11/18/2013

#25 Building Teamwork (1999)

All Rights Reserved © 1999 Thomas W. Day

Lots of companies like to debate (and re-debate) "who works for who" arguments.  Marketing works for Sales.  Engineering works for Marketing.  Everybody works for the CEO.  And on and on.  This stuff never gets settled because these mismanagers haven't established or committed to the most basic corporate "quality" or "customer awareness" concepts.  It's not a guy-fear-of-commitment thing, either.  Once men or women grab hold of a little power, neither sex seems to be able to let go of it for the good of the organization.

There is a short, euphoric period that companies go through when they first become aware of how many problems vanish with a corporate customer orientation attitude.  That euphoria turns to a puff of dust when mismanagement people realize how much work and responsibility is required from them to make these things happen.  In the time it takes to find someone to blame, most companies drift back to their natural attitudes and disorganization.

Personally, I think developing a company "service" attitude and structure is the only way the big and chronic company issues can be resolved efficiently and completely.  Companies and their departments need to determine who their "customers" are and who their "vendors" are and then expect and deliver service on those standards. 

In a manufacturing company, Marketing is a service to Engineering, Engineering is a service to Manufacturing, Manufacturing is a service to Sales, and Sales is a service to end users. 

In a small Ma and Pa store the customer is easy to identify and vendors are pretty obvious.  In a multi-employee/department company the lines of service and supply become blurred by everything from ignorance to empire building.  It is critical that management establish and enforce customer identification because the company can't operate as a team until everyone knows what the objectives and responsibilities are. 

What kind of football team would argue about whose job it is to protect the kicker?  "I can't do that, I'm a running back . . . I've got a science degree, you want me to hurt my brain? . . . that fool wouldn't know a decent block if you could throw a party on it. . . he's a high school dropout, what does he know about management?"  Imagine a team that has to debate who the stars are going to be and what the "real' objective is; now imagine a sport that group will succeed in. 

It is popular for hip, yuppie-types to put sports and its participants down; and the sport analogies go down with the athletes.  I don't know where a person can get better situation training and practice; except, maybe, in war.  If you think that managing a group of oversized, spectacularly talented, high paid, self-motivated athletes is simple, what would you qualify as a difficult management task?

Here's a more yuppie, scientific analogy for you.  A collection of cells group together, programmed by DNA (a type of management), into a coherent organism.  The organism is more complex and more functional than the sum of the individual cells.  It can control its environment by moving to food, trapping or out running its food, choosing its breeding mate, and planning its future. 

The organism can be contaminated by a virus or a cancer and the function of the organism can be completely destroyed by the disorganized and random actions of the intruder; unless the intruder is destroyed or managed.

I have some experience working in a "team" and too much experience watching teams dissolve; that is a process a lot like having your family come apart.  A team is still-born or murdered if just one self-serving member sours the powerful, single-minded creative process that a real team effort is.  One childish, selfish "upwardly mobile", or gamesmanship type can wipe out the gestalt by making the other members of the team re-evaluate how much they are sacrificing so that this Bozo can step up the corporate ladder. 

Teams are delicate, rare, valuable, and the output is always greater than the sum of the participants.  When a team is split, the fabric that kept the members working together is difficult to repair.  I suspect the most effective cure is to remove the divisive component and the team members should have the major voice in selecting the replacement.  If corrective action isn't immediate the independently competent ex-members of the team start looking for a more productive situation and the dependent members, who depended on the team to draw out their best, sink back into obscurity.  The company is left with the back-stabbers, the selfish, and the uninspired.

August 1999

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