Employee Management: Full team ahead

Issue 1

Constructing a strong professional team starts with a solid foundation.

Constructing a strong professional team starts with a solid foundation.

At one time, the San Diego Zoo had narrow and well-defined job responsibilities: Keepers did the keeping and gardeners did the gardening. The bureaucratic system was effective as long as there were clearly defined boundaries between animal exhibits, public areas, and horticultural displays.

Conditions changed in 1988, when the zoo began to develop bioclimatic zones resembling native habitats and let visitors walk into and become part of these environments. Because the zones are more interdependent, the employees who manage them must work more closely together. Zoo executives, therefore, decided against having employees from traditional functional areas manage the bioclimatic zones. Instead, the responsibility was assigned to self-directed, multidisciplinary teams. These teams monitor their own budget, and members are jointly responsible for the display and help out with the various tasks necessary.

TEAM TYPESWhat type(s) of teams do you have in your lab?

Project team
A group of people who come together for a specific project and then disband when the project is over.

Task force
A type of project team that is formed in order to deal with a long-term strategic issue, such as purchasing and implementing a new inventory system.

Virtual team
A team made up of members who are physically separated from each other, communicating using telephones, e-mail, and/or video conferencing.

Cross-functional work team
A team of employees from different functions who have overall responsibility for something such as a customer, process, or line of business.

Functional work team
Employees from a specific function, such as a department, who pool their resources to serve their customer groups.

Work cell
Members focus on meeting production requirements and may be responsible for safety and training of cell members.

Continuous improvement team
Members focus on continuous process improvement.

Stages of Teams

Forming Team members are selected and brought together; members come to accept and commit to the established goals. The Team Manager needs to organize, teach, and set standards and goals.

Storming Conflict, resistance, and hostility often appear during this stage as team members vie for their place on the team. The Team Manager acts as a counselor, manages the conflict, is an active listener, and begins to assess the team’s performance.

Norming Members begin to cooperate, communicate openly and effectively, and become a cohesive team. The Team Manager coaches, communicates, and provides feedback to affirm or redirect behaviors.

Performing Team becomes productive, engaging in problem solving; team members develop a strong atmosphere of interdependence. The Team Manager problem-solves, rewards, makes decisions, and builds consensus.

Adjourning The goals have been reached (or abandoned) so the team is disassembled, team members separate, and there is closure and celebration. The Team Manager evaluates, reviews, and makes suggestions for future improvement.

Team members receive extensive cross-training. They analyze the work required, set goals, and gradually build a sense of mutual responsibility and ownership for the exhibit. Although the move to self-directed teams was a painful, bumpy road, it has paid off. Zoo attendance has increased, disability claims are down, and workers report a higher quality of work life.


The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Managing People defines a team as “a group of people who collaborate and interact synergistically in working toward a common goal.” To accomplish the goal, team members must work together. But in a dental lab environment, where each person is assigned a different task and is expected to master that task, where does this “team” concept fit in, and how can you assemble a team comprised of individuals?

Many different team types exist in the dental lab environment. Instead of trying to identify the teams in your lab, concentrate on recognizing them and keeping them functioning in the manner that they are intended.

This comes to the basic management tenets of selection, training, motivating, and rewarding. The tenet that lies under all these concepts is communication. If you have good communication skills, all the other requirements of managing your team will come naturally.

In the selection process, you need to be clear about what skills and abilities are required of the position and hire only those who possess those skills. Training is all about communication-how to do the job, what is expected of the employee as an individual and as a member of the team, the establishment of clear goals, effective feedback that helps them determine whether the training is working, and what additional training may be required. Additionally, training for team members should include teambuilding, communication, problem-solving, and conflict-resolution skill-building-topics that may not be offered to other employees.

Motivating a team differs from motivating an individual and can take many forms. It is up to you to determine what works. It could be setting interim goals and having mini celebrations when those goals are met; it could be posting results for all to see; or it could be adding new challenges or offering additional training. You are in the best position to determine what will motivate your team; if you don’t know, ask them! The same goes for rewarding.

The bottom line: To have effective teams, you need to manage the process-hire the right people and then give them clear goals, adequate information and training, and honest feedback. Be open and forthcoming, trustworthy, patient, flexible, and willing to change, if necessary. Offer yourself as a mentor and an active listener. 

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