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Robert Napoletano


Communication Is Key to Team Success

No matter who caused a problem, we’re all part of the solution

Published: Tuesday, March 6, 2018 - 12:01

‘Don’t thank them for anything. They’re the ones who caused this problem.” When I got that message, I thought, “This is all wrong, and there must be something somewhere that says so.” After some searching around, I didn’t find anything to support that assumption. What I did find were many references to good communication between team members, and part of that is the final thanks for helping out.

According to The Team Handbook (Oriel, third edition 2003), “Rarely does a single person have enough knowledge or experience to understand everything that goes on in a process.” Teams are a group of employees who work together to achieve a common objective. They can be structured in many different ways, but one of the key abilities needed for any team is communication. The business complexities of national and international partnerships make it necessary for all to be able to communicate well. Because a team typically consists of a number of different disciplines, including the supplier or customer base of your company, each member must be able to communicate in terms the others can easily understand. If not, the team facilitator must make sure that all communication is clearly understood.

It doesn’t matter why the team is assembled. Many reasons bring a team together: lean activities such as process improvements to the factory layout, improvement activities to eliminate waste or improve throughput, and so forth. Teams are also beneficial when it comes to problem resolution, such as defect analysis and elimination. The steps involved in using a team successfully can vary from organization to organization. Team goals can be anything from designing a new product to solving some problem in the manufacturing process. When working in a lean manufacturing environment, kaizen events are common problem-solving or improvement activities. A benchmark tool for problem solving, corrective action, or preventive action, is the Eight Disciplines (8D) problem-solving method; this outlines the steps necessary for team success.

However, my purpose here is not to describe how teams work but rather to focus on one aspect of the team process—communication.

Communication within the team is wide ranging and can be from member to member, or between team champions and company leaders. In-person communication is most often the least confusing because it provides an opportunity to clarify the context and resolve any misinterpretation. This can be done face-to-face or through telecommunication like video conferencing, email, or instant messaging. However, no matter which method is used, the communication must be clear and well thought out to ensure the desired message will be understood by all receiving that message.

Throughout its eight steps, the 8D process uses communication with team members and support individuals or groups. While all the steps are important, the last step, thanking the team, can carry a lot of weight for future success. Thanking the team helps to ensure team members are recognized and appreciated. It also helps to spread the word that teamwork is more important than why you wanted or needed a team. With the right “thanks,” people can be converted into believers of the team process and are likely to be eager to help out again. Even if the team or team members were responsible for the issue that needs resolving, all team members need recognition for giving their best efforts for solving it.

If a supplier missed a step and defects resulted, making them a part of the team to resolve the problem helps communicate that they are an important part of your business. It communicates that you realize mistakes can be made, but more important, those mistakes can be fixed.

Almost everything should be done with teams in mind, and the only way a team works well is with good communication. Remember to say thanks before the team is disbanded. How you say thanks depends on the culture of your company. It may be a financial reward based on cost savings the team found, a memento of the team’s activity, or a simple handshake from an executive. Regardless of the method, don't forget step 8 of the 8D: Celebrate team success!


About The Author

Robert Napoletano’s picture

Robert Napoletano

Robert Napoletano, a supplier quality engineer at New York Air Brake, is a senior member of the American Society for Quality (ASQ). He holds ASQ certifications as manager of quality/operational excellence, quality auditor, and continuous improvement associate. Napoletano has been a member of the Binghamton section of ASQ since 1980 and has held the office of chair, vice chair, and treasurer. He has worked as quality manager in several industries including electronics, metals fabrication, plastics injection molding, and fabrication of gasket and flooring materials.