Building High Performance Management Teams

By Longenecker, Clinton O. | Industrial Management, November/December 2001 | Go to article overview

Building High Performance Management Teams


Longenecker, Clinton O., Industrial Management


Executive Summary

Teams are everywhere because most everyone agrees that good teams mean good work. But what happens when you take a group of self-directed managers who thrive on accomplishing individual goals and put them on a team? Often, nothing, because neither their personality nor their performance goals lend themselves to cooperation. Turning a group of managers into a team of managers takes decisive action and strong leadership.

"Getting the players, that's the easy part. Getting them to play as a team, now that's the hard part."

-Casey Stengel

New York Yankee Hall of Fame manager

The use of teams in manufacturing organizations has skyrocketed in the past two decades. Recent estimates suggest that between 70 percent and 80 percent of all U.S. manufacturing enterprises use some form of teams for a wide variety of purposes. Team initiatives are frequently designed to improve productivity, quality, efficiency, and overall operating performance. A manufacturing operation might make use of a variety of teams, including quality improvement teams, problem solving teams, self-directive production teams, cross-functional planning teams, technology integration teams, employee involvement teams, and safety teams.

The philosophy behind the team approach is based on the notion that performance is enhanced when people with a vested interest take ownership of an issue or process in a cooperative fashion. The literature on teams is replete with examples of the effectiveness of teams when they are properly focused, trained, implemented, and supported. During the past several years, I have witnessed a host of organizational successes using teams, including:

* An appliance manufacturing plant increased productivity by 22 percent in eight months using self-directed work teams across all shifts.

* A mid-sized furniture factory reduced lost time for on-- the-job injuries by 30 percent in one year with an active and empowered safety team.

* A large wat opera tion reduced the cycle time for filling orders by a full day by creating an active operational improvement team with top management support.

* A large stamping plant created empowered maintenance teams that "adopted" specific machines in the operation for both preventive and rapid-- response maintenance, resulting in a 28 percent reduction in machine downtime.

There are four keys to these success stories:

* The team concept was appropriately applied to a specific organization concern.

* These efforts had the support of top management.

* The people involved were given the tools and time they needed to develop into real teams.

* These efforts were not seen as quick fixes, but represented real changes in the organization's modus operandi.

Given this background, a simple and obvious truth emerges: When employees in organizations cooperate and work together, good things happen. What might not be as obvious is the application of this concept to people in the managerial ranks. In many manufacturing organizations, the term "management team" is an oxymoron because managers simply do not function as a team at even a rudimentary level. These managers are more typically lone rangers, or teams of one. In the words of one highly successful plant manager, "My biggest challenge is not getting our employees to work together because they will if we lead them that way .... The biggest issue is getting all our managers to work together and cooperate, which can be a daunting task."

Baseball manager Casey Stengle was right: "Getting them to play as a team, now that's the hard part."

The costs of not working together

Developing a manufacturing management team can be a daunting task, but we all know that when managers in an operation do not work together as a team, the outcomes are often negative. In previous research I asked a sample of manufacturing managers to identify the problems created when managers in a manufacturing operation do not work together. …

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