How employees can pull together to achieve surprising results

 By Roland Gilbert

A highly functioning, collaborative team can be an effective asset for the growth and harmony of a small business. Instead of relying on the abilities and skills of an individual employee, well-run teams can leverage the strengths of many talented workers to create an engine that is more powerful than the sum of its parts. Teams where constructive conflict is allowed, diversity is encouraged, and members are empowered to shoulder responsibility can often lead to the best results. Before you put together your next team, consider these strategies for harnessing the creativity and energy of your employees.

Give them ownership

Experts say that team members should come from different parts of your company to provide assorted viewpoints—such as customer service, production, sales—and given wide latitude in their responsibilities.

“Put together a cross functional team that has a very clear objective,” says Kevin Cahill, managing partner of Cahill Consulting,  consulting firm for small and medium-sized businesses. “Senior management can lay that out, but then give this group the time, schedule, and the framework by which to work through and come up with ideas and possible solutions for solving that problem.”

Engaging members throughout the team building process and giving them ownership of the team’s goals is more productive than letting a small business owner or manager direct the working of the team from the top down. Cahill says that a team should be allowed to set their own performance expectations. “Give them the opportunity to tell you what they want to do and what their goals are and what their vision is and often you’ll find that their goals and objectives are greater than yours,” he says. “And if they’re not, then maybe it’s time to re-evaluate whether you have the right person in the right role.”

Accountability is another component to team strategy. Cahill says to pick three to five indicators and post them publicly, either within the department itself or throughout the company, to show how well the team is meeting its goals. These key metrics should be chosen at the beginning of the project and left in place until the project is completed. Employees will see not only how the team is progressing, but how their performance affects the entire company, too.

“It comes down to making sure your employees have a voice and not just in how they’re going to do individual jobs,” Cahill says, “but in the mission of the company, how that mission can be  accomplished, what objectives are key to making that happen, and constantly engaging them in that process to drive the best possible outcome.”

 Promote core values

Small business owners should extol the virtues of teams to their managers, in both formal and informal ways, to reinforce the central principles of the business.

“When I talk about core values as part of a company’s vision, I mean those behaviors that, no matter what else in the business changes, will never change,” says Paul Spiegelman, chief culture officer of Stericycle, and author of Why is Everyone Smiling? The Secret Behind Passion, Productivity and Profit. “They become guidelines for decisions that we make every day and can be quite impactful. They deliver a strong message to not only our internal customers, but our external customers about what we’re about.”

 For example, the internal credo of Spiegelman’s company—”One Team, One Goal”—reminds employees at every level that “no matter what the goal is, we’re going to do it together. You don’t deliver the core values to your employees,” he says. “You involve them in the process of determining what they are.”

Finding out what his employees are thinking and feeling on a regular basis helps Spiegelman check on company progress and ensure that everyone is pulling in the right direction. An employee engagement survey is one way to get feedback, but Spiegelman likes to mix it up with more informal methods. For example, he will invite 12 people from across the company for a monthly luncheon in a casual setting to see how they feel about things.

“And the true test is: are we really listening and what are we doing with that information in order to make things better? Sometimes we do listen and we do react, but employees don’t always give us credit for the changes that we’ve made,” Spiegelman says. “So we have an obligation to do some internal marketing and branding to make sure that when we change 20 things to make life better for them, they understand what they are.”

 Spiegelman believes in recognizing the accomplishments of employees, but not necessarily rewarding them with a straight financial incentive. Instead of handing them money, his company came up with a program where people who lived up to the core values every quarter were eligible to win a $250 cash prize—but they had to reveal what they were going to spend it on and then take a picture of it to share with the company.

 “I remember this guy who wanted this specific lens for his camera,” Spiegelman recalls. “Unfortunately, the lens was $50 more than the prize, but we bought it for him anyway because I knew he’d always look back and think, ‘How cool was that? I got this great lens that I never would have been able to get on my own.’”

 Seek out new perspectives

Some experts say that conflict among team members can actually lead to better solutions by exposing everyone to new ideas and new ways of approaching a problem. To avoid letting the conflict become corrosive, team members should trade roles with each other to get a different point-of-view.

“It comes down to making sure your employees have a voice and not just in how they’re going to do individual jobs.”

“By role paying, you try to take on the other person’s perspective, thereby gaining empathy for their perspective,” says Darren Fisher, lead strategist at Darren Fisher Consulting, a business coaching and training firm. “Not only does that allow the person who’s acting out another person’s position to experience it, but it also allows the person who is having their particular perspective acted out to see outside themselves. They’ll see that maybe their position isn’t as sound as they thought it was when they hear it coming from someone else.”

 For example, one of Fisher’s clients was an entrepreneur who started his own technology company and was accustomed to putting his ideas into practice immediately. Although he hired more managers, the founder had a hard time delegating the work and trusting his managers to handle problems. Fisher did a role playing game to show what would happen if the company continued to grow this way. Only then was the founder able to clearly see that he was standing in the way of his managers and risking the future of his company unless he ceded some responsibility.

“One of the key points in making sure that teams are successful is the willingness of the individual to sacrifice for the greater good of the group,” Fisher explains. “Sacrifices can come in the form of ideas or a particular process. The willingness of people to sacrifice for the greater good of the group is going to be, to me, the biggest determinant of whether that group works cohesively and achieves its objective.”

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Roland Gilbert

 As a Dale Carnegie Certified Trainer & Coach, my mission is to coach individuals for intentional, authentic living. This mission is accomplished through workshops, speaking, writing and coaching. For over 10 years I have trained leaders and have helped people grow. My experience includes working with several large manufacturing corporations, hundreds of individuals and groups, and as an active ministry worker of my church. Because of my diverse background I am able to help clients effectively address all aspects of life.