Thursday, April 30, 2009

Teams and technology.

“Where are the Lakers? Where are the Lakers?” Imagine the uproar if the Los Angeles Lakers couldn’t play basketball because the team lost its suitcases or missed a plane. It could happen if the people behind the superstars didn’t do their jobs properly. The Lakers’ hidden organization - accountants, clerical staff, janitors, video technicians - is many times larger than the player roster. Without these employees, the basketball team couldn’t exist.

A company's success often depends as much on the small, localized decisions regularly made by frontline employees as it does on the larger strategic decisions made at the executive level. For example, adjusters deciding whether and how to pay a claim create (or lose) a tremendous amount of value for insurance companies.

In team based organizations, the role of managers and supervisors goes from working in the system to working on the system – ensuring that the right things are being done the right way. They start by identifying crucial "micro decisions" for their company - those decisions that are made close to the customer interface and have strong economic leverage. They then ask how can these decisions be made consistently and correctly every time? Sometimes they can be automated to ensure the most valuable decision is repeatable. Or for those that require more thinking, they can create checklists to help the decision makers remember key steps or issues.

A collection of collaborative computer technologies called group support systems can also be used to allow large numbers of people to interact together so they can respond rapidly to changing conditions. The use of brainstorming software, electronic voting, collaborative writing and drawing software, mathematical decision modeling packages, idea organizers and stakeholder analysis tools, changes the way people interact, both in face-to-face meetings and at a distance. Electronic workgroup tools provide the data and structure that keeps the big picture in focus and allows teams to build consensus. Team members can contribute simultaneously in meetings because no one has to wait for their turn to talk.

Teamwork and collaboration are essential elements in achieving economic success today. As a client said to me recently, “I’ve never seen a parade yet that was very impressive where only the drum major had the sheet music.”

Poetry day tomorrow.

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