As I have gotten older, my interest in history has grown exponentially, and I have become an addict of the History Channel on cable. Recently, I was watching “The Men that Built America.” It’s a fascinating show, and besides learning a great deal about the Rockefellers, the Vanderbilits and the Carnegies, a segment reminded me of the importance of team building.
After the civil war, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie clawed and fought his way to the top. He never gave up on his dreams and showed unbelievable conviction in anything he undertook. He believed nothing was impossible. Over time, he began to lose focus and wanted to become the richest man in America. Even though generally regarded by his employees as a fair and kind boss, Carnegie veered from that philosophy and hired a ruthless manager to take over his mills. The manager pushed his men to their limits, forcing them to work 12-hour days, six days a week. Eventually, the men revolted and Carnegie nearly lost everything by ignoring his team.
I always understood the importance of team, but this series helped reinforce just how important the concept is.
Team building applies in all walks of life — sports, business, and yes, in a collision shop environment as well. Think about the benefits of team building as if your shop was a football team. The best football clubs are always the ones with the best-assembled team, not necessarily the ones with all the stars. A group of people that work well together, that truly gel as a team, can achieve great things. Building a great team isn't easy. If it was, head coaches wouldn't be getting paid what they are to build them. In reality, shop mangers or owners are like a head coach and need to build the best team possible to achieve success.
Belonging to a team can result in feeling part of something larger than yourself. In a team-oriented environment, you contribute to the overall success of your shop. Even though your people all have a specific job function and belong to a specific department, they are unified with other team members to accomplish team objectives. So what can we do to build a successful team?
- Set clear expectations. It is important to clearly define the goals of the team overall and the responsibilities of the individual team members. Every person should know what is expected of him/her in their role and how that role will affect the success of the overall team. When considering your team building exercises, always make sure that clear and concise expectations are addressed. This process should be two fold: both one on one, and in a group. Hold group meetings to discuss your expectations and explain what every member is expected to do. In individual meetings, you can get into the specifics required of each position in greater detail. Not every team member needs to know all the details of every other position, just the basics.
Remember, every employee you have is important. If they are not, you shouldn't have them on your team. Think about this example: What if your detailer/clean-up guy calls off and you have 10 deliveries for the day? Will that absence remind you of just how important your clean-up guy is? You bet!
Value all employees. No one employee is any less or more important than any other. They all make up the team. When one is down, the team suffers, and every team member has to pitch in to pick up the slack. This includes you! Showing that you, as the boss, are not afraid to jump in and help once in a while will go a long way toward winning the respect of your employees. I have a broom in the shop and its handle fits my hand just as easily as it does for my porters. There is nothing wrong with picking it up once in a while! Running your shop from an ivory tower is one of the fasted ways to alienate your employees.
- Foster an environment of respect. Supervising through fear has been around forever. It can be successful, but only for the short term. It won’t generally work in your shop, at least not for long. The only true way to win the respect of your staff is to earn it. I have a saying that always holds true: you cannot demand respect; you have to command it. By this, I mean doing all the things a great leader does. Work through issues with professionalism, mentor your employees, control your temper, be fair, and follow through with your promises. Andrew Carnegie almost lost his entire fortune because he lost sight of the importance of this issue. Remember, you won’t be able to build an effective team if you do not have the respect of your staff.
Share a commitment: In order to build a sound and effective team, all the team members need to share in a commitment to the team and its goals. Do team members want to participate on the team? Let’s be realistic — your employees are not going to be as enthusiastic about your shop as you are. As an employee, what they do is just a job, unless you can develop the team attitude in everyone. Again, leading by example is important here. You ask all of your employees to be at work on time, yet you repeatedly stroll in 10-15 minutes late yourself. Does that send a message to your employees about your level of commitment? Absolutely! Even though you can do it, you shouldn't! As owner or manager, you need to lead by example. Be at work early, not just on time. Be excited about being there. Buy donuts one or two days a week, and pass them out as the employees arrive. If you show your people you are committed, they will want to be as well.
As I have mentioned in the past, I love football. It is the ultimate team game. Pro football is larger than life, with players’ salaries higher than the GDP of some countries. One thing I know for certain about a truly committed football player is that they have a passion for the game and generally an unparalleled commitment to it. I have heard coaches say that their true stars would play for lunch money. That's how committed these men are.
Create a sense of value: Do team members perceive their service as valuable to the organization? Every employee wants to feel they are valued. It isn't always about money, although it is important obviously. The occasional good job or pat on the back can go a long way to adding a sense of value for your employees. A great mentor will let someone know when he has done well and when he hasn't. Each instance should be approached with the goal of teaching and correcting to improve performance. Many people will shut down when yelled at. Ultimately, they will quit altogether if the situation doesn't change, and that can be very costly. Once you have a good employee, it makes sense to try and keep them. Keeping them is much easier when they feel they are valued and their efforts appreciated.
Communicate. Are there open lines of communication between you and your employees? Are there open lines among employees? It is extremely important that you talk with and receive feedback from your staff members on a regular basis. Always be open to suggestions from any employee. If you ask for feedback, use it if it is good. Nothing is more frustrating than providing good suggestions that go unused or ignored. I suggest regular meetings with everyone, maybe over pizza or even breakfast, where you can, as a supervisor, give guidance in areas where its needed and ask for suggestions in areas that require change. I have gotten really good suggestions from that I would not have come up with on my own. This industry changes daily, and what was common practice may be different today. Be open to suggestions always.
- Implement team-building exercises. Getting all your people together outside of the normal work environment is a great tool for team building. A company outing that involves team play, like volleyball, softball or even bowling, helps people build relationships that carry over into the work place. The general idea is to get all of your people working together for a common goal. This practice has become very important to large corporations that understand the real benefits.
These ideas are just the tip of the proverbial Iceberg, and my intent is to get you interested in looking further into this idea. If you start to research the concept online, you will find tons of information about classes and programs that are available and in your area that you can utilize to build a program of your own. Once you have truly built a great team, your shop will function much better than if under the every-man-for-himself model you may be using today.
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