Maximizing Team Success

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 24, 2020

By Deborah Mackin

The use of teams as an organizational strategy to engage employees and improve productivity is now more than three decades old. Much has been achieved, but more can be done if companies organize their teams efficiently.

Assigning Team Roles
There are numerous roles on a team, not only coach and sponsor, but also business unit manager (BUM), subject matter experts (SME), and meeting managers. It is important that team members rotate their roles on a regular basis to ensure that the team builds strength among all team members, not just among the few who are already capable. Assignment of roles should be based on skill, experience, and commitment, not solely on seniority.

Responsibilities of Team Coach or Sponsor
The role of coach or sponsor is very important to the team's success. A high-performance team recognizes the value of a coach or sponsor and readily includes him or her in the team's activities/meetings. Teams do not have the authority to remove their coach or sponsor, nor to suggest that the coach or sponsor not attend team meetings.

The coach or sponsor performs the following duties:

  • Complete the hand-off plan (for self-directed) and RACI (responsible, accountable, consulted, informed) chart for the team
  • Delegate authority and responsibility carefully and systematically
  • Facilitate preliminary team meetings until role rotation begins
  • Guide the team in the development of work breakdown plans for each goal; review the team's action plans to provide ideas and resources and to clarify boundaries
  • Help the team clarify and maintain focus on its mission, goals, and measurements
  • Transmit information, knowledge, and skills in a timely fashion to team members
  • Interpret and explain policies, work specifications, and job orders for the team
  • Identify resources needed (people, time, money, materials, facilities) and ensure that they are available
  • Teach team members how to manage work processes effectively and to evaluate results
  • Monitor team progress and encourage delivery of reward and recognition
  • Model proper team behavior in all areas; help establish team climate and shape attitudes
  • Promote empowerment and self-discipline in team members
  • Encourage effective problem solving and responsible risk taking among team members
  • Reinforce and reward proper team behavior. Troubleshoot for the team in areas of expertise.
  • Act as a team liaison to the external environment; network the team's results as appropriate
  • Assist team members and the team as a whole with resolving conflicts
  • Address all disciplinary issues during the early stages of team development
  • Provide gentle reminders to stay within protocol guidelines
  • Serve as a sounding board when the team is confronted with tough decisions
  • Promote shared information and collaborative problem solving
  • Foster a learning environment by helping team members learn, grow, and develop
  • Champion the shift to a teaming environment

Former supervisors and managers who become coaches and sponsors face the greatest role change during the transition to teams, and most need training and support to gain confidence in their new role. Many of the behaviors that proved successful for them in the past will work against them in their new role as coach or sponsor. I often suggest that if a manager is comfortable, he is probably performing his job wrong, and if he is uncomfortable, he is probably doing it right. Much of the anxiety that these former supervisors and managers feel in their new role stems from the fact that, even though they are the ones delegating all kinds of tasks, they are still held responsible for the end results. The idea of empowered teams poses a threat to their span of control and ability to trust. Special steps must be taken to help managers and supervisors as they transition to coaches and sponsors, including training, mentoring, and regular feedback on progress.

 Responsibilities of Executive Sponsor/Champion
On occasion, it is helpful to select an executive sponsor for the team, especially if the focus is on changing the status quo. The executive sponsor serves as a liaison between what the team is trying to change and the existing structure that may resist the change. Following are the executive sponsor's duties:

  • Function as a liaison between senior-level leadership and the team, regularly communicating about the team's progress
  • Identify issues or concerns at a strategic level that could impact the team's achievement of goals and milestones
  • Help the team to negotiate critical completion dates
  • Provide guidance and direction on issues that the team is unable or unauthorized to resolve
  • Meet periodically (monthly/quarterly) with the team to provide support and encourage progress

Responsibilities of Business Unit Manager or Value Stream Manager
The BUM or value stream manager oversees the work of numerous teams within a specific unit of operation (assembly, finishing, shipping/receiving) or value stream. The BUM or value stream manager works collaboratively with numerous coaches, paying particular attention to the business needs as well as to the teaming needs. These are the tasks that this individual performs:

