How Teamwork in the Workplace Can Help Solve Employee Problems
- Human Resources
6 min. Read
Last Updated: 12/02/2019
Table of Contents
From Employee Problems to Employee Solutions with Workplace Teamwork
If you feel like you spend too much of your time dealing with employee issues, you’re far from alone. Owners and managers at small to mid-sized businesses spend an average of 25% to 40% of their time resolving employee disputes, conflicts and requests. That’s the equivalent of one to two days a week, a huge loss when you consider that managers frequently complain that they don’t have enough time to get their regular work done.
I didn’t start a business so that I could deal with employees’ drama and issues. I started my business because I was passionate about it, and now I spend so much time dealing with drama and pushing paper around – I’m frustrated.
Retail Business Owner
Dealing with employee issues can be one of the greatest challenges owners and managers of small to mid-sized businesses face. In this guide we’ll explore ways that you can recapture your all- important time by harnessing the power of teams and making your employees a vital part of the solution. In the process, we’ll address some useful ways to create thriving teams and look into specific areas where a management-employee team relationship can help create a highly productive, more profitable company.
Employee issues can negatively impact sales and profits. What if you turned the problem on its head and made your employees part of the solution?
Why Teamwork Is Important in the Workplace
So…why would you want to involve your employees in your decision-making team? Isn’t that the job of managers? Employees have jobs to do.
If your first response to the idea of creating an employee team to help manage employee issues is, “Why?” then it may be time to reexamine your attitude towards management. Using an old-fashioned command and control management style may not be well suited with millennial workers. When they have no say in the workplace, employees may feel alienated from your company and its goals – something small businesses can’t afford.
It’s a simple psychological fact that people need to have some measure of control over their lives.
If they work in a business that takes away all control, they may become unhappy. And unhappy employees in a service establishment is bad news for productivity and profits.
Retail employees need to resolve customer problems as efficiently as possible – including employee problems – and even helping to create your policies encourages engagement. And the difference between engaged and disengaged employees means a world of difference to your business.
Why Employee Engagement Matters to You
In a sweeping, 2016 publication, The State of Global Workplace, Gallup® found that only 15% of employees felt engaged in their work. There are three levels of engagement:
1. Disengaged employees are unattached to their job and the company they work for. They don’t feel recognized or appreciated, so they “do the time” and collect their paycheck but don’t bring energy, passion, or creativity to work.
2. Actively disengaged employees resent that their needs are not getting met; they act on their unhappiness, creating conflicts with coworkers and managers, and causing problems that undermine peers, productivity and profits.
3. Engaged employees feel recognized and appreciated. They’re in sync with company goals, involved and enthusiastic; they are performance and innovation drivers who help move the company forward.
The Benefits of Collaborative Working
Employee engagement and team building go hand in hand. When employees and managers work together in teams they can not only solve problems; they may create less problems to begin with. Less conflicts, less disputes, less disruptive behavior. Simply put, people who solve problems are less likely to create them. And when problems and conflicts are down, managers have more time to devote to their jobs.
Engaged teams have lower turnover, 21% greater profitability, 17% higher productivity and 10% higher customer ratings than disengaged teams.
How to Start Creating Employee Teams
To start a manager-employee team pick an issue that affects everyone – nothing too high stakes or emotional to begin with. Then call a meeting.
When you address one specific issue it’s not an abstract meeting about a policy that “you’re going to implement.” Everyone has heard that before and employees will quickly tune out. But people will quickly dig into a concrete issue that affects them directly. And before they know it, they’ll be contributing ideas and acting as a team.
Before you call a general meeting, make sure that you inform your managers and that they’re onboard. Discuss your strategy and goals and get their buy-in. That way they won’t feel blindsided.
Your First Employee Team Meeting
When everyone is in the room, quickly get to the point. Let them know that you’re going to try out something new today – addressing an issue by involving the whole team and getting everyone’s best ideas. Although managers need to relinquish, or at least loosen, the reins to encourage free and effective team brainstorming, it helps to set some basic rules first. Writing these out on a whiteboard will remind everyone during the session.
Four Simple Ground Rules for Successful Team Meetings
- We’re all here to serve our customers, so our solutions need to meet customer needs
- Everyone is equally empowered to come up with ideas or solutions
- There are no bad ideas; let’s get all our ideas out, then hone down to solutions
- We will need to arrive at a solution, or a plan for the next step, by meeting’s end
Whether you empower your management-employee team to determine the course of action or reserve the right to make the final decision regarding policy depends in part on your preferences as an owner, your trust in your team, and the seriousness of the particular issue. You may need to be fluid. Allowing employees to decide lower level policies while you make final decisions based on their input for more far reaching ones may be a good compromise.
Examples of Teamwork in the Workplace
Addressing Scheduling as a Team
Scheduling is a perfect example of an issue that may be better addressed by a team. It’s a constant headache for small to mid-sized business, particularly in the retail industry.
Scheduling is a balance between company requirements to staff appropriately for slow and crunch times, federal, state and local laws, and employees’ personal scheduling needs. The trick is how to arrive at a solution that everyone can agree with and buy into.
Scheduling can be a problem when employees approach a manager one at a time to push their preferences. Or when the manager approaches employees one at a time.
