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Sales Leadership
Sep 1, 2009 | Penny Reynolds lock

There has been much research to show that self-directed work teams foster continuous improvement and result in better quality, productivity, and customer service. People who work on functional teams are happier with their jobs than people who don't belong to a team. Team members feel better about their work because they are involved more in their jobs and see a link between their own accomplishments and those of the team and the organization.

As a manager, there is much you can do to make your team a success. Clearly defining the roles and responsibilities of the team will help ensure your team members know what is expected now and into the future. A team framework, with ever-increasing responsibilities, can provide career definition and help map out a training and development for the team as a whole as well as individuals.

This article outlines some of the basics of building and managing a successful team, including how to define roles and responsibilities, as well as how to develop the team over the long-term.

Benefits of Teams
Teams in the workplace are nothing new. Anthropologists believe that a major advancement in evolution occurred when early cavemen formed teams to hunt and farm more successfully. Early on, our ancestors learned they could accomplish more together than they could individually. Not only were teams more efficient, but more enjoyable too.

Teams throughout the years have allowed people to take on different roles, depending on their interests and skills. They have enabled human beings to help each other out, both personally and professionally. The pooled ideas of a group have proven to be superior to the ideas of an individual.

The growth of teams has been particularly evident in the past twenty years in the workplace. There has been much research to show that self-directed work teams foster continuous improvement and great strides in quality, productivity, and customer service. People who work on functional teams are happier with their jobs than people who don't belong to a team. Team members feel better about their work because they are involved more in their jobs and see a link between their own accomplishments and those of the team and the organization.
There can be two definitions of a team in the call centre. A team can simply be a group of people that handle the same type of call or report to the same supervisor. A true team environment however will take the definition past just job function or supervisory structure. In an integrated team environment, team members will share job responsibilities and work toward a team vision and goals. Depending upon how self-directed the team is, the members may be responsible for anything from scheduling and assigning their own work to monitoring their performance as individuals and a team unit. Truly self-contained teams may even be responsible for peer performance reviews and coaching, as well as reward and discipline issues.

Cohesive teams have a great track record. There are many examples of improvements resulting from team implementations. According to the book Succeeding with Teams, teams at DDI's customer service centre were able to handle 86% more work with only a 12% increase in labor through team innovations. At the Kodak Customer Assistance Centre, the number of calls handled per hour doubled, as did first-call resolution rates when a team structure was implemented.

Defining Roles
As you develop your team, it will be useful to ""charter"" your team. A team charter will define the team's purpose and objectives. The more precisely you can define the purpose and objectives of the team, the faster your team members will understand where they're headed and how their roles fit into the bigger, overall plan for the call centre.

The team charter should answer three important questions:| How much leadership will team members assume?| What outside groups will the team need to coordinate?| How will the team measure its effectiveness?

A key element in preliminary set-up and ongoing team development is identifying the roles that team members and the leader will play. As a supervisor you should define what responsibilities you will assume and which ones will be delegated to your team. Some of these roles and responsibilities can shift from you to the team as the team matures and develops.
A matrix of team roles and responsibilities should be shared with everyone on the team so all members know what the mission and goals of the team are, as well as who is doing what now and into the future. You may want to define responsibilities for the current time, six months from now, twelve months from now, and so on. It should show not just current responsibilities, but what the team is preparing to do for the future.

A team responsibilities matrix serves as a roadmap to see where your team has been, where it is now, and where it is going. In addition to the matrix shown above, you will need to develop a matrix by individual that shows each team member's responsibilities. Clarifying roles helps your team members avoid misunderstandings and identify new opportunities for development. It shows who is currently fully occupied and who may have room for additional responsibilities. It can also help you identify training and development opportunities as your team members assume more and more responsibilities. Finally, it can also help people outside the team determine the best contact points for their needs.

It is common for a team to get ""off track"" and to be going in too many directions at once. When that happens, it's difficult for the team to focus on its primary goals and objectives, which can frustrate both you and your team members. If your team members get off track, it's your role as their leader to work with them to reexamine their focus areas.

To help the team stay focused, you may need to help team members prioritize. Have each member make a list of responsibilities and work together as a team to prioritize their efforts. You may still keep all the tasks on the list, but items may need to move up or down the list so the team can readjust its focus to its top priority - meeting customer needs and expectations.
You will also want to ensure that team members are pacing themselves appropriately. In an effort to foster development, you may have shifted responsibilities to team members too soon in the learning and development cycle. Assess the tasks of each role and make sure team members have the appropriate skills and knowledge or they may be trying to do too much too soon.
Always keep a focus on the team process and how the team can do the work better and more efficiently. This may involve rethinking processes and procedures. Be flexible and learn to adapt to inevitable surprises and conflict that are part of every team effort.

Team Evolution
It's tempting to hope for an overnight solution and to have your team fully functional right away. However, you need to be careful about growing your team too fast, as the best way to develop the team is to let it grow over time. Planning appropriate tasks and incorporating new levels of decision-making one step at a time will ensure the success of the team and prevent the kind of frustration that occurs when people expect too much too soon.
Team members will be able to handle different responsibilities at various stages of their development. For example, you might expect team members to handle simple administrative tasks like timekeeping early on, but they may not be ready to take on more complex responsibilities like performance monitoring and review until much later in their development. Be realistic in your expectations and match the tasks and levels of decision making when the team and individual team members are fully ready to handle them.

It's important to know when to ""stretch"" the team and provide them with new challenges and opportunities. However, you don't want to stretch them to the point of breaking. While some failures are inevitable and help the team learn and grow, too many failures will damage individual and team morale.

There are also occasions where your team will hit a ""plateau"" where their improvement and development is stalled. Recognize that early efforts on team activities may yield significant results, and it's natural to assume that these productivity increases will continue. It is natural to reach a steady level of performance, and the team should not be discouraged when improvements fail to skyrocket. When this happens, it is simply time to celebrate the successes that have been achieved, and perhaps look for new and different ways to do things, or define new areas to be attacked.
Top-performing teams constantly challenge everything. The work environment in today's call centre is changing constantly, and teams that don't change to adapt to the new environment will fail. It is important to celebrate team successes, but also to be ready to move ahead with the next new challenge. As a manager, you should help the team identify those new challenges, and provide feedback and advice about their steps to improvement.

About the Author:

Penny Reynolds is a Founding Partner of The Call Center School, a company that provides a wide range of educational offerings for call centre professionals. Penny is a popular industry speaker and is the author of numerous call centre management books, including Call Center Staffing: The Complete, Practical Guide to Workforce Management and Call Center Supervision: The Complete Guide for Managing Frontline Staff.

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