"B" Is For Building A Team

As always, I want to offer my sincere apology to Sue Grafton for using (stealing??) her approach for the titles of her many outstanding mystery novels for this series of articles that I hope makes YOU a happier and more effective leader working with a truly empowered team that really enjoys what they do! Oh, and if you have not read any of Ms. Grafton novels I highly recommend that you give her a try.

Building A Team

“This is a story about four people: Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody.

There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry with that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.

It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.”

- Author Unknown

Team building is just that, getting your Teamers to work together as best that they can. They need to understand each other and the ways and means of what they think and do and the values they have.

One of the first team building sessions that I ever was a part of was the Morris Massey presentation on What You Are Is Where You Were When where Dr. Massey presents the concept that people are impacted by certain times in their lives (such as World Wars, the Great Depression, the Kennedy assassinations and the attacks of 9/11), and they typically bring the same values analysis from that “time and place” in their thinking and feelings. If you and your Teamers understand why each individual thinks as they do and the values that they have, the team performs better and is happier since everybody “knows each other!”

Have regular team building sessions (don’t call them “meetings” that’s a negative word to most folks) where you encourage your team to:

  • Look at work as a team as it flows from one Teamer to another. How could they work together better and transfer work between them better?

  • Look for ways to improve handoffs to other teams or groups.

  • Look for process changes and improvements that need to be made.

  • Look for policy changes that need to be made.

I must confess that the most critical and difficult team building process that I’ve ever initiated was to launch a quality improvement system team and I want to cover these four critical processes that I used to successfully start this effort:

  1. Team Building to Improve Quality

  2. The Post Mortem Meeting

  3. How to “Prove” Improvement in Quality?

  4. Have Patience, They’ve Never Done This Before

“The people that get on in this world are the people that get up and look for the circumstances that they want; and if they can’t find them, they make them.”

- George Bernard Shaw

#1 - Team Building to Improve Quality

 “If you want to achieve excellence, you can get there today. As of this second, quit doing less-than-excellent work.”

 - Thomas J. Watson

Improving your quality is simple, find a problem or process and fix it. Have regular team building sessions and empower your Teamers to find things to fix or improve. Help your Teamers adopt the “do it right the first time” attitude in all that they do to help improve the quality of the products and services provided by you and your Teamers.

Start with having a staff meeting to announce the start of your new quality improvement system. Send out your announcement with the single agenda item of having each Teamer bring their idea(s) on a “potential problem to fix” that the team should tackle in the meeting. My guess is that some “old problems” will come up, things that you’ve heard before. “Purchasing always takes too long to approve printing bids and puts us behind schedule” or “the designers never check the proofs quickly enough!” Be prepared! Some of the problems that your Teamers will bring to the meeting may have been stewing for them for some time. 

If you can afford it, get a copy of Quality Is Free by Philip B. Crosby for all of your Teamers, sort of like a “handbook” for their new quest to improve their quality.

Some of your Teamers will complain that they “don’t have time for this” so you should reassure them that all of the quality improvement stuff can be recorded as “administrative time” on your time recording system. Simply, I would encourage you and your Teamers to find the time to address quality improvement. If one of your Teamers simply does not want to participate in any of the “quality BS” don’t force them to participate. Give them the option to leave the meeting now.

Here’s the agenda that I suggest for your first quality improvement session:

  •  Collect The Problems - Collect all of the problems from your Teamers on a flip chart or a blackboard. Have a scribe if you need one to create an electronic list of the problems. Ask each Teamer to explain and describe the problem briefly and why they think it should be considered. Also consider using a recording device. The key is to collect all of the problems so everybody has got “skin in the game.”

  • Vote On The Problems To Work On - Have your Teamers vote on which problems to attack. I suggest that you give them more than just one vote with options such as, the top problem to work on, the top three problems to work on, the top five, the top seven (these may be too many!!) and of course make the voting anonymous. 

  • Choose Up Sides For Teams - Once you have the “winners” of the problems to work on, you will need to have quality improvement teams formed for each problem selected. My suggestion is that you don’t want to take on too many quality improvement projects since you will most likely be the facilitator for all of these meetings to start out with. Depending on the size of your staff, I would start with three to five quality improvement projects and teams.

  • Volunteers Anyone? - Once you have the projects selected, ask for volunteers to work on each project. Try to get a cross section of your team to work on the project to give you a variety of views and opinions. You need to have at least three Teamers for a team, but don’t have too many Teamers assigned to any single problem. Try to spread them out and a Teamer can serve on more than one team if they like. Work to get as many of your staff involved in a quality improvement team as possible. If Teamers don’t want to participate don’t force them.

  • Collect Results and Problems – Each team needs to take minutes of each meeting highlighting their results, plans and any problems or concerns that they face.

 “For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.”

- Steve Jobs

#2 - The Post Mortem Meeting

“By three methods we may learn wisdom; first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is the most bitter.”

- Confucius

If you have a problem project do this meeting! Or, if you have an exceptional project do this meeting to find out what made it exceptional. Don’t spend all of your time looking for problems, also look for successes.

Meeting rules are:

  • Everybody who worked on the project attends with their prepared written agenda of items, things that went poorly and things that went well along with their reason(s) why.

  • The facilitator gets all of these agendas together before the meeting and shares them with everybody so that they can review and prepare for the meeting.

  • Have a time keeper.

  • Also have a scribe to collect and record all of the information developed during the Post Mortem meeting. Use a recording device if needed.

  • Topics for the agenda must at least include, what worked and why, what didn’t work and why, what went really well and why, lessons learned and why and any formal changes needed in policies or process and why?

“If you do not know how to ask the right question, you discover nothing.”

- W. Edwards Deming

#3 - How to “Prove” Improvement in Quality?

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

- Carl Sagan

If you think of the people that your Teamers do projects for as your “clients” you need to ask them how satisfied they are with the projects or services provided to them. At the end of a project send them a “satisfaction survey.” Email is not good for this since it is not anonymous, so I suggest that you send the survey by email, suggest they print it and then snail mail the completed survey back to you. Keep the survey simple to encourage your clients to respond. A team that I worked with had a simple five question survey sent to the client after the completion of all of the marketing communications projects with these questions:

  • Was the project completed on time?

  • Was the project completed within budget?

  • Did the project meet your overall communication needs?

  • Would you use the team’s services again for your next project?

  • How satisfied was the client with the project or service provided to them by rating their satisfaction on a scale from “1” (Very Satisfied) to “5” (Very Dissatisfied)?

Collect the responses to these questions and prepare anonymous reports to your Teamers and to your Senior frequently, perhaps monthly. If you get a survey with really poor satisfaction ratings meet privately with the client and even do a Post Mortem meeting on the product or service to find out what went wrong and why, but always keep this information anonymous.

“Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection.”

- Kim Collins

#4 - Have Patience, They’ve Never Done This Before

“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”

- Steve Jobs

After you start your quality improvement system and teams make sure that you have patience with them and yourself.

Most of these folks have never thought about their work under the watchful eye of quality improvement before. They’ve never done brainstorming sessions to find problems, had Post Mortem meetings after the project completion to look for good times and bad, or surveyed for client satisfaction and actually listened and responded by making changes and improvements based upon what they heard from their clients.

Quality improvement takes total honesty and trust and a complete lack of judgment.

Coach your Teamers to be tolerant of one another and not judgmental in meetings.

“A cardinal principle of Total Quality escapes too many managers: you cannot continuously improve interdependent systems and processes until you progressively perfect interdependent, interpersonal relationships.”

- Stephen Covey

 I wish you empowerment, happiness and every success!!