Inevitably, some employees are going to feel unfairly treated, and those bad feelings may play out in coworker conflicts, employee-management disputes, or absenteeism. But when all employees and the manager sit down and face the schedule together, figuring it in the most equitable manner possible becomes a challenge that the group can work out.
Your Workplace Team Should Face the Problem, Not Each Other
When management sits across from employees it can create an instant, us-against-them feeling. Responses will be guarded and ideas may not flow. Break this pattern by seating everyone in a circle, or around a table, with the “problem” in the middle. If a circle arrangement won’t work, have everyone face the white board so that they’re focused on the issue, not management or each other.
In the case of a team meeting about scheduling, place a scheduling calendar in the middle of the group, or tape a blown-up calendar on the wall showing projected customer levels and staffing requirements. Begin the brainstorm by briefly going over the calendar and then opening the floor to all ideas about how to staff to meet your customers’ needs.
Now it's no longer a manager telling an employee that they have to come in on Saturday. Instead, everyone feels involved.
When employees are empowered by being part of the decision-making process, responsibility comes with it. It becomes obvious to individuals that they’re part of a team and their actions affect everyone. If one person wants every Saturday off, then others have to fill in for that employee.
First Get Everyone’s Ideas on How to Solve the Issue
In the first meeting, employees may be shy or wary. You may need to jump in with some icebreaker ideas. You can also have mangers prepared with ideas, or enlist the aid of a star employee, willing to be the first one to throw out a suggestion.
Collect ideas on a whiteboard, or on oversize tablets attached to a wall where everyone can see. Have an employee volunteer jot the ideas down, so it doesn’t appear that management is running the meeting. Decide on a time limit; it helps add urgency.
It’s tempting, during a brainstorm, to edit as you go. People often can’t help themselves and will blurt out, “No, that won’t work.” Don’t allow it.
This behavior can quickly shut down a brainstorm, so re-emphasize that there are no bad ideas and that it’s important to get everyone’s input. You can work together to pick the best ones as soon as all ideas are on the board.
Decide as a Team Which Ideas Will Work Best
After the last suggestion is made, it’s time to determine the best ideas and shelve the rest – some of those may be useful later. Decide as a team how to staff a certain period. That may be the next month. Or your team may decide to meet at the beginning of each week and figure out how to fill the required time slots, or equitably distribute time off for a slow period. Perhaps some employees have demanding outside schedules and welcome a day off, while others need more money and are willing to work more. Whatever the outcome, it’s important that decisions are arrived at collectively.
Decide How to Implement the Decisions the Team Made
Whatever the group, or the owner, decides – whether to have a sign-up calendar for extra shifts, or a weekly schedule meeting, or another idea – figure out the logistics of how to carry it out. Where will the calendar be posted and by what time does everyone need to sign up? What if there aren’t enough sign-ups for the required slots? Who is on the scheduling team and when do they meet? No ideas are good ideas without a plan to carry them out, so this phase is important.
Get Everyone’s Agreement and Buy-In
Write down the team’s decisions, including the logistics of carry through, and go over them again. Ask if everyone agrees that this is what you decided together. If someone is unclear, talk it out. Then make sure, with a show of hands, that everyone buys into the team decisions.
Buy-in is essential. Once people agree to decisions they helped make, they are more likely to accept responsibility for carrying them out.
Assess Team Processes Regularly to See How They’re Working
What seemed like a perfect solution during your meeting may turn out to be flawed in practice. Be prepared to meet again quickly to address a broken process, or to meet once a month or so to assess how the process is working for everyone. Follow the same format of open communications. If the process needs improvement, discuss best ideas for that. Put the new process into effect, and reassess it at the next meeting.
Whatever Issue is Being Addressed, the Team Process is the Same
- Identify a single issue for the meeting; don’t allow “issue creep”
- Post and go over the 4 ground rules of brainstorming
- Get all of the ideas out and on a whiteboard, or oversized paper
- Hone down to the best, most workable ideas
- Decide how to implement the accepted ideas
- Get everyone’s agreement and buy in
- Meet again in a month to see how it worked and improve if necessary
Building Teams, and Trust, Takes Time
At first, managers may feel that they are relinquishing power, and they may not trust that employees are responsible enough to arrive at decisions that require personal sacrifice in favor of the common good. But effective management is about providing the team with the direction, resources, and the agency to do the best job they can. In this sense, team building is management at its best.
Employees may feel some distrust at the beginning. If your company used a “command and control” management method, they may feel that this new approach is a ruse to try to get them to comply. This can be overcome over time by best practices, integrity, and consistency.
Teams are fostered, not forced.
You can’t make a group of people become a smoothly operating team in a day, any more than you can dictate that two people become friends. As a manager, what you can do is take the initiative to begin creating your company team today.
The Good News: Team Problem-Solving Meetings Will Save You Time
If your company follows the average, you’re currently spending at least one day per week – 52 days a year – solving employee issues. What if you could cut that to half a day a week, or even less? That would give you more than enough time to hold an occasional one- to two-hour meeting to build a strong team that works together to turn problems into solutions. For companies with regular full time staff, this could be done once a month. For retail stores with a mix of full and part-timers that are difficult to assemble, quarterly meetings may work better.
It’s a classic win-win: saving more time to devote to building your business, while creating a strong team culture that promotes increased employee engagement and less turnover, higher customer satisfaction, and greater profits.