Team Effort

Jul 30, 2012

Making business work is essential in the aftermarket. And when companies combine their efforts, the work becomes easier and more successful.

Taking a team approach is the next revolution in the performance industry. Teamwork can galvanize an organization from top to bottom, helping companies achieve far more than they ever thought possible as a collection of individuals.

A team is two or more people working together to achieve a common goal. Why use teams? Teams offer an easy way to tap the knowledge and resources of all employees-not just supervisors and managers-to solve the organization’s problems and move projects forward.

A well-structured team draws together employees from all different functions and levels of the organization to find the best way to approach an issue. Smart companies have discovered that, to remain competitive, they can no longer rely solely on management to guide work processes and organizational goals. Companies need to involve employees who are closer to the problems and the organization’s customers: namely, the frontline workers.

This is particularly true in the aftermarket work environment, because so much of the industry is also a lifestyle. Many employees are enthusiasts as well, offering a direct connection with-and insight into-your customers and their wants and needs.

Let’s take a look at teams and how they can work effectively in your small business environment. Again, efficiency is a key to long-term success, as is structure and planning.

The Empowered Team Advantage

When employees gain more authority and autonomy from top management, they tend to be more responsive to customers’ needs and take on more responsibility to solve problems when possible.

This transfer of power, responsibility and authority from higher-level to lower-level employees is called empowerment.

By empowering workers, managers place the responsibility for decision-making with those who are often in the best position to make an informed choice. In the past, many managers felt that they were in the best position to make decisions that affected a company’s products or customers. In reality, this is often not the case.

Effective managers know the value of empowering their workers. Not only are customers better-served when frontline workers have the responsibility and authority to address their needs, but managers are free to pursue other important tasks that only they can do.

These tasks include coaching, big-picture communicating, long-range planning, walking the walk and talking the talk. The result is a more efficient, more effective organization.

Empowerment is also a great morale booster in an organization. Managers who empower their workers show that they trust them to make decisions that are important to the company’s success.

Employees return the favor by becoming more loyal and more engaged in their work.

Improving Quality with Quality Circles

Today’s businesses have discovered a great deal from the improvement movement.

Taking a cue from successful Japanese businesses-noted for their high-quality automotive production and innovative consumer electronics products-U.S. businesses embarked on a quest for quality in the 1980s. Over the past 30 years, U.S. management has discovered that the cornerstone of many Japanese programs is the empowerment of workers to make decisions regarding their work process.

For example, many U.S. businesses have instituted quality circles-groups of employees who meet regularly to suggest ways to improve the organization, borrowing the Japanese technique of participative decision making. A quality circle’s suggestions carry great weight with management and streamline production and sales opportunities.

As an example of employee empowerment, Motorola management considers employee teams to be a crucial part of its strategy for quality improvement. Self-directed teams at its Arlington Heights, Ill., mobile telephone equipment manufacturing plant not only decide on their own training programs and schedule their work, but they’re also involved in hiring and dismissing coworkers.

Smaller & Nimbler

Teams not only have the potential to make better decisions, but they can also make faster decisions. Because team members are closest to the problems and to one another, they can skip unnecessary communication channels, resulting in minimal lag time.

Some teams are even given the authority to make decisions and take action without seeking further approval from others in the organization.

Large organizations have a hard time competing in the marketplace against smaller, nimbler competitors. Smaller units within a large organization-such as teams-also are better-able to compete.

The rate and scope of change in the global business environment has led to increased competitive pressures on organizations in nearly every business sector.

Because customers can get products and services faster, they also demand to have them at top speed. Because they can buy products more cheaply as a result of technology improvements or global competition, they expect lower prices as well. And customers’ expectation of quality in relation to price has dramatically increased over the years-especially because consumers can obtain more advanced electronics and computer technology for progressively lower prices.

In short, customer values are changing, and companies need to be responsive in order to survive.

Staying Innovative & Adaptable

Teams can also bring about increased innovation. According to former Harvard economist Robert Reich in the Harvard Business Review, “As individual skills are integrated into a group, the collective capacity to innovate becomes something greater than the sum of its parts.”

Teams are also more adaptive to the external environment as it quickly or constantly changes. Thus, a team’s size and flexibility give it a distinct advantage over the more traditional single-level organizational structure.

At Xerox and Hewlett-Packard, for example, design, engineering and manufacturing functions are now closely intertwined in the development of new products, dramatically shortening the time from concept to production.

Teams used to be considered useful only for products of short duration. However, many companies no longer follow this thinking. Indeed, the team concept has proven itself to be a workable long-term solution to the needs of many organizations.

A team’s members may change, but the team itself can remain in place for years or even decades.

Sum of the Digits

Frequently, both small- and medium-sized aftermarket shops-be they manufacturing and/or sales-need a formulation and path. The above are snippets of such pathways from which to mastermind your particular situation.

You’ll find that, even though your aftermarket business is unique in many ways, you can grow as an organization through team building.

The formality of the team is in relation to how deep you choose to structure your organization. Some create task forces, committees and command teams, while other are less formal and, while providing some structure, are more open-ended in scope.

Whatever your structure, there is a common ground for your employees to filter their thoughts and wisdom into the sandbox of development and company advancement. Allow them a voice and in most cases the results will prove to be extremely positive.

Cheers ‘n gears, Dick.