Dimension Six: The Team

You now have a good service or product concept.

Delivery of this service or product is clearly defined and understood by everyone. You have the right tools to ensure that the service or product is easy to deliver and will be done right all the time.

In spite of competition, you know you have to do it better and in the process make a profit by managing your customer service well.

You have the cash and capital in the right proportion but you cannot do this alone.

If this isn't a business, you will just probably be worrying about punching in and hope nothing messy is going to happen before the day ends.

Unfortunately, this is not a job and you are not a rank-and-file.

The business is going to be managed. It's you or someone else.

You need to deliver your customer service, systems are in place and tools will be use, the whole thing is going to be done over and over, you simply cannot do this alone.

You need a group of people who know what they are doing.

This group will do it because they understand their role in the whole process of customer service.

They are trained to deliver and support customer service.

In all likelihood, they will define the quality standards of delivery, setup the system to support your process, ensure continuity and consistency by documenting your customer service process, and develop the training program for your future staff.

You need a dynamic team!

Why Build a Team
Society is increasing pressure from organizations not only for increase profitability and productivity but also the expectation that organizations must also improve the quality of life.

Business enterprises want profitability; government aims to effectively deliver services; while not-for-profit organizations try to alleviate social or economic inequity including the effective management of the environment.

Whatever the aims the incentive to use human resources as little and as much inthe most effective and productive way is great.

Today, the use of teams is gaining ground to answer these aims.

Whether in corporations, in special police teams, in the armed forces or in foundations, the use of teams to deliver cost-effective completion of projects and the assignment of project managers as team leaders will continue to be a primary alternative for project management.

Let's start building your team!

Good Teams
It is not a team if it is not a good team.

So what are the traits of a good team?

Here are the most prominent traits of really good or effective teams:


  • Team members tend to work more effectively together than they would if they were working individually or alone.

  • Clear sense of itself as a special group but still has the capacity to interact positively with other groups in the organization.

  • Communicate clearly with one another and effectively across the organization.

  • Cultivates and negotiates positive assumptions and beliefs among team members.

Just because you have a list of what constitutes a good team, you may think that you can simply go around your organization and pick out a group as a team.

You build teams. You don't stumble into them.

Some actually believe that they can handpick people, designate a leader and give the group a name like Team A to come up with their team.

Like anything else, doing something you know nothing about is worse than doing nothing. Take a surgeon's advice: First do no harm!

The Team Leader
The team leader can make or break a team just as a team can make or break a project. The challenge to management is electing the best man to fit the shoes of a team leader.

You just can't set any criteria that you like or your comfortable with when defining who will be best suited for the role.

Take time to know and understand a team leader's role in team building and management. The following broad roles should give you a hint:


  • making and keeping the goals clear

  • defining or setting measurable performance

  • managing relationship within and without

  • identifying or creating opportunities for team members

  • building confidence, strengthening commitment, and developing skills

If you want a list of more specific tasks a team leader does, here are some:

  • facilitating and preparing project plans

  • monitoring the progress of team projects

  • preparing reports of team progress

  • managing flow of information across the organizational hierarchy

  • facilitating and acting in behalf of the team to get support and resources from stakeholders

  • keeping track and documenting changes in project specs or team process

  • developing learning systems within the team

Sorry if I'm taking up team management in lesser detail here. This e-book is not for supervisors or team leaders.

The content in this e-book is for the business owners or management executives responsible for managing or developing marketing or customer service programs.

The Members
When choosing the composition of the team or making a selection of members, I prefer basing the selection on the knowledge and skills that each will bring into the team.

A certain degree of expertise or knowledge can help a lot if the team is task to undertake a specific function or role whether organizational or project-based.

In a team, one or more may have to possess problem-solving skills and make decisions.

If you work with projects long enough you will realize that most of your team members will acquire a certain level of problem-solving skills as they gain experience.

Of course, it will be a distinct advantage if one of the members have both problem-solving and decision-making skills at the formative stage of team creation.

Members of the team must be able to communicate with each other clearly because communication is the key to making diverse backgrounds work together.

To be able to know what skills are required for the job, you must be able to define the team's objective and the functions that will eventually define its structure.

Define Team Roles Clearly
Knowing your role in projects is almost obvious. In reality, very few things done in projects are the way they are because of being obvious.

Defining roles in projects is important but unfortunately this is one of the most basic things that a neophyte in projects will almost certainly take for granted.

Defining roles as clearly as possible at the start of the project will save you time and most of all credibility.

Roles must be defined right after selecting and creating the team.

Problems brought about by poor or absence of clear team roles include bad coordination, assignment of the wrong skills to a task, extended deadlines or plain failure to complete deliverables.

What I'm trying to say is you cannot wait for the team members to define their roles or let it evolve.

The function of the team is dependent on the very specific objectives or clearly defined tasks set by the organization.

Management or the team manager must not let the team decide its function or its purpose.

Teams cannot draw guidance from organizational culture. To do so will leave the team lost and can lead to very serious organizational problems.

The most common team function that people see are the type like those actively operating in the manufacturing (or production) and service sectors.

Examples of this type are assembly line teams responsible for a component, software support teams, aircraft maintenance, security teams, or even building maintenance.

Most of the work for these teams is routine or prescribed by a regular flow of activities or tasks. Because of the nature of the work, almost all are full-time workers.

It may not be strange to find out that most of the members of this type of team have worked together for many years.

Since the profile of the work does not change drastically, this form of team function allows team members to manage and to organize their own work.

Another team function is the kind that is entirely task-focused.

This type of function requires that every member has a specific skill that contributes to the successful completion of the task.

