Have A Problem To Solve? Try A Team Approach

Each day, companies are faced with all types of problems. Some need immediate attention and can be solved with the efforts of just one person.

Columns From: 2/1/2008 Modern Machine Shop,

Each day, companies are faced with all types of problems. Some need immediate attention and can be solved with the efforts of just one person. However, some problems are more complex and recur on a regular basis. For problems such as these, a team of people may be a better approach.

Teams have proven to be highly effective in tackling a vast array of issues. A team can best be described as a relatively small group of individuals who possess complementary skills and are put together for a clearly defined purpose. The rationale behind a team approach is that skills not found in one person can probably be found in a group of people. This concept, often described as synergy or “the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts,” has proven to be truer today than at any time in the past. One expression that reinforces this belief is, “None of us are as good as all of us.”

So, if we choose to employ a team approach to solving a particular problem or addressing a specific issue, it is important that we understand what is required to help this team achieve success. The following are some of the requirements:

  1. A clear scope or purpose. How many times have we found ourselves involved with a team without really understanding what the team is supposed to be doing? A clear scope or well-defined purpose is an essential element to team effectiveness. It serves to eliminate confusion and ensures that all members are on the same starting page. The team scope should include the reason for forming the team, desired objectives and some indication of the anticipated timeframe required to complete the task. The scope should be a formal document that the team can reference at any time.
  2. Team ground rules. Ground rules are procedures or expectations of behavior that the team adopts to enhance effectiveness. It is important that the team develop and reinforce its own ground rules. They may vary from team to team, but some basic rules include starting and ending meetings on time, criticizing ideas instead of people, showing respect for everyone on the team, keeping commitments, sticking to the subjects at hand and reaching decisions through consensus.
  3. Win/win thinking. From the start, everyone on the team must believe they can be successful. Anything less, even by just a few members, can hinder team performance. The team that does not believe it will succeed will not. On the other hand, a “failure is not an option” belief will more likely yield a favorable team outcome. Early team thinking is often a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  4. Everyone on the team is responsible for success or failure. It is important for everyone on the team to recognize they share equally in accomplishments or failures. It is not the team leader who has sole responsibility, although there are times when team members may believe this and begin the dreaded “blame game.” Shared responsibility in the outcome creates a sense of ownership, something that is critical to team dynamics and success.
  5. Periodic assessment of team performance. A team needs to critically assess how it is performing on a regular basis. Whether this assessment is a simple end-of-meeting question such as “How did we do today?” or a more formal review of where the team is in relation to where it should be, an open and honest performance evaluation is needed. Where areas for improvement are identified, members must show a commitment to those improvements. The philosophy of continuous improvement must be as much a part of any team as it is a part of a company’s mission. Referring back to the team scope is a necessary part of a team assessment. Sometimes, an honest assessment of team performance will yield surprising results that may require changing team ground rules or even team composition. Yet, it is better to discover and correct problems early than allow them to cause the team to fail.

There is no doubt that a cross-functional team of individuals can accomplish a great deal. The key is to select the right group of individuals and to ensure clarity about the team’s purpose and expected results. Think about an ongoing problem or issue in your company, and put a team together. In all likelihood, the results will be far superior to anything that can be achieved by any one person.

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