Originally created 03/15/97

Teams build productivity



Local businesses have transformed "teamwork" from a trendy management buzzword into increased productivity.

"When the Japanese were beating our socks off in international trade, we began to look at how other people were doing things, and that is one thing we picked up," explained Don Mitcham, management professor at the University of South Carolina-Aiken.

Now businesses ask educators to teach teamworking skills, he said.

"The days of the old, ramrod, `this is the way it's going to be done' are gone," said Scott Nichols, vice president of Graves Engineering.

But as proof that teams don't always gel, lack of attendees forced the local chapter of the Professional Construction Estimators Association to cancel the Thursday-night seminar on teamwork that Mr. Nichols organized.

Some team projects, or "partnering," work better than others. Jon Bangs, interim director of facilities planning at the Medical College of Georgia, has worked on both kinds.

His first experience failed partly because one member of the team, a construction contractor, would not share information in an attempt to hide problems with his work, Mr. Bangs said. Other team members were not committed to partnering either, he said.

His second example, construction of the $41 million Children's Medical Center, has worked better. Mr. Bangs, representing the center's owner, meets regularly with the project management company, the construction management company and the architectural firm.

"It makes us, the owner, a little more sympathetic to the plight of the contractor. In a traditional project, the architect may know about the problem, but the owner is left out of the loop," Mr. Bangs said. "Being in the loop, you get a heads-up on potential hindrances before they happen so you can make alternate plans or tell the contractor when he can't deviate from plans."

Shifting toward teamwork takes time for the corporate culture to adjust - about five years, according to Tony Bertucci, human resources director at Kendall Health Care Products Co. in Augusta. Putting production workers into teams requires cross-training, teaching them to maintain quality and restructuring incentives.

In his plant, teamwork allows the company to manage 750 employees in three shifts with only 10 supervisors. In addition, the plant's efficiency has become the global benchmark for health care packaging, he said.

"I guess we have found that none us of is as smart as all of us," Mr. Bertucci said. Managers also work in ad hoc teams for projects.

Managers must assign team members who will bring complementing strengths and perspectives, according to Jack Widener, dean of the Augusta State University School of Business Administration. Then managers have to monitor teams to measure each member's contributions and ability to work with others.

"There are going to be people who are not going to be good team members, and they can still contribute. It's the role of management to figure out how they can best contribute," he said.

By Walter C. JonesStaff WriterLocal businesses have transformed "teamwork" from a trendy management buzzword into increased productivity.

"When the Japanese were beating our socks off in international trade, we began to look at how other people were doing things, and that is one thing we picked up," explained Don Mitcham, management professor at the University of South Carolina-Aiken.

Now businesses ask educators to teach teamworking skills, he said.

"The days of the old, ramrod, `this is the way it's going to be done' are gone," said Scott Nichols, vice president of Graves Engineering.

But as proof that teams don't always gel, lack of attendees forced the local chapter of the Professional Construction Estimators Association to cancel the Thursday-night seminar on teamwork that Mr. Nichols organized.

Some team projects, or "partnering," work better than others. Jon Bangs, interim director of facilities planning at the Medical College of Georgia, has worked on both kinds.

His first experience failed partly because one member of the team, a construction contractor, would not share information in an attempt to hide problems with his work, Mr. Bangs said. Other team members were not committed to partnering either, he said.

His second example, construction of the $41 million Children's Medical Center, has worked better. Mr. Bangs, representing the center's owner, meets regularly with the project management company, the construction management company and the architectural firm.

"It makes us, the owner, a little more sympathetic to the plight of the contractor. In a traditional project, the architect may know about the problem, but the owner is left out of the loop," Mr. Bangs said. "Being in the loop, you get a heads-up on potential hindrances before they happen so you can make alternate plans or tell the contractor when he can't deviate from plans."

Shifting toward teamwork takes time for the corporate culture to adjust - about five years, according to Tony Bertucci, human resources director at Kendall Health Care Products Co. in Augusta. Putting production workers into teams requires cross-training, teaching them to maintain quality and restructuring incentives.

In his plant, teamwork allows the company to manage 750 employees in three shifts with only 10 supervisors. In addition, the plant's efficiency has become the global benchmark for health care packaging, he said.

"I guess we have found that none us of is as smart as all of us," Mr. Bertucci said. Managers also work in ad hoc teams for projects.

Managers must assign team members who will bring complementing strengths and perspectives, according to Jack Widener, dean of the Augusta State University School of Business Administration. Then managers have to monitor teams to measure each member's contributions and ability to work with others.

"There are going to be people who are not going to be good team members, and they can still contribute. It's the role of management to figure out how they can best contribute," he said.