The specific role or task defines the composition of the team based on the skills or knowledge that will be brought in by that prospective member.

The level of experience of each member in a particular field of specialization allows the team to modify solutions or improvise methods to get the job done even in the most extreme situations.

As a member of management or as a team manager responsible for the team with this kind of function, you will have to prescribe the mission or the specific task.

Once the team has been presented with their mission or task, they take over.

Team functions that are project or development driven also require specialized knowledge or skills but the project takes longer to complete.

Members of the team may sometimes come together just to complete a single task or sub-project and later go back to their regular work.

Teams with this function tend to work with a high level of autonomy in the organization within the duration of the project.

Another team function that through the years have influenced the corporate world are those providing advice or assume a certain level of decision-making in the organization.

Management teams that are common in the service or hotel industry are good example of this team function. Highly specialized roles of investment or financial consulting teams are also examples of this function.

Not all functions require high-level participation. Quality control circles in many manufacturing organizations prescribe this function in their teams.

Members of the team with this function perform other roles in the organization and will normally use a very small portion of their working time.

The level of autonomy in this type of function is not very high and highly dependent on the degree of commitment that management has demonstrated to support the team approach in their organizational development.

The function of the team will greatly be influenced by how very detailed or specific is the objective or how generalist or broad are the goals.

Team Structure
If the processes that define the functions are very distinct you will have to find out if it will require a single person to accomplish or a single person with multiple roles and skills.

You will have to know if:


  • the process are happening simultaneously or executed in parallel work schedule;

  • the tasks or jobs are co-located or have to be performed in the same location or site;

  • the knowledge and skill set required to perform a job or complete a task can logically be expected from the same person or is it too highly specialized and unrelated to or not complementary to each other.

With the above knowledge, the team can map out the best approach to accomplish their goals or keep up with their vision.

Never assume that team members understand the structure the first time you discuss it with them.

Experienced have taught me to explain structure with a chart and a print out of the brief description of the roles represented by the neat boxes in the chart.

There's very little ambiguity with chart and those with different perception of their roles will be able to ask the relevant questions when they read a brief description of their roles in hard copy.

Training Your Team
Training a customer service team is different from training an individual to equip him with competence.

The kind of training that a customer service team undergoes is not the kind that makes them more competent.

Usually a well selected team leader and members are more than competent taken individually.

The training that teams go through are designed more to make the team work or function together.

It is really a training that forces or coach team members to use knowledge and skills in complementary proportions so as to attain the synergy needed to successfully complete a project.

The experience undergone during training helps meld the team into a seamless working unit more capable than each member undertaking tasks individually.

Team Empowerment
You now have selected your team leader and members with a high degree of confidence that they will be competent enough to contribute to the team.

Training will also ensure that the team functions well together.

The team has a clear mandate, a structure, and a process developed by the team itself.

Your team manager and team leader are able to work harmoniously to get the right resources in the hands of the team at the right moment.

Even with all of the above the team still needs to take responsibility for their work. This is only possible if management delegates a vital process that will allow the team to complete their mandate.

Most organizations however are still toddlers when it comes to delegation. They do come up with some forms of delegation but with a twist.

They come up with a checklist and a detailed procedure how the task will be done.

The team or work group has little legroom to innovate or to be creative when the situation requires.

What is missing is "empowerment"!

The team must be able to not only take responsibility for doing the relevant work to accomplish its mandate.

It must also be able to make the necessary or relevant decisions to carry out the work effectively. This is the core of real empowerment.

Empowerment has more to do with the culture of the organization and philosophy of management.

Unless the organizational culture allows real delegation and a truly honest belief that well-motivated teams can make the right decisions and act on those decisions, empowerment will not be possible.

I believe that it is simply difficult or impossible to make teamwork possible without real empowerment.

Only empowered teams can make significant gains in organizations.

People who do the actual work must have the power to make decisions about matters that gets the job done.

Are you comfortable with team empowerment?

Teamwork
Our common visualization of the concept of teamwork is a team being able to work together to accomplish a goal.

Teamwork is a concept more delicate and less simplistic than that.

The heart of teamwork is delegation and empowerment.

Teamwork is getting teams to take responsibility for their tasks and jobs to complete their mandate without always consulting or running to top management.

You must give your team the authority to make specific day-to-day decisions related to operations or projects.

This can be quite a difficult proposition for managers who are control freaks.

Traditional managers have a different concept of management control. This concept can be in direct conflict with their understanding of delegation.

For some, delegation can be perceived as a threat to job security. Empowerment is a higher form of delegation.

Imagine how threatening empowerment can be to these traditional managers.

I believe that people who are responsible and are treated as responsible individuals will simply act their part and behave responsibly.

My experience working with students, old people, farmers, fishermen, gold miners, security forces, and even ex-convicts have made me realized that our ability to communicate our respect for people have consistently proven my belief.

Remember that not one aspect of team building will help you create an effective team. Teamwork is really just one of many.

If you want teamwork to happen I suggest not doing the following:


  • Making assumptions that members in the "team" are actually eager to work and that they are equipped with the necessary skills to work within the team.

  • Extending or imposing too much authority or too little of it.

  • Disregarding existing organizational structures to accommodate the creation of teams.

  • Providing inadequate organizational support.

  • Management referring to an operational or performing unit as a team when actually they are managing the unit as a set of individuals.

Overall the success of teams will depend largely on three major factors: Commitment, Accountability, and Opportunity.

This is the last of the Customer Service dimensions. I do hope you learn something from it. Do ask me questions? Post it here of course!

Log on next time because I'll share with you some of the things I believe are facts of life in Customer Service.



Source: "The Six Dimensions of Customer Service". VY Paralisan. Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

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