  • Oversee the smooth functioning of the entire value stream or business unit to achieve business objectives
  • Identify and implement efficiencies within process flow and staff utilization
  • Implement lean process development
  • Grow the business of the value stream
  • Assess and maintain adequate and competent resources
  • Develop and oversee the budgetary process of the value stream
  • Coordinate with other value stream BUMs to maintain and achieve overall organizational goals
  • Work collaboratively with team coaches and star point leaders (SPLs) to encourage high performance of all resources within the value stream

Responsibilities of Coaching Facilitator
Many organizations utilize coaching facilitators who work closely with the team to teach meeting and problem-solving skills. These individuals may have been group leaders or supervisors in the previous structure and have an ability to build bridges and work effectively with teams. Typically, a value stream has one or two coaching facilitators. The coaching facilitator does the following:

  • Regularly work with team members in the value stream to teach teaming behavior
  • Help guide team members to perform meeting roles effectively. Help the team build and maintain its metrics board.
  • Supply teaming tools (team surveys, protocols, activities) to enhance team functioning
  • Guide the team goal-setting process; help the team to build work breakdown plans to achieve consensus on the approach to achieving the goals
  • Help acquire resources to support the team's efforts
  • Interact regularly with the team coach and BUM to discuss progress and identify critical developmental needs of the team

Responsibilities of the Subject Matter Expert
The SME brings specialized skill and experience to the team. These are usually technical skills, like engineering, process design, maintenance and tooling, or project management, scientific expertise, and  IT. The SME may participate on the team for a period of time and then move on to another task. Their responsibilities include:

  • Provide expertise in a particular area, such as manufacturing software, technical training, process excellence, scheduling/planning, sales, shipping/receiving, project management, and risk management
  • Participate on the team in area of expertise
  • Collect and gather data for the team; identify causes of variance
  • Gather information from other experts or other teams
  • Lead discussion regarding improvement

Responsibilities of Star Point Leaders or Business Process Leaders
About 30 years ago, Charles Krone developed the concept of star points to address the need to distribute role responsibilities evenly among team members. As supervisors and managers shifted responsibilities to the teams, the tendency was to give all the tasks, from scheduling and vacation planning to safety audits, to the team leader. It wasn't long before the team leader was completely overwhelmed, doing both a regular job and all the team tasks. The development of star points solved this problem.

The tasks are divided like points of a star and assigned to team members who maintain responsibility for them, typically for 6 to 12 months. In our teams, we use one set of star points for self-directed teams and another set for cross-functional teams. Typical manufacturing star point areas are safety and ergonomics (commonly referred to as "ergo"), communication, human resources (HR), production, continuous improvement, inventory and material services, quality and customer service, and training. To oversee each of these areas, an SPL or business process leader (BPL) is selected; this person coaches and guides the work of all star point coordinators (SPCs) on the various teams. In the case of self-directed teams, the SPLs are often former supervisors or group leaders who have considerable knowledge in particular subject areas. For example, a supervisor who demonstrated a strong commitment to safety could become the safety SPL or BPL, overseeing all the safety SPCs on the teams.

Cross-functional teams also benefit from the use of SPCs, although the roles are much simpler and there are no SPLs. Members usually hold these roles for three to six months, again with a backup team member in place.

Responsibilities of Team Members
Teams also find it helpful to identify general responsibilities of all team members. These responsibilities are as follows:

  • Prepare prior to the meeting by completing assignments and doing any necessary pre-reading in advance of the meeting
  • Attend regularly-scheduled team meetings on time, participate in team discussions, and offer suggestions
  • Perform tasks for the team as assigned; try to improve the quality of the work performed by the team
  • Remain proactive when things are not going well for the team
  • Take on extra work when necessary to ensure that the team meets or exceeds its goals
  • Help monitor results and track data for team metrics
  • Offer ideas and options to solve team problems

Members of a team allow each other to be the leader, regardless of level. When organized and managed well, the team as a whole understands the goals and is committed to achieving them. Everyone is willing to shift responsibilities to meet demands.

About the Author(s)

Deborah Mackin is head  of New Directions Consulting and is a recognized authority on team management.