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    Management’s 5 Obligations to Teams #40 OE Newsletter

    An Article From the Archives:

    Change is constant, learning is lifelong, and teaming is essential.

    Teams are the life blood of the company’s capability to serve its customers. A team can achieve much more than the sum of its parties, and building teams should be, maybe more than ever, a management priority. This is the reason we decided to re-publish the article below, which originally appeared in the March 1997 issue of our “Productivity Newsletter”, written by Adam Gittler outlining the five critical areas for successful team development! Enjoy reading!

    To successfully organize production personnel into teams, management must provide support in five critical areas. These areas are so essential that they can be characterized as management’s obligations to teams. Ideally, management will view these five obligations as contingent on each other. Implementing one without the others is insufficient. The five obligations are:

    1. Sufficient Time for Action
    2. A Competent Facilitator
    3. Accountable Goals
    4. Cross-functional Communication
    5. Technical and Administrative Support.

    1. Sufficient Time for Action

    Team members cannot concentrate fully on improvements while at their work centers, presses, or assembly machines. A dedicated time must exist for all team members to convene and discuss improvement ideas.

    But simply generating ideas is not sufficient for improvement. Herein lies the problem I have experienced with many team programs: if teams are not able to meet often enough to implement ideas, then the impact of the team is diminished.

    How often is sufficient? This answer depends upon the rate at which the team generates ideas. A team that develops several ideas per week ought to meet each week. A team that develops a single idea each month ought to meet once per month. And keep in mind that a new team is more likely to generate ideas than a mature team, so its meeting schedule must reflect and exploit this fact.

    One possible answer is to allow teams to choose their own meeting times and durations. Some meetings will occur on Monday at 10 PM, some on Wednesday at 3 PM. Some will last an hour, some ten minutes. Management must trust teams to not exploit this freedom. If you want, set an upper limit on how much time teams have for meetings, then allow them to choose their own.

    2. A Competent Facilitator

    A facilitator has one primary job – speed up the pace of improvement. Two other secondary reasons may exist from time to time:

    • Provide the team information necessary to succeed
    • Prevent and eliminate discord.

    An effective facilitator’s most important skill, speeding up the pace of improvement, cannot be taught. A single course on facilitating will not necessarily transform an engineer, foreperson, or manager into an adequate facilitator.

    Furthermore, a facilitator does not need to be an employee from outside the team. A facilitator can simply be an existing team member.

    A facilitator must earn the team’s respect. Respect allows a facilitator to make decisions for the sake of improvement and run meetings effectively for the benefit of the team without introducing tension or animosity.

    A facilitator must respect team members as well. A humble facilitator truly believes he/s he works for the team, not the other way around.

    Facilitators who are new to a team or a production environment must make an even greater effort to respect team members because they own the knowledge needed for improvement. Mutual respect leads to more productive environments where improvements are more attainable.

    Two impediments a facilitator must help his/her team overcome are:

    • Mental blocks
    • Indecisiveness.

    Some available tools for eliminating mental blocks include brainstorming, cause and effect diagrams, undesirable effects diagrams, or the simple method of continually asking each team member ‘how?’ and ‘why?’

    An indecisive team, which generates ideas but does not implement them, also is ineffective. The facilitator must step forward and compel the team to commit to an implementation plan and decision.

    Certainly, a facilitator should not rush this step for projects with heavy capital investment, but the facilitator must bring the team to the point of action. If an idea has a free or low cost of implementation, the team should implement it, then revisit it periodically to make improvements. In other words, “Do not confuse the risk of failure with the fear of failure,” as James Belasco, and Ralph Stayer said in The Flight of the Buffalo. Implement the idea, then improve upon it.

    3. Accountable Goals

    Management should not initiate teams without setting goals that align with corporate or departmental goals. A team without a goal:

    • Cannot measure to what extent they are improving – nor can management. Thus, the team may not feel compelled to improve quickly or at all.
    • May unintentionally create local optimums that negatively affect the organization.

    In The Invisible Production Line, Daniel Stamp writes, “If we delegate responsibility to someone, we must also delegate the authority needed to meet that responsibility.” This tenet especially holds true for teams. If a team is not empowered to reach its goal, then management has:

    • Demoralized members of the team and possibly others
    • Wasted wages, resources, and time.

    When a team reaches a goal, management must set a new goal or disband the team. These can be short-term goals for a specific project or problem, or long-term or continuous improvement goals, such as achieving zero defects or consistent customer satisfaction.

    4. Cross-Functional Communication

    Management must provide teams with information that affects a team’s operation. This information can come from any area ­ management, engineering, customers, or other teams.

    In one company, I supported a team at the beginning of the production line. Teams representing processes farther up the line consistently improved themselves at the expense of downstream teams. After only eight weeks in existence, these other teams’ improvements ravaged our scheduling, throughput, inventories, and our deliveries to them. Simple communications would have prevented all the problems.

    Cross-functional teams are not always a necessary or effective team structure. However, cross-functional communication is always a necessary and effective team policy. To implement cross communication without implementing cross-functional teams, make sure you:

    • Distribute team meeting minutes freely, rather than just to management
    • Invite guests from technical positions, management, and other teams to meetings. If these guests are needed for an action item during the meeting, handle their action items first so their time away from other work is minimized.
    • Hold regularly scheduled meetings with members from all existing teams to disseminate information quickly and consistently
    • Create a bulletin board of all teams’ current projects, listing these projects as a title or just a phrase.

    5. Technical and Administrative Support

    Management must give teams the resources they need to reach their goals. These resources may include the expertise of administrators, engineers, accountants, or anyone outside the team’s control.

    When an external employee does not view a team’s need as an obligation, management must intervene. It must make the request a priority and possibly assign a completion date.

    If a team that needs a resource is unable to acquire it, the team’s success is jeopardized. Its costs may rise, and enthusiasm drop.


    There are obligations in a team environment for everyone in the organization: management, production employees, engineers, and administrators. Success depends as much on management as on team members.

    Management must support teams with policies, systems, and an underlying commitment to make these investments profitable. Teams need more than enthusiasm to succeed.

    When this article was originally published, Adam Gittler was an Industrial/Quality Engineer in AMP Inc.’s Global Personal Computer Division.

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