LAS VEGAS — It is impossible to have a successful business operation without having a successful team of employees, according to Todd Thomas, a professor and associate academic dean at Northwood University.
Engaged teams enable greater productivity and efficiency while reducing turnover, he told an seminar audience at the Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo in Las Vegas last November.
However it takes some effort on the part of management to encourage teamwork and drive their business goals.
Enabling a team environment can have a financial impact on the business, he said.
"If you are part of a great team, retention rates are greater," he said, citing a Gallup Inc. poll that retention rates within organizations with people who say they work for a great team are 25 percent higher than those working in other situations.
Mr. Thomas said it can cost up to five times the salary for a position to replace somebody and get them to the level of skill of the person they are replacing.
Great teams also can create better customer satisfaction which impacts profitability, he said.
"So if you work for a company that is ... recognized for strong customer satisfaction, it is predictable that they have a higher profitability than those who aren't."
Teams also work together to create efficiencies, he said.
"Teams have a way of operating in an environment where they find the best way, the shortest way and least wasteful way to do things."
Elements of a great team
Mr. Thomas said there are several elements that go into creating an effective and cohesive team of employees:
- Every team member feels welcome to contribute and engage. Some people might not be comfortable speaking out, so a manager needs to follow up with those people. If there is someone with a dominating voice that makes it difficult for other people to share their opinions, a manager needs to talk to him or her about the implications that is having on the team. Even if this is uncomfortable to the manager, the consequences are costing money, Mr. Thomas said. "If people aren't allowed to engage in the business and engage with each other, I promise you there are dollars being left."
- Team members are energized by working with each other. "It's not just working for the boss and working for the company, but we like working with each other," he said. The team needs to know the purpose of its work, for example, helping customers protect their investment in their vehicles. Also, managers need to define the goal the team can focus on beyond the day-to-day work.
Managers, themselves, need to care and believe in those goals and be excited about the job, otherwise it will be hard for employees to be energized about their work, he said.
Managers also need to create an element of fun in the workplace. "Work might be work, ... but the fact that we're doing it together has an element of fun. We laugh every once in a while. ... That makes us energized to come to work," Mr. Thomas said.
- Positive team-member relations extend beyond the person closest to them. Managers should encourage positive relations across departments, such as between service writers at the front counter and technicians in the service bays.
- Team members are encouraged to have extended conversations with each other about topics important to the business. This should happen without the manager forcing them to discuss business topics. But managers/owners should talk about what they learned at a trade show, products they've seen and trends that they learned about. Sharing information with employees lets them feel like a part of the company, he said.
If teams are discussing store topics during free time, that's an indication that the company has a potentially strong team. "But they can't do it if you don't give them things to talk about. And it happens because the topics you talk about are real and they are interesting. … You might find employees and team members have more to say than you think."
However, managers shouldn't frown on employees chatting about business topics, he said. "You can't have employees who are fully engaged and thinking about what's going to be helpful and at the same time not allow them to talk."
- Team members seek and bring back information from outside the company and discuss ideas productively. "Ask them what they've seen lately. Ask them what they've run into. ... All people engage in customer service throughout the day, at stores, at restaurants, and they may see something that they found impressive. Ask them what was their best customer service experience over the past month. Figure out how we can change things."
- Encouraging teams
Mr. Thomas said that owners/managers can create an atmosphere for team building by implementing several elements in the business:
- Have as little hierarchy as possible. The problem with hierarchy is the further up the chain the owner/manager is, the less likely he/she is to receive accurate information about the workplace. And hierarchy management slows things down, he said.
- All employees have the ear of the manager or owner and know they can come up and talk to him/her.
- Input is actively solicited. Managers can suggest ideas and ask employees: "What do you think?"
- All ideas are honestly considered — even crazy ideas might have a small particle of a good idea, he said.
- Opportunities for contribution and engagement are frequent. Employees shouldn't have to wait for a twice-a-month meeting to share ideas.
Building positive team relationships is an active effort, Mr. Thomas said.
Managers and owners need to be involved in encouraging their people to get to know one another by doing things that allow people to interact, such as a company lunch.
Sometimes managers may have to push people to mix and interact with each, Mr. Thomas admitted, noting that encouraging mentor/mentee relationships is one way of breaking the ice.
"Make it something you do in your business. You expect of your people that they help each other, that they mentor each other. That by itself is the model of a great team," he said.
He also suggested that managers not always answer the questions.
"You know the answer but it might be better if the person asking the question gets the answer from someone who is closer to the answer. It also creates a situation where they have to talk to somebody. They have to go out of their way to connect with somebody that they may not be connecting with," he said.
"If you can create these relationships that are cross-functional, that's even better."
Managers/owners need to value each team member as a person. "It means caring about team members beyond the role that they play. Caring about the fact that someone in their family is ill, caring about the fact that their spouse just lost their job, caring about the fact that their kid just won a championship," he said.
"It doesn't mean getting all up in somebody's business. It means actually looking at each person on your team and in your business as humans. They don't live to work with you. Honestly. ... Pay attention to what's going on, not just as a manager but as another team member."
Mr. Thomas said establishing a successful team of employees can make the difference between a company that is just getting by and one that is profitable.
"If your team is not a functional team, then your operation is going to manage and it might manage OK ... ," he said. "So it might be that I'm paying the bills and everybody's getting paid. But if I could let this team loose, we might be doing some really interesting profitable stuff.
"It takes effort on the part of the manager and owner to enable the teams. You can't just wait for it to happen. At the very least, people in leadership positions need to get out of the way of the team.
"So they need to encourage it, they need to provide opportunity and then they need to let go a little bit and let the team establish itself and collaborate and figure out how to be successful."