Teamwork Requires More Than Just a Catchy Team Name

Posted by Kristin Arnold on April 9, 2010

As I travel about the country, I meet people who are part of a “team.”  Perhaps they wear a “team” button, hang a picture proclaiming teamwork, or cheerfully answer the phone “Team Blue.  How may we help you today?”  These are the front line workers who make teamwork happen.  They, above all people, should understand the essence of team work.  And yet, when I probe beneath the surface and ask about their teamwork, I am immediately transported to my Top Ten Not-So-Great Reasons to Form a Team:

Get Your T-Shirts Here!  A fast food restaurant has tons of buttons, ball caps, and t-shirts proclaiming “Team ***” all over the restaurant.  When asked what makes their staff a team, a young man replied, “Well, I got this really cool polo shirt.”

One Person is the Hero.  An automotive dealership assigned a “team” of professionals to service my car.  I was assigned “team blue” where Terry is the main man.  He checks me in, tells me what he’s going to do, how much it’s going to cost, and when it’s going to be ready.  Now, I know Terry didn’t do the actual work on my car, but who did?  The blue team elves did, that’s who.

Test the Customer.  So when I came back to get my car serviced again (yes, I did come back!), the service department voice mail operator asked for my team: white, red, blue, yellow, or green?  How am I supposed to know?  I dealt with Terry – the human being.  I don’t remember the color.  I don’t care about color.  I just want to get my car serviced (presumably by those cute little elves).  So I press “O.”  “Ooops,” she said.  “Terry works all the positions.  He’s a floater.  So we’ll just assign you to a new team!”  As far as I can tell, I have NEVER had the same person, team, or elves work on my car.

Hide from Problems.  A manufacturing plant used “teams” as an excuse to call a meeting to discuss a problem, to then call another meeting to continue to discuss the problem (you get the picture?), to then call another meeting…all in an effort to make the problem go away.

Look Good on Paper.  One project manager formed a “team” involving all the departments who would “touch” the process.  Unfortunately, he didn’t trust them nor expect them to do any work to develop the new product.  In fact, the less others were involved, he reasoned, the better.  But it looked great on paper (and to his boss) that he had formed a team to achieve buy-in and involvement to the process.

Achieve Your Own Agenda.  A close kin to the project manager, a high-falootin’ lawyer was the president of a special commission to make some recommendations.  He said all the right buzzwords, went through the motions of building a team, but when it came right down to it, he drove that committee like a steel tent peg.  Needless to say, the commission did nothing and reported nothing of consequence.  Dilbert would have been proud.

Diffuse Blame.  A hospital uses the “team approach” to patient care.  Doctors, nurses, therapists and other caregivers assemble to agree on the care management of each patient.  So when a patient receives conflicting reports, team members shrug and point the finger at another patient care team member.

Dump the Undesirable Work.  A financial services office formed a team of the company misfits – the sick, lame and lazy – to do the work nobody else wanted to do.  Needless to say, they didn’t accomplish much.

Keep ‘Em Hungry.  A sales and service company supports the team work concept where the seasoned salespeople are supposed to train and mentor the younger sales force.  Unfortunately, all sales team members are still compensated by a dog-eat-dog commission system where the old timers eat their young.  There is no incentive to work like a team.  And they certainly don’t act like a team.  But I just love the “Team Work” picture hanging next to the company mission statement.

It’s a Party!  A manufacturing plant changes shifts every eight hours.  The process is pretty simple: the offgoing watch briefs the ongoing watch.  The ongoing watch relieves the offgoing watch.  Total Elapsed Time: 5 minutes.  However, during the 8am shift change, a gazillion people attend.  Not only do they change the shift, but others are invited “just in case” some problem needs to be solved, or the plant manager needs to have an immediate answer to some off-the-wall question.  Total Elapsed Time:  Anywhere from one to three hours.

Use teams where they make sense.

Question:  Do you see yourself or your teams in any of these situations?

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