Sunday, April 17, 2011

A winning team

This week I was lucky enough to discuss a job opportunity with an organisation that is continuing to do remarkably well in terms of sales and production despite the current economic climate.

In common with most companies, the business wasn’t without its problems. In fact this is largely why they have an opportunity for me to analyse the situation and help implement changes. During my experience I was interested in discussions around the perceived lack of ownership and commitment to product quality demonstrated by some of the workforce. The business in question manufactures a luxury product with a significant brand awareness of very high quality, even amongst its competition. It seems odd that the some of the problems related to a lack of attention to quality during production. It was not clear that the workforce were as ‘proud’ of their product and its strong brand as perhaps would be expected.

Without providing details or identifying the organisation; the experience did remind me of an article I wrote prior to my MBA focused on the factors responsible for creating high performing (or winning) teams in successful organisations. In my opinion there are two key factors responsible; a company culture that promotes an environment where effective teamwork can flourish and systems in place that will ensure employees work together towards common goals.

Company culture, or the character of an organisation, is essential to provide a platform where employees can be made to feel part of the business and responsible for its overall success. The actual culture is of less importance than the strength and consistency of the messaging through the organisation. In fact winning teams across many industries often demonstrate vastly different cultures while still delivering a high performance. Contrast for instance the differing cultures that exist between successful companies such as IBM, Google and McDonalds. Each promote and demonstrate very different cultures within their organisations and when dealing with customers, but in each case the cultures are consistent throughout the business and reflected amongst all employees.

A solid team culture will frequently deliver a higher performance than would be expected based on the ability or experience of each individual. Though more commonly observed in sporting teams this phenomena does not go unnoticed by venture capital firms looking to invest in smaller start-up companies. Often it is the culture and enthusiasm amongst the employees that provides the necessary confidence that the business will succeed.

With a consistent and accepted culture in place throughout the organisation, the next key factor to enable a winning team is to ensure that everyone is working together.

Most companies have incentive plans and performance monitoring systems in place to encourage high performance. How these systems are used is the key factor to enabling a winning team. It is important to ensure a consistent application of the process across all business areas and employees. It is especially important to avoid any contradictions between objectives and goals across different areas of the business. The quickest way to introduce conflict and destroy teamwork is to allow employees to believe what they are trying to achieve differs substantially from others in the same organisation.

The best way to ensure everyone is focused on the same core goals and objectives is to use a cascading approach to goal setting. The CEO holds the key to the initial introduction and creation of these goals. Based on expectations of the company’s stakeholders, the CEO is responsible for deciding on what goals the business needs to be focused each year. These need to be converted in to objectives for the senior management team and then cascaded in a similar manner to all employees.

While the rank and file employees are unlikely to share identical goals to the senior executives, they should at least be aligned with the overall business goals and, ensure everyone believes that they are driving the organisation in the same direction.

A winning team is created in an organisation when each employee wants the business to succeed and feels that their individual contribution is an integral part of this success.