Teamwork: Are we all pulling on the same end of the rope?

Teamwork - Are we all pulling on the same end of the rope?

By Joe Hertzler

Working together as a team (or not, as the case may be) is ultimately what makes an effort succeed or fail. Each of us has our own strengths and weaknesses and a good team consists of a diversified group of people with combined strengths that will together meet the objective. This issue will discuss the need for teamwork in the maintenance organization and some common obstacles to becoming an effective team.

Aircraft maintenance takes quite a bit of coordination in order to get the job done right and on time. Even at the smallest shop there is usually more than one person involved and at the larger one-stop-shop separate teams from different areas of expertise (maintenance, paint, avionics, interior, etc.) must coordinate efforts to be able to deliver the aircraft with the shortest possible downtime and at the highest level of quality.

We can apply the 80/20 rule here as well in that the first 80 percent of teamwork comes pretty easy and if left alone results in a mediocre team. All you need to do is tell everyone who is on the team that they are on the team, what the objective is, and the job will likely get done, one way or another. It's the last 20 percent of teamwork that is difficult to achieve. And it's the companies that figure out how to capture at least part of that last 20 percent that enjoy great teamwork and set the standard for time, quality, and cost for the rest of the market.

So how can you begin to make your team work better together? Well I believe that great teamwork has to be incorporated from the top down. A great leadership team will produce great teams within the company. Conversely, it is very difficult to create great teams within the company when company leadership doesn't work well together. Following are five steps for improving teams at all levels.

Step 1. Build trust - be honest with yourself
First of all, each of us has our own strengths and very few of us are good at everything. To really see your strengths you have to first realize that the picture is bigger than what you might be able to see for yourself. In knowing that, it's easier to openly speak about what you are good at and most importantly what you are not so good at. This can be tough, even for the top management of a company. We have to be honest with ourselves. Some may get into a position within a company and feel that they were lucky to get the position and that they really aren't as good as their boss thought when they were promoted. Know this; we are much more critical of ourselves than others are and your boss very likely knows your weaknesses and promoted you because of your strengths. What happens when you begin to recognize your weaknesses with the team in mind? You start to look for others who are stronger in the areas that you are weak and can fill those voids. Opening up and becoming vulnerable with the team builds trust, and without trust great teamwork is impossible.

Step 2. Embrace conflict - engage in constructive disagreements
Every project has its plan and very seldom does the plan remain the same. Open communication about progress and changes in plans will keep everyone pulling on the same end of the rope. Collaboration about changes in the plan ensures that the most effective change will take place. Often times a team will not discuss an issue that has come up out of fear of conflict. Sometimes one particular person on the team is dominant and everyone else wants to avoid any conflict with that person. Let that person know as a team that everyone should contribute in their strength area. Avoid snide remarks and digs at each other. That sort of talk just cuts away at trust between team members.

Step 3. Set up the scoreboard - clear and defined measures

When the objective of the team is ambiguous the team will lack commitment. It is tough to be committed to something that you don't understand. The most common problem is a goal that is short and sweet. It's sort of like setting up a scoreboard. When you know where the scoreboard is you can look at it any time to see how you are doing. But without a scoreboard it is difficult to stay motivated. The team has to ask "How will we know we are succeeding?" and establish five or six measures to evaluate against and measure success. Simplicity is the key. We need to be able to look at the scoreboard and get back to work quickly and maintain the momentum.

Step 4. Maintain accountability - high standards
Anything worth achieving, no matter the plan, will have many challenges along the road. Each team member has his or her role on the team and should know what is needed to be done to help meet the objective. When the objective is not being met either because one individual is not able to get their part done or the team as a whole is not meeting the mark, don't let the bar be lowered. Maintain a high standard and work together as a team to overcome the current challenge. This is where the open communication discussed in step two remains so important. Hold each other and the team accountable to meet the objective and work together to help a team member who needs it. Remember the goal is a team goal and the team needs to work together to attain it.

Step 5. Measure results honestly - team ego

In addition to recognizing what is not going right and maintaining accountability within the team, selfless recognition of another person's success within the team goes a long way toward maintaining momentum. Each one of us has an ego and some more than others. Recognition of each other's success reduces the other person's need for self-glorification driven by their ego. What it takes is a focus that is unnatural for many of us. We have to focus on what others are doing well and trust that others will focus on what we are doing well and be honest. And we have to focus on the team performance and gain more gratification from team success rather than our own.

I'm sure you can see why it is difficult to develop a great team. These steps aren't easy and the differences in personalities will very likely be both the strengths and the weaknesses of your team. The more diversified the personalities, the broader the team's view of the challenge will be and the better the chance for success. On the other hand, the more diversified the personalities the more challenging it is to work together as a team and tackle the issues that will inevitably come up.

From the boardroom to the shop floor, our companies are full of teams whether we want to admit it or not. I hope that this article has provided some ideas on how to make improvements on the teams that you work on and with.

Joe Hertzler is the president of AVTRAK Inc., an Aurora, Colorado-based company helping business aircraft owners, repair stations, and charter operations manage the compliance of their aircraft and/or businesses through compliance audits, aircraft pre-purchase appraisals, and aircraft records management and storage. Joe is an Airframe and Powerplant Mechanic with Inspection Authorization and also a Private Pilot.

Additional ReSources
The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, John C. Maxwell
The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni