Empowered teams

key to total customer satisfaction


by Mary Ann Hellinghausen and P.C. Douglas


TRADITIONALLY, TEAMWORK in the business world has been limited to pooling employees’ skills to improve the company for which they work. But teams with the authority and autonomy to make significant changes in the way a company does business can do more: they can help a company attain Total Customer Satisfaction (TCS). However, randomly assembled staff members cannot properly be called teams.

“In theory, it is easy to use the word ‘team’ to describe groups in your workplace, but creating true empowered teams is not something so easily carried out,” says Merrily Mazza, vice president of editing, design and production for McGraw-Hill Higher Education Group, the third largest college textbook publisher in the nation.

As businesses strive to achieve total customer satisfaction by solving problems before they occur, a new kind of team is evolving. Here are tips from successful companies.

Implementation of empowered employee teams to improve customer satisfaction, increase quality; lower costs and solve problems is forging ahead into the global corporate world. This has been true for Motorola, where TCS is a long-established, goal-driven ideology. Given a clearly defined task, a strong empowered team comprised of the right people can increase productivity and boost employees’ perception of their value to the company.

Tips for Successful Empowered Teams

“If you're missing a key person on a team, it could be disastrous,” says Howard Berg, a senior applications consultant for Motorola University (MU).

Empowered teams can fall into three categories:

images Project Teams are cross-functional teams that are assigned to work on a project for a given period of time. An example would be a new product development team. This type of team—comprised of employees from engineering, finance, management, manufacturing, and marketing—is typically selected by an engineering manager.

images Total Customer Satisfaction Teams (TCST) are project teams to address customer and business issues. The premise of these teams is that creativity, intelligence and perspective exist in all employees. Not only can employees do more than their daily assignments, they also can improve on all the company's products and processes. Once a problem is identified, team members are selected— usually by the person who has determined the problem—based on their level of experience and skill. This can include many functions as well as customers and suppliers. TCST members aren't necessarily together in one location. Global teams can be formed to focus on solving problems and then disband upon institutionalizing the solution.

Mary Ann Hellinghausen and P.C. Douglas, who provided additional research for this article, are publicists with Motivators® Inc., a Houston, Texas-based public relations agency that researches and writes articles about contemporary business topics for a variety of U.S. corporations.

images Work Unit Teams work together on a day-to-day basis, and are focused on the primary output of their work unit.

Many companies invest in team-building courses like the popular ropes courses and retreats that incorporate team-building skills. The goal of such programs is to create teamwork and camaraderie between employees that will help them work better together back in the office. In the long term, however, no amount of teamwork training alone will create the truly empowered workforce companies hope for when they enroll their employees in such programs. There are seven key factors that must be present within a company in order for true teams to be fully implemented and successful: a need, purpose, or objective; changes in company culture; communication; empowerment authority and autonomy; management support; time; and training.

Motorola, winner of the 1988 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, has developed a culture to help businesses reach higher industry standards. Initiatives such as Six Sigma, Designing for Manufacturability, and Cycle-Time Reduction, to name a few, require the formation of empowered teams for successful implementation. Such teams are continually proving that empowered employees working together, from the lowest to the highest positions, can dramatically change a company.

Team members who are actually in the trenches “getting their hands dirty” are important to the team process, says Eric Sakurai, who is specially trained and deemed a “Master Black Belt” in charge of driving Six Sigma initiatives for suppliers of General Electric's Aircraft Engine (GEAE) division.

If the team is working on a manufacturing process problem, include an operator—someone who is actually doing the job and “feeling the pain,” Sakurai says.

GEAE, which employed a team of MU facilitators to help implement their supplier initiative program, is already experiencing signs of quality improvement and defect reduction as a result of empowered teams using Six Sigma methodologies.

The Six Sigma concept blossomed out of quality initiatives at Motorola. It established a single matrix for quality—total defects per unit—which dramatically changed the way management measured the quality improvement rates of all divisions.

A performance level of Six Sigma equates to 3.4 defects per 1 million opportunities for a defect to occur. Companies employing Six Sigma are striving to deliver products or services that are essentially defect-free.

“Teams are bringing different functions of the business together to improve the company as a whole; [such as] addressing all company aspects from manufacturing, outsourcing, engineering to services and beyond,” Sakurai says. “Our critical suppliers are doing the same.”

As a result, Sakurai says GEAE's bottom-line results are “improved products and services, resulting in higher customer satisfaction.”

The $300 million invested in 1997 in quality improvement at GE, worldwide, will deliver between $600 million to $700 million in savings.

Cross-Functioning. Cross-functioning teams are vital to a project's success. “You want people who think differently, so you'll get a lot of thinking ‘out of the box’ but often that means they don't get along,” Berg says. “But if everyone respects each other's role on the team, it's just like in a sport—you'll end up with a true team. And the output of the team will be greater than any one individual's output.”

A strong leader is needed to mold individual members into a team and to keep the team focused on its goal. The leader should recognize each team member's role and avoid dictatorial tendencies.

Management must recognize the team's authority. Once management has defined a team's goal, the team should then be in charge. Managers should not micro-manage the team's every action. According to empowered employee team experts, too much management can kill a potentially successful team. Requiring weekly updates can be de-motivating to team members—and the team might spend more time on updates than on the project.

Culture Shift. A corporate culture shift often must occur within a company for empowered teams to work successfully. “In today's corporate world, middle management is the biggest obstacle a company must overcome if they want to form teams,” says Diane Prange, team trainer of MU. “In order for teams to be successful, middle management has to let go of some of its power in order to empower the teams to get things done.”

Ideally, a team should consist of about four or five core members, with others brought in as necessary. If a team is large, it can be broken down into subsets, defined by the team members’ areas of expertise.

Time limits on projects also are crucial. “Never let the time frame get too long,” says Mazza, noting that a massive team project undertaken at McGraw-Hill took only three months because the team was focused and had a tight deadline. “If you leave it open-ended, it will disintegrate.” She recommends never allowing a project to linger past six months.

Berg, too, says intensity is the key to a team's success. “Even if you have a year-long project, you have to work as if every day is important. Be intense every day,” he says.

How to Reward and Achieve Success

Empowered teams get proven results: better quality, improved customer satisfaction, higher productivity. But there is an additional benefit: empowered employees perceive dramatic results stemming from team successes, which fosters their belief that they are more valuable to the company.

However, before employees can become part of a successful empowered team, they must learn how to function in a potentially intimidating situation.

Training. A team organizer may purposely bypass someone for a team because of that person's difficulty in getting along with others. Selecting the most assertive, qualified and skilled personnel also is crucial, Mazza says.

“The lack of such skills can weaken the entire team,” Mazza says. “The people I usually pick for teams are the most vocal and the most assertive.””

GEAE officials agree, which is why they teach basic leadership and team skills to their employees and recently began teaching team skills to their supplier companies as well. At least 1,000 of GEAE's supplier executives, worldwide, have received a one-day supplier leadership training course emphasizing the importance of team skills.

“GEAE is requiring better quality products from its suppliers and is willing to help them reach Six Sigma quality by providing the necessary training,” Sakurai says. “Many suppliers are seeking this help on a volunteer basis,” he says. “Everyone is working together to improve our customer satisfaction.”

One issue that can easily be overlooked when a company begins to implement teams is the need for team training. Individuals in a company must learn to work together with others as one. Therefore, required skills courses should include assertiveness training, basic people skills, group dynamics and leadership. There are many examples of more specialized training programs: automation training; basic problem solving; coaching, counseling and developing; communication styles; computer-integrated manufacturing; continuous improvement methodology; effective meetings; empowerment workshops; team building/how to work in teams; facilitation; general definition and direction; influencing skills; interaction skills; leadership and management training; team building/behaviors increasing team effectiveness; manufacturing principles; mapping skills; problem solving; project management; situational leadership; statistical process control tools; specification writing; team dynamics; team leadership; technical training; utilizing Six Sigma's six steps.

Reader Service Number 061

Team Rewards. Team rewards for a job well done can be tricky. “We have not come up with a good solution for that,” says Mazza, who has formed teams at other production locations in the Higher Education Group and recently participated in a successful large team project as part of a corporate purchase. The publishing business tends to reward on individual performance. Sometimes the team leader will receive a bonus for the team's success.

“There might be a couple [of] people who were incredibly outstanding on the team, and there might be a couple of slackers,” she says. “Everybody's afraid of resentment [if the entire team is rewarded]. Our reward structure is based on individual performance and there's a real dichotomy there.”

Currently, accountability, career paths, compensation, performance evaluations, and the like are all geared toward individual performance rather than team performance. With empowered teams in the workforce, a new order must be created within a company in order for empowered teams to thrive successfully. Attempting to change such corporate culture is not easy, especially in upper-management levels where such ideologies are heavily ingrained. “A new order which provides a looser working structure with a budget and perhaps some guidelines regarding methods to use to achieve a goal is usually the result of team formation and the change in a company's culture,” Berg stated. “Teams need the power and autonomy to make the everyday decisions needed to get their projects done,” Berg added. Therefore, many companies are discovering that all company policies, including reward and recognition, must switch their emphasis to the whole rather than the individual. Some examples of recognition and reward changes are a common framework for discussion; a consistent approach to measuring teams’ progress; an established feedback system; team performance link to employee appraisal; 360-degree feedback for empowerment.

Monetary rewards often are neither expected nor necessary. Being recognized for a job well done can range from a pat on the back to dinner with a high-level manager.

“That's the kind of thing people remember the rest of their lives,” Berg says. “Appreciation and recognition are critical.”

Each year, Motorola sponsors its TCS competition, which showcases to the company's top executives the quality achievements of its teams. The competition draws about 6,000 teams annually. For some team members it's the first opportunity to meet fellow team members in person, Prange says. In today's high-tech communication environment, sometimes team members will work together on a project for months without ever meeting face-to-face. The ease of communicating via e-mail, faxes, telephone and video conferences allows teams to work effectively globally.

Reader Service Number 049

Team Success Story. Empowered employees are solving thousands of problems at companies across the nation every day. At McGraw-Hill, a 25-member team was formed to solve severe customer service problems after the company purchased another publishing company. Within three months the team achieved success.

The large group separated into more manageable subsets based on their specialties and how they impact customer service. “We traveled all over the country and came back together every two to three weeks to report on why there was a disconnection on our end” Mazza says. “Everybody got very focused on this, and in three months the problems were gone.”

MU FACILITATORS with a track record for creating empowered teams often are helpful because, as outsiders, they are not immersed in the company's culture or politics, which makes it easier when recommending changes. But, when the initial training is over, the newly created teams must commit to taking charge and continuing the momentum.

Fully implementing the team building process takes time and effort, but the benefits of an empowered workforce are immeasurable. Results from companies using the empowered team concept show that dramatic results occur with committed and creative teamwork; employees become more confident and motivated through the team process; a better and stronger company is the end result.

In today's work environment, empowered teams help keep companies one step ahead of the competition, with improved products better tailored to fit their customers’ needs.

For more information on Empowered Teams and other quality initiatives, contact Motorola University, Consulting and Training Services, at 1-800/446-6744 or 847/576-0096 or visit their home page at http://mu.motorola.com/cs. images

August 1999 PM Network



Related Content

  • Project Management Journal

    Organizational Justice, Project Performance, and the Mediating Effects of Key Success Factors member content locked

    By Unterhitzenberger, Christine | Bryde, David Projects are under constant pressure to improve performance, and research is needed to understand the characteristics of high-performing projects. Using the concept of organizational justice as a…

  • PM Network

    Team Rework member content open

    By Bryant, James The performance of the core project team might be the most critical success element of a project. It's also one of the most overlooked. Although competency gaps or disengagement among a team will…

  • PM Network

    The Power Within member content open

    By Patra, Priya In the world of mobile app development, testing can be very onerous. Every application needs to work seamlessly across the entire mobile device landscape, from Apple's iOS to Android and beyond.…

  • PM Network

    Don't Waste Knowledge member content open

    Done right, knowledge capture and transfer set project teams up for success.

  • Project Management Journal

    Influential Factors for Team Reflexivity and New Product Development member content locked

    By Wu, Wann-Yih | Amaya Rivas, Adriana A. | Liao, Ying-Kai Despite the important influence of team reflexivity on new product development (NPD) success, a thorough analysis of its key antecedents, mediators, and moderators is lacking in the literature.…