As COVID19 ravages our lives, economy and businesses, smart entrepreneurs think about how to take advantage of the inevitable changes in our ways of doing business and make a higher use of down time that we may presently have.

Discussing this with various friends, colleagues and fellow business owners, ‘Exploring the concept of Teaming’ is one positive takeaway from this crisis.

Teaming means, in the context of this article, breaking down the silos that normally separate our companies by department, function or hierarchy. It means linking people up across departments to work collectively on problems that affect the firm and could be solved in a more robust manner by a multidisciplinary and multifaceted approach. That is what teams are for. As you read this article, think:

  • When/how have you had Teaming problems or successes?
  • Have you acquired lessons applicable to other circumstances?
  • What opportunities are there for Teaming to develop solutions to COVID19 issues?

The Small Firm Advantage

Smaller firms have an advantage over larger firms that tend to be more separated into departments or compartments and naturally segregate functions to give better clarity in lines of responsibility and authority. Small firms don’t have the luxury of having a person or executive for every task, so multitasking becomes a way of life. That is their advantage when Teaming is involved. Most businesses probably do it already informally and out of necessity, not planning. Small firms generally show the following behaviors:

  • Multi-tasking and overlap of different functions under the same person
  • Tasks done by the person available, even when not necessarily a ‘strict responsibility’ and, unfortunately, sometimes not even the most qualified
  • Family members and key staff solve problems whenever needed and however needed by dint of ownership or seniority

When an individual wears many hats, as with many small firms, Teaming becomes more complex and yet could be simpler. More complex, because the individual with multiple hats may believe that he/she is a more important member of the team – particularly if he/she is the owner or a relative, or friend. Position bias trumps qualifications to hand authority to someone who may simply not be the right team leader. Simpler, because fewer people are involved, there may be a greater tradition and affinity for teamwork, and it is easier to communicate and decide in small companies than large ones. Agreed upon decisions may gain faster acceptance, implementation and traction because of less turnover and bureaucracy. In small companies, personalities are more open to exchanging ideas and viewpoints than in large bureaucracies – an opportunity and a challenge!

Small Firm Potential Opportunities for Constructive Teaming

While each firm has multiple individual and specific opportunities for Teaming, here is a sample gleaned from 30+ years’ experience in consulting that may serve as a starting point for thinking about Teaming in small and medium sized firms.

  • A- Finance and Sales
    • Sales Department budget and salesperson compensation; incentives and motivation plans
    • Sales budget: A/R and management of credit lines to customers
    • Inventory levels [including Operations staff] and tradeoff between stockouts, lost sales and inventory carrying costs
  • B- Finance and Marketing
    • Quantifying Return on Marketing Investments and defining strategies with highest ROI’s
    • Definition of value: brand, clients, products and agreement on key elements of focus
  • C- Sales and Marketing
    • New product or service design and launches
    • Leads/client segment identification and tracking
    • Market research and trends
    • Sales and Promotion materials
    • Alignment of marketing efforts and sales campaigns
  • D- Everyone
    • Long term strategic business plan – investments and returns
    • Short term execution plan – income and expenses
    • Budget for advertising and sales/promotional expenses
    • Product Pricing and expected profitability
    • IT and back office investments
    • Development of a Cost to Serve model which uses ABC costing to understand the real direct and indirect costs of serving each client and through each product or service line

Sometimes Teaming is not well managed- here are some war stories

From our professional experience we have accumulated many war stories that relate to successful and unsuccessful Teaming efforts. The successful ones, recalling Tolstoy[1], tend to manage Teaming in a similar way and thus achieve good results. They foster a spirit of open yet constructive cooperation, where personal agendas are not permitted to dominate the common one, and there is an agreement as to the goals, objectives, fenceposts or constraints, timing and resources. Team members assume roles for which they are most fitted and contribute according to their skills, experience and aptitudes. Best practice is to appoint the person best suited to lead the team, as leader, whether it is by experience, talent or direct knowledge of the problem, having the best person be clearly in charge of the team is a vital first step in achieving success. Team Leadership may rotate through the different phases such as Idea Generation, Idea Selection, Implementation Planning and Rollout and Implementation. When these ground rules are not followed, frustration and wasted efforts are often the result. Here are some quotes from some ‘unhappy families’:

From Marketing

  • “We send Sales some leads and never hear from them again”
  • “Sales tells customers what they want to hear, not what they should be hearing”
  • “We send Sales market information; they simply shelve it”

From Sales

  • “Marketing does not help us sell, they just make pretty brochures and hold events”
  • “Marketing ignores us or treats us as second-class citizens… they live in their own world”

From the CEO:

  • “I feel like I am the referee at a boxing match, everyone is punching everyone else and I am just trying to keep the peace…We really need a team based approach so we can focus on the competition, not internal fighting” ”
  • “I generally would side with the Sales Manager, [in discussions] but when results are poor, I need to have the Finance head come and bail us out. When we need money in a pinch, it’s the CFO I call first, not the Sales Manager.”

Conclusion: Teaming is an opportunity to get more out of your resources and produce more post COVID19

While Teaming alone is not a silver bullet to solve all current problems, it does represent a potentially useful method to arrive at solutions that foster greater company efficiency, promote greater unity among the staff and strengthen any organization for the post COVID19 economic recovery. Teaming is widely considered among the academic literature to promote the development of Competitive Advantages and create a tighter and more integrated organization. Today’s COVID19 challenges force us to use technology to build Teams since 1:1 in person meetings could be unhealthy and bring higher risks. This change in working conditions means that we must incorporate technology into our work culture, our Teaming processes and, at the same time, let each company’s culture shape and form the use of technology.

If you are going to consider Teaming as a solution to face current problems, just don’t forget to always monitor progress and reward members collectively.

May you do well and prosper.

Lin Giralt, CMC, Academic Fellow ICMCI


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[1] Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”