Fifty years after teams came into vogue as an organizational structure and management tool, companies remain split on their value. In our industry, there are baking companies I talk with completely sold on their value, and others who have tried them and found them useless. I suspect the majority of bakers are somewhere in between.

A team approach is not for every organization. For those where management is highly centralized and decisions funnel from the top, traditional non-team structures quite possibly provide the better alternative. It is OK to have a group of well-trained people who do not form a team. If that is your situation, then your role is one of ensuring individuals receive the training they need to perform their job, monitoring individual performance and establishing an effective performance-based reward system.

However, I suggest there are benefits to having members of the organization to freely exchange ideas, to support one another, to identify real and potential problems, and to propose solutions to the problems they encounter. Essential to these concepts is the belief that no quality management system works unless people are empowered and committed to taking responsibility for quality. To achieve this, creating an environment where these work habits are fostered and practiced takes a commitment of time and resources.

To develop successful teams, have organizational support in place for the team before it is formed. The goals and objectives you propose for the team need the buy-in and support of management.

Appropriate goals and set objectives should state what specifically you want accomplished. A goal may be to reduce operational downtime, and an objective could be to reduce it by 10% in six months. Remember in forming your goals, they need to be challenging yet achievable by the team, and they need to be time-related. Both management and the team need to be prepared for some give and take on setting of goals and objectives. For the goals to have meaning and acceptance, both parties have to buy in.

Establish clearly defined boundaries from the start. What will be the charter of the team and what won’t be? By forming the team, you have empowered them to accomplish a task or a group of tasks. You’ll need to be clear as to what this entails.

Provide team members with the time they need to fully participate. Teams need time to get together — to form, be trained and interact. Management needs to decide how much company time it will allow team members to devote to these efforts. For projects requiring extensive time commitments, participants may need current work to be reassigned.

Perform initial training on communications, problem solving and working as a team. This will be a new experience for many, and they will need preparation on effective ways to contribute to a team effort. They will likely need to develop some analytical skills to assist in task analysis.

Establish solid leadership. Most importantly, team leaders must maintain an open dialog with the external leader, the team champion, addressing the team’s development, needs, activities and accomplishments. This team champion prevents obstacles from being thrown in the team’s path and ensures it receives continued support to be successful. The champion stays the course with the organization and the team. This person is the anchor and the lighthouse that keeps things on track and focused.

Teamwork takes preparation, but with it, the results will speak for themselves.      

Picking the correct team

The interdependent team is likely the first, perhaps only, type of team you think about. The outcome is dependent on a cooperative effort on the part of each member because every one possesses a different skill. Success requires on the collaboration of its members including the coaching staff and management team.

With an independent team, every person performs the same task and each member's level of perfecting the same skills determines the degree of success that a team will have. Interdependent teams can be formed across departmental lines, while independent teams are best suited for use within a department.