Six Sigma
Last Word


Performance Improvement
H. James Harrington

Think You Can't Be a Team Player? Think Again.

Just don't let team responsibilities compromise your own duties.

How many of us want to be part of the team but find that, when we work in teams, we get behind in our own work because other team members stop by to talk and ask questions? You can say "no" and still be a team player.

Time Management Considerations

  Is the time you're spending with your team company-related?

  Are you the right person to answer the question?

  Is the interruption important?

  How urgent is it?

  Is it better for you to solve the problem or to help them do so?

 There's nothing wrong with saying "no" to a fellow team member; it's the way you say it that's important. After all, work isn't a social club. In fact, some group conversations are inappropriate for the work environment and detract from the group's total output. Putting an end to these conversations helps, rather than hinders, the team's growth. Remember that the goal is to create high morale and high productivity simultaneously.

 Casual conversation, disruptions and requests for help occur in every team and should be honored, as long as they don't cause you to compromise the quality of your output and/or miss delivery dates. A good team member will respect the others' time and will understand that there are occasions when others aren't to be interrupted. It's your responsibility to determine whether an interruption is worth your time and focus before accepting it.

 Helping your fellow team members is like putting money in the bank to be drawn out when you need help. However, you can't put all of your income into the bank, or you won't be able to pay your bills. Govern your time so that you don't hold back more than you can afford, causing you to fail to meet your obligations to your employer.

 How do you know when to say "no"? The following questions will provide guidance and direction.

  Is the time you're spending with your team company-related? Much of the time we spend with team members is not related to business; it's casual talk about TV programs, gossip about people in the company or stories about what happened last night at home. These types of conversations are important in establishing friendships at work, but they should be limited. They're best conducted before or after work or during lunch. Short casual greetings before you get down to business are also a good idea. This type of interface should account for no more than 50 minutes (about 2 percent) of work time per week.

  Are you the right person to answer the question? If you're not the best-qualified person to answer a question, don't shortchange your team members by wasting time providing them with a less-than-the-best answer. They will appreciate your honesty when you tell them that another team member is better qualified to provide help. This results in a win-win-win situation: You win because you save time, the team members with the question win because they get better answers, and the team wins because it improves its total output.

  Is the interruption important? Many of the interruptions we get are interesting but aren't in line with the organization's critical success factors. You need to evaluate the importance of the conversation to determine if it's really important to the organization's success and in line with its objectives. Consider what the result would be if the question weren't answered.

  How urgent is it? Find out when the task needs to be completed. If it doesn't have to be done now, reschedule the conversation for a more appropriate time. In my experience, about 50 percent of these types of interruptions disappear before the scheduled meeting.

  Is it better for you to solve the problem or to help them do so? Often people take the easy way out. They know that one of the team members has been faced with the same situation and ask that person for help instead of researching the subject. I know I'm guilty of this. Every time my computer gets a virus, I call Robert and have him correct the problem. As a result, I'm always dependent upon Robert any time another virus hits my PC. Instead of providing the answer, tell your team member where to find the information, or provide guidance while team members actually solve the problem themselves. You can steer them in this direction tactfully; there is nothing wrong in saying, "That's covered in the operating manual under operating procedure PC010. It will explain the situation much better than I can."

  Good team members are those that work together, respecting each other's needs and obligations. Show your respect for your team members by not wasting their time.


About the author

 H. James Harrington is COO of Systemcorp, an Internet-software development company. He was formerly a principal at Ernst & Young, where he served as an international quality adviser. He has more than 45 years' experience as a quality professional and is the author of 20 books. Harrington is a past president and chairman of the board of both the American Society for Quality and the International Academy for Quality. Visit his Web site at www.hjharrington.com. E-mail him at jharrington@qualitydigest.com .

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