Elaine Whittington, C.P.M., CPCM
Elaine Whittington, C.P.M., CPCM, G & E Enterprises, Sunland, Ca 91040, 818/352-4995
Overview: Today's world class firms are looking more and more at the importance of working with and through people. Cross-functional teaming is becoming a given in most firms. Purchasing professionals are asked to involve other departments in decisions which heretofore were their responsibility alone. Effective team results depend greatly upon productive interaction of the team members. A good mesh of personalities which include leadership, sensitivity, fun and organization will assure success in the team environment. This paper will explore the basic principles of team interaction and focus on the importance of personality balance. The productive team will fair best if it includes a lion, a monkey, a cocker spaniel and an owl. These animals are light hearted yet factual examples of personalities which can assure success by providing a good balance of important traits for team success. Time will be spent in looking at the facets of those personalities, some tips on interfacing with these temperaments as well as general pitfalls of the team environment.
Regardless of whether your firm is utilizing cross-functional teams, they are and will continue to be a way of life. One of the biggest mistakes which top management makes is to believe that a group who is designated as a team will magically begin to act and produce like a team. There is a big difference between group mentality and ideal team mentality which must be understood by all involved. Groups are often placed together only for administrative purposes while a team must recognize their interdependence and team goals. Teams should establish their own goals rather than being told what to do. In a group, competition is more evident. However, on a team trust and honest communication must be employed. Team members make an effort to understand different points of view and recognize that conflict is a normal aspect of human interaction.
Drucker points out in his book "Post Capitalist Society" that a good team mentality employs a technique similar to that of tennis doubles where each member of the "team" is allowed to use their strengths to the best advantage. The purchasing professional will find that working in cross-functional teams is a mixed blessing. On the one hand they will have the support of those participating in the decision, but on the other hand as noted earlier others will be participating in decisions which were made by them alone in the past. Finally, the good news is that purchasing will have input into matters never before brought to them.
Team basics are very important and include the following: size, purpose, goals, skills, approach, accountability, rewards/recognition and longevity. Certainly size and longevity are very important. If the team is too large, you have created a committee. A large team is rarely as effective as a smaller unit. Probably a team should not grow much larger than six unless there are special circumstances.
An often made mistake concerns itself with keeping the team intact long after the task has been completed. This has a great deal to do with the purpose of the team which can range from problem solving to working on a particular project. There are a number of productive approaches which produce good results. They range from brainstorming to decision trees, depending on the type of project in which the team is involved. Once the task is complete, it is best to disband the team even if someone continues to monitor results.
There are a number of logical steps which assist in the teaming process. First, one must establish the time frame and the direction for the team. Selection of team members is most important and the least understood part of the process. It is common for management to "assign" team members rather than looking at both skills and personality mesh. This might be a good time to explore our title and the personality aspect of this facet of team building. What personality traits might one need represented on a team and how can they possibly be likened to animals and birds? Well, let's take a look. Every team needs a leader, even though the books refer to this member of the team as a "facilitator." When all is said and done the "lion" will need to make final decisions, in the absence of agreement by team members. Call the "lion" what you will, that individual must have good leadership skills. Then there is the "cocker spaniel" who is the people person. The member of the team who tends to make all members feel involved and important. The "cocker spaniel" assures that everyone feels comfortable and helps all team members become involved in the process. Next we have the "monkey," a very important member of the team. The "monkey" adds the element of fun to the environment. That individual also is the one who usually comes up with the ideas which can be built upon most easily when brainstorming is employed. The "monkey" does not fear ridicule and has a very fertile mind. Last, a very important element, the "owl." The "owl" adds the element of organization and the assurance that things will get done. Every well-organized team must include an owl to assure that the task is not only completed but that it is completed in a timely manner.
Each of us has some of the traits described here. Usually however, there is a dominance in one area or another. When working in a team environment it is important that we all don't assume the position of the "lion" or any of the other personalities but that we attempt to adjust so that all facets are allowed to interact. It may be necessary to sublimate your most dominant personality trait and boost a trait which you possess which is not as strong in order to assure good results for your team. It is important to recognize the traits and act accordingly.
