Put Me In, Coach

Many companies in manufacturing today have organized themselves into working teams. Managers have become coaches, while workers have become players.

Columns From: 3/1/2000 Modern Machine Shop, ,

Many companies in manufacturing today have organized themselves into working teams. Managers have become coaches, while workers have become players. Collectively, the team must score for the enterprise to win.

Points in this game are represented by profits. The offensive plays are designed to deliver first-to-market innovation, compressed throughput cycles, agility and continuous productivity gains, to name a few. Defensively, it's about recognizing market trends, new materials and technologies that can impact the game plan. Companies that consistently score points win the game.

Most of us have some sense about how the team analogy relates to the workplace. Moreover, most of us also understand that having a team that looks good on paper is no hedge against an upset. Even if the game plan is sound and the offense and defense can run the plays in their sleep, sometimes the better team gets beat. The reality of sports and often business is that victory can transcend the collective efforts of the team and the best plans of the coach. In many cases, the margin of victory hinges on above average performances from individuals.

Smart coaches know this. They understand the strengths and weaknesses of their players as individuals and collectively in the team environment. The coach knows, for example, who will tend to pull up and shoot the 10-foot jumper and who will try to dish the ball to the big guy underneath. A smart coach knows which lineup is better at running the court and which is stronger in the half court game.

Both sports and business are dynamic. Flexibility and rapid response to situations is paramount to success. It's a pretty poor coach who stubbornly sticks to a game plan when it's not working. The smart coach has plans B through D ready to roll out. Business managers need to be as adroit. You've got to recognize early which operator can work overtime to finish a hot job. Who is your best lathe person so the critical tolerance shaft gets turned to spec the first time? Will your machining center operator ask for help if he or she gets into trouble on a job or try to go it alone?

Managers need to understand that team is a collective noun meaning individuals working to a common purpose. Key to understanding teams is understanding individuals. Like the coach, managers need to know their players' individual strengths, weaknesses and tendencies. How the manager stacks the lineup for a given task can greatly affect how many points the team scores.

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