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Art of Teamwork

Business leaders and managers define "teamwork" in many different ways these days, but one thing is for sure: however "teamwork" is defined, everyone wants it.

Whether we're talking about elaborate quality assurance teams, self-directed planning committees, or just good, old-fashioned team spirit, most business experts agree that people working together on teams can accomplish more than they can as individuals.

But how does a manager foster true teamwork in today's workplace — especially when team experience is lacking and money is tight? The answer lies in the L-I-G-H-T-E-R approach, seven qualities that contribute to a spirit of teamwork almost anywhere: Leadership, Interaction, Goals, Happiness, Techniques, Education, and Rewards.

Leadership — Teams need leaders but leaders don't have to be supervisors and, in many cases, are not. Whether selected by management or elected by peers, the best team leaders are highly respected employees, people who can foster enthusiasm among their co-workers.

At different times, many members of a team may take on leadership roles. One might serve as a timekeeper at meetings. Another might serve as a morale officer. Another might be an information expert or presenter.

By rotating leadership tasks, the team becomes unified. And what's the supervisor's role in all this? To provide training and guidance to team leaders, to help leaders develop their communication and facilitation skills, to offer a constant stream of ideas to team leaders, and to offer decision options to the team when it seems stuck.

Interaction — Successful team leaders foster the three C's: communication, collaboration and consensus. Building open communication means regular team meetings which, unlike traditional staff meetings, might be much more informal. It means sharing information, including traditionally confidential financial data.

Collaboration means that members of the team work on an equal footing with each other. On team-oriented projects, they may even work on an equal footing with supervisors. Team members look at managers as resource people and may consult them frequently about problems and team projects. In many team-oriented workplaces, leaders and supervisors remove doors or partitions, or make other physical changes in the workplace to symbolize a more open, collaborative work environment.

Consensus means that team members can negotiate with each other — and with non-team members — on schedules, plans and procedures.

Goals — Teams become successful when members understand and support the organization's goals. More important, team members commit themselves to ambitious goals and learn how to work together to achieve those goals.

This means that team members may participate in activities typically reserved for managers, such as brainstorming sessions and strategic planning sessions. It means that team members can — and should — be asked to "operationalize" goals. Turn them into highly specific, quantifiable profit, or work targets. Goals gradually become second nature to team members, and a source of motivation each and every day.

Happiness — The fact is, teams work best when satisfaction fills the workplace. On a day-to-day basis, this means that supervisors and team leaders foster opportunities for members to relax together, on and off the job. It means that leaders become acutely conscious of the aspirations and concerns of team members, and address them through regular coaching. It may often mean that team members take greater control of the workday, even introducing flexible scheduling options.

The result is usually an upbeat workplace where team members take an active interest in each other's needs.

Techniques — Teams don't develop in a vacuum. Strategic help from team leaders and supervisors is usually essential. To build teamwork, many leaders present teams with problems, not solutions, and gradually increase the team's problem-solving responsibility as their capabilities grow.

Many leaders involve team members in the hiring process, inviting members to question applicants toward the end of interviews or encouraging them to conduct tours of the workplace for prospective employees and team members. Other leaders schedule "team reporting" sessions when key business information is shared and discussed. Other leaders liberally distribute "permission" and "authorization" forms, which members can use to "approve" courses of action on their own, whether a leader is present or not. Leaders typically encourage team members to develop their own meeting agendas and conduct periodic evaluations of their work.

All of these techniques help teams build cohesion and a spirit of responsibility — and motivate them to set their sights toward ever-more ambitious agendas in the future.

Education — Teams and team leaders need education. It's the responsibility of the supervisor and team leader to arrange for training and guidance in a wide variety of areas, from quality assurance to brainstorming techniques, to meeting management skills, to interpersonal skills.

Education might consist of weekly seminars with guest speakers or talented team members, access to library materials, and occasional training seminars. It might mean a formal cross-training program, giving team members the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of each other's job. And finally, a good educational program might mean that each member of the team becomes "expert" in a particular area, and can be called upon regularly to share expertise with his or her peers.

Rewards — Just as everyone seeks some form of tangible benefit from their work, team members seek payoffs for their participation in committees or work groups. At times, the rewards for team participation are highly tangible: an annual bonus for team productivity, a stipend for participating on the team, or the opportunity for flexible schedules.

Other payoffs can be less tangible, however: public recognition for the team's work, the increased job security that arises when individuals perform essential tasks, the opportunity to engage in self-directed assignments. Once a system of simple team-based rewards is in place, the team's responsiveness and flexibility often increases.

Teamwork is common in businesses of every type and size, from huge multi-national corporations to corner stores. Whatever form it takes — from sophisticated quality circles to pitch-in-and-help special project groups — building a true spirit of teamwork requires a firm commitment on the part of leaders and a lot of patience as teams gradually come into their own. But the long-term results are worth it: highly motivated employees, a "self-starting" philosophy that permeates the entire enterprise, and new opportunities for profit.






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