The Team-Building Tool Kit
Tips and Tactics for Effective Workplace Teams
Author: Deborah Mackin
Pub Date: August 2007
Print Edition: $17.95
Print ISBN: 9780814474396
Page Count: 240
Format: Paper or Softback
Edition: Second Edition
e-Book ISBN: 9780814409657
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1 C H A P T E R
THE US E OF TEAMS as an organizational strategy to engage employees
and improve productivity is now more than three decades old.
In the early 1970s, the leadership of Gaines, a Topeka pet food plant,
launched a novel experiment to transform its workplace into selfdirected
and cross-functional work teams when no one else was doing
it.1 The increases in productivity at Gaines caught the eye of other
organizations and the rest, as they say, is history. Today, although many
organizations have implemented components of teaming, they have yet
to realize the full range of possible benefits. Some have simply changed
the language they use, calling supervisors ‘‘coaches’’ and group leaders
‘‘team leaders,’’ with no real change in structure or empowerment.
Others do teaming when everything is okay and then revert to a traditional,
top-down model when demands increase, or they don’t get the
quick results they need. These are only superficial attempts at teaming.
In this book, we show you how to develop ‘‘real’’ teams—teams that
look different from what you might have seen before.
Developing teams begins with leadership systematically providing
• Assurance of job stability (not security) for people who actively
participate in the transition, especially as their old jobs
• Time for teams to meet regularly
• Rewards for both team and individual achievement of goals
• Clear statements of dissatisfaction with status quo—‘‘the
way we’ve always done it’’
• A compelling vision that grabs people’s imagination
• Carefully delegated authority and responsibility in a way
that makes people believe they will be successful
• Movement from individual to team decision making
• Feedback and performance measures on an ongoing basis
• Opportunities to benchmark with others who have been
successful in their teaming efforts
• A strong commitment to stick with teaming through the
‘‘muck in the middle’’
Team building begins with a clear decision by leadership to encourage,
and even to require, employees to operate in teams. Leadership
must recognize that teaming is a cultural change that will include:
1. Developing awareness of teams as both a tool and a culture
2. Acquiring knowledge and understanding about how teams
3. Learning skills to perform new teaming behaviors
4. Internalizing attitudes and beliefs so that teaming becomes
a way of life
The role of leadership is critical through each of these steps. Lack of
leadership support remains the number one cause of team failure.
Leadership at all levels must support team efforts openly and without
reservation if it expects teams to succeed. Yet managers and supervisors
sometimes feel threatened and may even take credit away from
their teams when improvements are made. They often fail to realize
that their own involvement in team activities will promote trust and
cooperation between them and their subordinates and will enhance
their own reputation as effective managers.2
Typically, we have seen newly formed teams repeatedly look to
upper management to test the organization’s commitment to the new
team structure. Leaders must take special care to reiterate their belief
in the team’s future and to check critical offhand remarks or statements
of frustration. Leadership must also avoid the ‘‘on-again/offagain’’
syndrome, in which they value teams when everything is going
well but take time away from team meetings and team decision making
when pressures rise.
Leadership must also see teams not only as a ‘‘tool’’ but also as a
way of thinking and being. When teaming is marginalized to being
‘‘just a tool,’’ it becomes optional whether to pick up the tool or not.
In actuality, teaming is a cultural change in addition to being a tool;
in a team environment, we must change the way we think and approach
tasks. It is no longer ‘‘people watching people watching people.’’
There is a firm belief that every person at work is a responsible
adult, capable of thinking for himself or herself and making effective
decisions about his or her own work. When adults are encouraged to
use their knowledge, experience, and skill, a shift in attitude occurs
and something magical takes place.
Let’s look at the key benefits and drawbacks of teams:
• Improve productivity by 15 to 20 percent in six months, and
up to 30 percent in eighteen months.3
• Drive accountability and responsibility to all areas within
• Create a highly motivated environment and better work
• Share in the ownership and responsibility for tasks.
• Prompt a faster response to technological change.
• Result in fewer, simpler job classifications.
• Elicit a better response to the less formal values of a younger
generation of employees.