Use the next page to outline some of the traits you view as important to the lion, the cocker spaniel, the monkey and the owl. To give you a start look at these possibilities for the lion: strong, assertive, decisive, and leaders (of course). The cocker spaniel could be described as caring, loyal, sympathetic, reliable, team players and people oriented. The monkey would probably exhibit traits such as: mischievous, creative, risk takers, and fun loving. Finally, the owl should exhibit some of these traits: organized, thinkers, analytical, meticulous, careful and a planner. Surely, you can add to these lists.
Another important aspect of looking at this part of the team interaction is your ability to really know where you fit and how best to employ your talents. It is important to emphasize that all these traits are equally important to the success of the team. The lion is no more important or more necessary that the cocker spaniel. All must be in attendance to obtain the best results. Good analytic ability and the ability to adapt will make the team most productive. During the workshop we will employ an exercise to see if it is easy to recognize where you fit in the area of dominant personality. None of the temperaments described is more valuable or important to the team, all play a very significant part. One should do their best to blend their personality with the balance of the group.
There are many very important team building roles which contribute to the team's operational success. These deal with the following skills: supporting, confronting, gatekeeping, mediating harmonizing summarizing, and process observing. In order to support another member of the group with whom you do not necessarily agree, you should express your feelings that the other person's opinion or idea is taken seriously. This support must be verbalized and will pay off in more and better contributions to the group. Cocker spaniels are able to do this most easily.
Confronting is a special skill which not all of us can accomplish without starting a war. Confronting can be done diplomatically if it focuses on behavior and not personality. Lions have trouble in this area because they sometimes look at the person rather than the behavior. It is much better left to the monkey or the cocker spaniel. Often the owl handles this well because they are so intense on getting the job done and they do focus on behavior. On occasion confronting is necessary because an activity is slowing down the process in the first place.
Gatekeeping is essentially the act of allowing equal time to all members of the team, or being sure that the less assertive are allowed to contribute. Here is a good area for the lion to shine. It usually takes a strong person to chime in and point out that someone else has been trying to make a point for quite a while. The important task here is to assure that no one person dominates the discussion.
Mediating disputes can require some real diplomacy. This is another area which is good for the cocker spaniel or monkey part of your personality. The important proficiency here is skillful intervention and the ability to restate each position and allow both parties to clarify, if necessary. Sometimes during a heated debate, parties involved become more interested in defending themselves than working on the problem. They fail to see areas of agreement. Mediating works hand in hand with harmonizing which allows an intervenor to summarize and point out areas of agreement as well as permit other members of the team to express their thoughts and ideas.
Summarizing is important because it allows the entire team to see just where they are and what needs to be done. Summarizing gives the group time to breathe and clarifies any confusion that might exist. A great job for the owl.
Last of all is process observing. It looks at progress and necessary adjustments. The function allows the group to see what progress has been made and decides what must be done to move toward the team goal. A combination owl and lion function may be best.
The monkey has not been left behind in this process. Many of the best ideas with potential for growth come from this personality and it is the monkey that assures the experience is a pleasant one. The monkey is evident in all the team activities. We all have a little monkey in us.
It is important to use special techniques in interfacing with the different personalities. Lions respond to logic and reason rather than emotion, where cocker spaniels might be more influenced by the human side of the behavior sphere. Monkeys like to play and respond well to a bit of humor thrown in with the facts and finally the owl wants just the facts. Understanding how to interface is indeed important as is the ability to clearly be able to identify these personalities and most important of all to know what you are. When team members are selected it is important to make the first consideration for selection the necessary skills needed for the task. On occasion the balance of personalities is not possible and a team finds itself with too many lions and one of the other personalities is entirely missing. Good team members realize this and are willing to take over the missing areas for the success of the team. Are you a lion, a cocker spaniel, a monkey or an owl? At least know which is your dominant trait and know when to bring forth other traits for the good of the team.