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Coal, Cost and Culture: Work Teams and Expectations for Teamwork

Oilfield Technology,

Having a team of people manage their own work and do a good job of it sounds like management ‘utopia’. The truth is that their success is totally dependent on:

  1. Management tools and processes that help the group understand one plan for the work.
  2. The training process for bringing new members into that workgroup.
  3. Expectations for teamwork required for the success of the team are linked to promotion paths.  

Without these three elements in place:

  1. All success hinges on the work ethic and commitment of the individuals in that group.
  2. Intellectual property of the company (i.e., the body of knowledge required to ‘manage the work’) will be lost when key members of the group retire. Closer supervision of such a group will not compensate for this loss. 

Work groups that truly behave as tight-knit teams in the workplace develop some unique dynamics. Like Indiana University’s 1976 NCAA championship team, they get so familiar with how each other thinks that they act as a single body, knowing who is going to do what at every moment, knowing that each person is looking out for everyone else’s safety, and knowing that there is a consistent willingness to help get the job done throughout the day.

This sounds like a ‘perfect-world’ scenario until it’s time to rotate new people into the group for cross-training or development for promotion. Now some unique challenges present themselves:

  1. Employees in the group may not welcome new employees because they do not know how this person will ‘support the team’. This concern may be a real one if there is no expectation and accountability within the training programme that a person learn and participate in the teamwork aspect of the job. Many times training programs are SOP-based. Testing and proficiency assessments are task focused. This type of training program fails to address expectations for learning how to ‘manage the work’ as an overarching requirement of working in a team environment. Only management can fix this problem because management sets the expectations for performance. Only management can hold people accountable for meeting those expectations, not the team.
  2. Special management tools and processes are often needed to help the team stay on track with one plan. Sitting in a meeting talking about what should happen that day may not define a structured plan for the day. A planning worksheet with team member names and tasks done on shift often helps solve this problem, especially if team members are physically separated during the day as they complete their tasks.

Management must be aware of the success factors associated with tight-knit teams and design management tools and processes to compensate for the positives and negatives that come with them.

Thought for the month:

Even the best team will be compromised long-term if management does not take responsibility for sustaining their success into the future.

Author: Kay Sever CMC, CQIA, Sustainable Improvement Consultant and Coach. Kay Sever is a leader in sustainable improvement for mines and plants. She combines 29 years of mining experience with a common sense approach to improvement that raises awareness about lost opportunity and hidden barriers that prevent improvement success.

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