There needs to be an “i” in team.
 
I get the emails. Chris! You’re conflicting with your own advice! You say foster teamwork and then you say teams don’t really work! Which is it????
 
Both.
 
The entire business is a team, right? It had better work. And by work I mean it had better make a profit. The goal of the team is to make a profit. Does your team know that? Or do think it’s something about providing world-class blah blah blah while adding value to your blah blah blah and treating all employees like blah blah blah.
 
There are teams within the big team. There is an accounting team. Some on that team collect money, some pay the bills. Some keep score. Common goal: keep track of the money.
 
There is a sales team. Some sell. Some manage the sellers. Some create selling ideas. Common goal: sell stuff.
 
Then we get trendy. Let’s form a team to figure out why we have so many production problems. After a few months, one of two things comes out of the team formed to solve the production problems. Hot air, blame, meaningless reports and some shallow suggestions for improvement. Or, nothing.
 
Why is this? The accounting team works. The sales team works. Even the production team works, they just have a few problems. Why doesn’t the group appointed to solve the production problems actually solve the production problems?
 
They weren’t set up to do so.
 
For a group to solve a problem you have to use each member’s strongest trait. By throwing a bunch of people together to solve a problem you get a lot of “white noise”. The engineering guy can’t think with the “gal” from shipping yacking her brains out. But the “gal” from shipping needs to think outloud to hear and validate her thoughts. The woman from customer service is a little nervous to say anything about all the complaints that come in about plastic parts breaking off so she stays quiet in hopes the subject will come up so she can agree. She likes to be agreeable. That’s probably why she’s in customer service. The guy from accounting is thinking about dating the “gal” from shipping.
 
All the meetings go this way until a leader emerges. The leader will pull this group in the direction she sees as necessary to solve the problem. She’ll put some concrete ideas on the table. The group will argue about them—except for the guy in accounting because he really doesn’t care about this dumb committee.
 
The group will either never come to agreement or they will present a mushy, watered-down band-aid for the problems. Clap, clap, clap. Nice job. Thank you for your service.
 
But teamwork does work! Right?!
 
Sure. But when you form a team to solve a problem you have to do it like this:
 
1. ONLY put talent on the team. Forget about position. Don’t EVER ask for volunteers. (Do you want a team of people who want to get out their regular work?)
2. At the first meeting make sure everyone understands the goal. Talk only about the problem and the goals. Do not discuss solutions.
3. Ask people to think about the problem and what part they would like to look at more closely. They can tell you that at the NEXT meeting.
4. Meeting two. People decide what part of the problem they will look at. Several members can be on the same problem—that doesn’t matter. Their initial goal is discovery. They work individually.
5. Meeting three. They present the problems they find. List and consider every problem mentioned equally. No prioritizing.
6. Member choose problems to consider. They may choose one or more or all.
7. Members work individually, develop their own ideas and present them at a future meeting.
8. The problems and the given solutions are submitted to senior management. ALL of them.
9. Senior management determines how to proceed. If one idea doesn’t work, try another. The group has provided a wealth of new thought from idividual perspectives. This is far more valuable than a silver-looking rubber bullet.
 
Why meet? Why even have a team. Because the team can help focus on the problem. Hey Fred, what do you think is going on? I’m coming up with 20 failures per day, is anyone else getting that number? Does anyone know how many units we make per week? How many units do you see in shipping that come back?
 
That’s the group benefit. Get it?
 
Need help? Let’s fire up your company. No matter how small or large it can be improved.
 
Chris Reich, Author of TeachU’s Business Talk Blog