• Result in effective delegation of workload and increased
flexibility in task assignments.
• Improve buy-in and common commitment to goals and
• Encourage proactive and often innovative approaches to
• Improve the self-worth of the workforce, resulting in improved
• Increase four-way communication.
• Allow for greater skill development of staff; cross-training
in roles and responsibilities.
• Promote an earlier warning system for potential problems.
• Excite greater and faster interdepartmental interaction; reduced
• Result in more time for management to work on strategic
issues rather than day-to-day firefighting.
• Reduce absenteeism as well as the number of accidents and
• Improve housekeeping and efficiency.
• Require long-term investment of people, time, and energy.
• Appear confused, disorderly, and out of control at times.
• Can cause role confusion; members have difficulty leaving
‘‘hats’’ at the door.
• Are viewed negatively by ‘‘old school’’ people who like
order and control.
• Require one to three years to be fully implemented.
• Require people to change, especially managers, who must
learn to trust and let go.
Researchers have found that the effectiveness of teams is greatly
influenced by members’ attitudes about the organization. If team
members feel support and commitment from management, they will
exhibit high productivity. If team members are angry because of a lack
of organizational support, they will limit their efforts.4
Types of Teams
As an organization begins its team building efforts, one of the first
concerns it must resolve is what types of teams to create. The green
light for team building is typically a top-management decision. Some
organizations begin with high-level policy-making teams charged with
identifying broad concerns and setting goals, whereas others begin
with small departmental teams. Whether the impetus comes from a
company-wide policy review or from a departmental task force, teams
should be formed only when an achievable common goal can be identified.
The various types of teams are somewhat like the flowers in a
garden: All serve a particular purpose and have their own characteristics
and set of benefits.
• Identify major areas of organizational concern/opportunity;
articulate organizational needs.
• Develop philosophy, strategy, policies, and direction.
• Include members from various levels of the organization
and across functional areas.
• Require regular meetings and meet over extended periods
• Are sometimes called design teams or quality councils.
Task-Force or Cross-Functional Teams
• Include between eight and twelve members; membership
based on common purpose.
• Bring together individuals from multiple work areas at a
• Necessitate regular meetings over either a short or an extended
period of time.
• Implement a strategic plan for addressing problems/concerns/
opportunities; others may complete the implementation
of the plan.
• Assume investigative, corrective, interactive function.
• Are sometimes called steering teams, process improvement
teams, product launch teams, or Kaizen teams.
Improvement Teams (Functional or Value Stream)
• Include members of one department or one value stream.
• Focus on problem solving; identifying solutions.
• Restrict scope of activity to within departmental or value
• Hold regular meetings over a short period of time.
• Have a short life span.
Self-Directed Work Teams (Functional or Value Stream)
• Comprise an intact team of employees who work together
on an ongoing, day-to-day basis without direct supervision,
and who are responsible for a ‘‘whole’’ work process or segment.
• Assume ‘‘ownership’’ of product or service and are empowered
to share various supervisory and leadership functions.
• Are limited to a particular work unit, or in the case of value
stream teams, may cross over multiple functions within the
• Function semiautonomously; are responsible for controlling
the physical and functional boundaries of their work and for
delivering a specified quantity and quality of a product or
service within a specified time and at a defined cost.
• Are all cross-trained in a variety of work skills.
• Share and rotate leadership responsibilities; team members
have equal input in decisions.
• Accept the concept of multiskills and job rotation (except
for jobs requiring years of training and technical expertise).
• Work together to improve operations, handle day-to-day
problems, and plan and control work.
• Set own goals and inspect own work; often create own work
and vacation schedules and review performance as a team.
• May prepare own budgets and coordinate work with other
• Usually order materials, keep inventories, and deal with
• Are frequently responsible for acquiring new training and
maintaining on-the-job training.
• May hire own replacements and assume responsibility for
disciplining own members.
• Monitor and review overall process performance.
Most self-directed work teams gradually take on responsibility for
these tasks as they gain confidence in their own skills and are able to
redefine the role of the supervisor. The shift to self-direction represents
increasing accountability and responsibility for employees.
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