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How team building helps reduce turnover.

How team building helps reduce turnover

`Membership' has its privileges--even in the lab. By forming a cohesive team, you'll step up productivity while retaining star players, explains this third article on recruitment and retention.

Experts have noted that morale is higher and turnover lower in close-knit groups than in loosely knit ones.(1) Loyalty to the alma mater tends to remain exceptionally strong in college graduates who played on their school athletic teams. Team building can serve as a similarly powerful force in personnel retention.

Managers and supervisors in effective retention programs do not expect to reduce turnover to zero. In fact, dismissing unproductive workers improves group morale.

Many factors that jeopardize team spirit in sports--game losses, egotism, bitter competition for starting positions, goof-offs, negativism--hold true for laboratory workers as well. Suffering financial setbacks at a lab is like losing a string of games for a team. Supervisors face the same variety of personnel problems as team managers. Elsie, for example, is resistant to change, and Steve thinks he should be the supervisor. Workers often compete for promotions just as athletes struggle for first-string positions on the team.

Two major motivational needs satisfied by belonging to a group are the desire to affiliate with others and the drive to achieve. The student or employee whose skills in certain areas are limited may derive satisfaction from the accomplishments achieved in those areas by other members of the team. For supervisors appointed to formal leadership roles and others who have achieved their leadership status informally, simply through their personalities and group dynamics, group affiliation can gratify the motivational drive for power and control.

A strong indoctrination program gives a head start to team building, one of the main responsibilities of a supervisor. * Elements of leadership. Team leadership involves two key elements: the structure of which it forms a part and the functions inherent in that situation. Leadership structure includes the policies, procedures, and expectations for which the manager is ultimately responsible. The functions of leadership consist of the manager's methods for fulfilling those responsibilities. This article will focus on such functions.

Because collaboration and participation from all staff members are critical to successful team effort, call your employees "associates," "staff members," or even "teammates" rather than "subordinates." The creaky designation "superior" has accumulated such negative connotations that it has virtually disappeared--and rightly so. Titles exert a subtle yet powerful influence on the interaction between supervisors and employees.

Making plans and setting goals promote teamwork. The leader must be able to envision goals and translate them into a mission statement for all to see clearly and pursue. Mutual development of specific objectives and challenging action plans will follow.

Resist any temptation to issue euphemistic mission statements that are merely hot air. Instead, express goals in simple terms, such as the following: "To provide fast, reliable service"; "To create a more rewarding place in which to work"; "To give every employee an opportunity to be creative"; "To inculcate a sense of achievement." Display your mission statement and periodically read it aloud at staff meetings.(3)

Team-building specialists match each staff member's strengths and interests with assigned tasks. This strategy takes advantage of individual talents and abilities and makes weaknesses irrelevant. Figure I lists characteristics of good team players.

Make your associates independent of you, but dependent on each other. This technique promotes teamwork.(4) Some industrial organizations go to great lengths to develop this type of relationship within their institution by eliminating all supervisors and dividing the workers into groups. In this situation, leadership is shared or rotated.(5)

A less drastic strategy is to remove only some, not all, management positions. The reduced availability of supervisors forces employees to depend more on each other. In business lingo, this process is called "flattening the hierarchical pyramid." * Urge double roles. Job satisfaction increases when each team member is both a generalist and a specialist. As a generalist, the employee performs a wide range of duties, thereby reducing monotony and increasing group flexibility. The elimination of special support people forces team members to assume responsibility for services such as instrument maintenance, quality control, and training. Cross-training and rotating workstations has a similar effect by acquainting employees with all areas of the lab. Eliminating numerous position descriptions is an additional payoff.

As a specialist, an individual receives peer recognition and a boost in self-esteem. The employee is motivated to enhance his or her special expertise. A microbiology technologist, for example, may continue to perform a full range of bacteriologic tests while developing added skill in diagnosting parasitic diseases. * Share leadership. The role of leader may shift temporarily, depending on the situation or problem at hand.(4) Occasionally allow a staff member to direct a training program, an associate pathologist to chair a quality assurance committee, a senior phlebotomist to head a patient-relations study group. A successful team builder is a good delegator.

Appropriate titles for delegates add to their prestige and strengthen their self-esteem. Examples of such titles are Education Coordinator, QA Specialist, and Consumer Advocate. Other activities that can strengthen a team include quality circles, committees, and problem-solving groups. * Keep communication buzzing. Use both formal and informal networks (the grapevine) to share information with your staff members. Encourage them to do likewise with each other and with you by giving news via word of mouth instead of using only official sources, such as newsletters and memos. Chatting over coffee is a good time to communicate with your staff. When you attend administrative meetings, take along one or two members of your team if time permits.

Don't withhold bad news from your staff. Be willing to admit mistakes but avoid pessimism and blame--including on yourself. Whenever you can, chalk up mistakes to experience. One highly successful business executive has admitted in confidence that he makes the best decision only 51 per cent of the time. * Train, train, train. Plenty of training is necessary to make every member of your unit both a generalist and a specialist. Have your staff rotate among workstations. Provide regular instruction in problem-solving, listening, and the most constructive ways to participate in meetings. * Have fun. A sense of humor is desirable for each team player and is mandatory in their leader. Watch good sports teams in action and note how they laugh and joke among themselves. Employees will put more into their work if they enjoy their jobs.

Frequent small celebrations and an occasional large one not only lift employees' spirits but also show that you care. These activities can consist of anything from serving doughnuts and coffee to having picnics or elaborate dinners. Once in a while, invite a senior executive to celebrate with members of the team. Most health care facilities can't afford to send their teams on exotic trips, but they can send out congratulatory letters or issue special badges, certificates, or trophies.

Merit pay systems in which evaluations are based on individual performance often hinder groups from working together. Encourage team competition while discouraging individual rivalries.

Conflict, often considered a barrier to teamwork, is actually essential.(3) Differences of opinion can serve as a catalyst for effective group decision making. Productivity and change demand confrontation, which is healthy as long as it culminates in a solution in which everybody is a winner. Reach decisions by consensus, not by majority vote or as the result of arm twisting by senior members.

Group membership is a powerful tool to use in any personnel retention strategy. By following leadership techniques that encourage esprit de corps, you can help make your staff a winning team--and keep it that way.

(1)Strauss, G., and Sayles, L.R. "Personnel: The Human Problems of Management," 3rd ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice--Hall, 1972, p. 592. (2)Young, J.A., and Smith, B. Organizational change and the HR professional. Personnel 65:44-48, 1988. (3)Mossop, M.W. Total teamwork: How to be a leader, how to be a member. Manage. Solut. 35:3-9, 1988. (4)King, D. Team excellence. Manage. Solut. 33:25-28, 1988. (5)Nichols, D. Taking participative management to the limit. Manage. Rev. 76:28-32, 1987.

The author, a member of MLO's Editorial Advisory Board, is professor of pathology at Hershey Medical Center, Pennsylvania State University, Hershey, Pa.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:part 3
Author:Umiker, William O
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Nov 1, 1989
Previous Article:Giving comps between practicum and certification.
Next Article:A lab conference that works.

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