various department managers to ask them to provide funding, some will some wont but as a general it's going to take a lot of effort to free up cash that wasn't budgeted for in anyone's budget. How motivating must that feel to those involved?
3. No Time
The last thing that organsiaitons forget about is that working on an improvement team or a health & safety team takes time. This is time that isn't spent doing their day to day job and so when a person joins a team they know going in that this is over and above getting their daily job done, there is going to be no additional time set aside for this work. The result of this is that often, things are promised in meetings and then not delivered because daily operational life has got in the way. The knock on that is a loss of trust in the team and delays in implementing any improvement of safety objective. The person who promised to do the task and didn't also doesn't feel very good about themselves after letting down the team and their colleagues. Another side effect is that initiatives take a factor of time longer, we're not talking about twice the amount of time they should, thing 5 to 10 times! Not the best endorsement for either style of team.
Fixing these things isn't actually that hard and just needs a little bit of effort from the leadership team of the organsiation to, well, show some leadership!
Any team need a few things to succeed, guess what they are:
- A Purpose – give the team a clear purpose, instead of asking your H&S team to review all the old stuff why not set them a definite project with a clear purpose of achieving a specific goal, it may be reducing injuries in your inwards goods linked to opening boxes with knifes, reduction in forklift incidents, reduction in manual handling issues or any number of things but it's a bout providing a very narrow and clear focus that they can get their teeth into.
- Funding – Give them a budget that they can spend with sign off authority to spend it without having to go and grovel to any manager, the chairperson of the team should be the final authority on the spending. Just think what that would mean? How would that help not just their self esteem but their ability to get things done?
- Time – Give them a specific amount of time on a weekly basis that can be ring fenced to work on the needs of this team. Time that cannot be stolen and usurped by anyone in the organsition with exception of the CEO. Think what that would mean, what signal would that send? The work this team is doing is really really important so let them get it done, think about the pace that this would give to the organsition and how quickly you could solve problems.
- The final element is support, these teams should be able top pull in support from around the organsition as needed to help them achieve their goals. This support should be seen as a valuable need of the organsition , it should be a key responsibility of every person in a leadership position to provide support to these types of teams as required.
If you want your improvement or health & safety teams to really succeed then you need to set them up for success, not failure. You need to give them only a few vital things, a clear purpose, funding, time and of course support. Given these key ingredients, there is nothing that these teams couldn't achieve for your organsiaiton.
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