Team is defined in Webster’s New World Dictionary as “joint action by a group of people in which individual interests are subordinated to group unity and efficiency.” When reading this, I am reminded of the comments from a member of one of our early teams about the challenges the team has experienced.

“At first,” the leader said, “it seems we weren’t getting anywhere. It seemed all we were doing was arguing about what each other thought the best approach to the problem solution was. Then, we came to realize that it wasn’t what ‘I wanted’ that was important, but what was best for the team and the organization. Then, finally, we began to make significant progress.”

Teams provide a forum where such realization can occur but much more must be present. There must be a focus as to why the team exists and a methodology as to how it should proceed.

There are many ingredients for the quality environment recipe, and they must be carefully measured and mixed. There must be consistency and organization-wide commonality. The customer focus, customer satisfaction process, commitment, discipline and teamwork provides an important binding agent to the overall recipe. However, this only occurs if management understands and fulfills its roles in how to lead, manage, and support effectively. Leaders must align their actions if the people and the organization are to change theirs.

Quality doesn’t happen overnight. It evolves over a long period of time. It is achieved in a step-by-step fashion. Sometimes the progress is forward and visible, other times it seems there’s no progress at all. It takes patience to achieve a truly robust quality environment.

Bringing an organization from the traditional belief that each person need only to fulfill their own specific job to one striving to continually improve is a tremendous undertaking and it can only be attained by individuals engaging in the effort together. I’m reminded of a team member of one of our early teams who said, “Working together really does work!”

An organization’s quality journey is certainly not revolutionary, but evolutionary. This is demonstrated as an organization’s growth from collective individualism, to teams then progressing onward to teamwork. The aspect of evolution is critically important to understand and accept. The pace of the effort and our expectation must be slow and methodical, or it is likely to extinguish the flame before catching fire.

Organizational growth takes time. This growth depends on a well-developed action plan to make
it happen.

I’ve seen teams progress nicely for a while, only to flounder when things become challenging. Like most people, I’ve gone through the trials of misunderstanding and misdirecting team activities, of well-intended but not well-orchestrated teamwork pursuit.

These difficulties were most often due to either taking management almost totally out of the teamwork process, or the lack of managerial expertise in support of teamwork. Management must be directly involved in the process and must know what to do and how to do it.

The common direction for such effort is found in the customer focus, and the customer satisfaction methodology provides the process. There can be no doubt that management support in a robust quality environment plays a critical role. Nowhere is its importance more clearly demonstrated than in teamwork. Support may not be as visible as it is tangible. Webster’s definition reflects its special nature “to bear the weight of; to give courage, faith, or confidence to; to help or comfort; to give approval to or be in favor of; to maintain and provide for.” These words describe the attitudes and conditions of management’s psyche.

Teamwork takes directive, guidance, support, encouragement, patience, and responsiveness. It is a condition that only management can create, or, if fortunate enough to inherent it, only management can maintain. Like all other ingredients which make up a robust quality environment, it is achieved one step at a time and its rewards for the organization are well worth the effort.

Quality professionals are well positioned to offer encouragement to management and to provide support for teams and the teamwork process. If you are in this position, are you prepared to step forward to take on this important role?