Teamwork : Nurturing the Teamwork Culture
Anyone who has ridden an elevator knows the unwritten rules of elevator etiquette: Get in, push a numbered button, try not to bump anyone on the way in or out, stare intently at the lighted number board above, and so on.
Riding the elevator involves communication between passengers: The person closest to the switchboard takes orders. Individuals make sure the elevator doesn’t become over-crowded and that everyone is situated as comfortably as possible. People in elevators are willing to cooperate and accommodate one another because they all have a common goal—reaching their destination.
The ideal work situation resembles life in an elevator. Company employees who internalize company goals and who support one another, strongly contribute to the success of an organization. However, internal support must go beyond the individual. The elevator functions smoothly when the motor is running, the pulleys and cables are intact, and the parts work in tandem. Similarly, it is when a company functions as a team, when all departments work together to achieve the organizational goal, that a company skyrockets to success.
Because of emotional, hierarchical, and dispositional differences in the workplace, the company team does not always work together to the best of its ability. My experience leads me to the following suggestion: To create a healthy team in your organization, cultivate a team that thinks of fellow workers as customers. Encourage a more altruistic approach that would replace the “me” mentality that emerges in a competitive atmosphere and that interferes with a willingness to help one another. Employees who willingly give a little bit, who do what’s best for the team, find out that all they do for fellow workers comes back to them: Work becomes a more pleasant place to be, and the company is impacted positively. I call this practice “Internal Customer Service.”
A Christmas Story
During this year’s Christmas rush, while standing in the slower moving line at a bookstore check-out, I overheard something that struck a chord in me. The faster cashier said to his co-worker, “Can I help you out?” The slower cashier was relieved by the offer and accepted the help. Internal Customer Service to the rescue! The helpful, non-intrusive employee scored points both with his co-worker and customers at the store by announcing, “I can take the next person in line.”
The department link-up
As in many modern corporations, different departments are literally each others’ customers. When the shipping, manufacturing, designing, and marketing of a given product all take place in one location, interdependent alignment is necessary. Departments work at satisfying the requirements of other departments before the ultimate goal of satisfying the external customer—the buyer—can occur.
I know managers at a major toy manufacturer who rely on weekly meetings for dissemination of information that they need to do their job. Representations from a cross section of departments attend the meetings to share ideas and outline criteria to be follow by one another’s departments. The product development and design department develops products based on marketing direction and then reviews designs with the marketing department. After upper management approves the design, the sales force is consulted. The sales team brings insight from the external customer. It is not until a series of reworkings takes place cooperatively that a toy design is brought to the retailers.
Until now, most of the communication across department boundaries was just between the heads of the different departments. This alone is not enough; it’s not the heads who are doing the nuts and bolts work – is it? More often, the heads are involved in policy making, administrative work, or supervisory activities. Therefore, provide opportunities for your department to meet with personnel of other departments that are important to their work.
The responsibility for keeping in touch with one’s internal customers lies with the individuals of a department, and as a manager you can foster this sharing of time and information. Avoid being the middleman and get your employees to talk directly to the people they should be working with.
Arrange informal meetings or lunches for interdepartmental information gathering. Encourage individual employees to work at cementing interdepartment relationships by finding ways to help each other. Questions such as “What’s life like in your department?” “When is the best time to interface with you?” “How can we make life easier for each other,” are effective in getting the ball rolling.
Be a pacesetter
The notion of servicing one another in the workplace must originate with you the supervisor. Initiate and exemplify Internal Customer Service.
When you and your department have established relations with departments that you “do business with,” make sure that everyone and yourself take responsibility for the promises that you make to your internal customers; in other words, keep your commitments.
Joan Pastor has worked with both private and public organizations as a consultant, conference speaker and trainer. Her in-depth knowledge reflects over nineteen years of experience in implementation of quality improvement programs, building high performing teams, developing the "customer" orientation within and outside the organization, change management and conflict resolution skills. Joan's web site is at http://www.jpa-international.com/.