It may be an old saying, but you truly can’t please all of the people all of the time. The best managers know that. What you can do, is provide an atmosphere where your employees can be satisfied and motivated if they so choose.

Today’s workforce needs the workplace to be a socially rewarding environment. Surveys show people value interaction with others, and they want to be an essential part of a team and the business. So how do you reinforce this? Here are some tips.

Know the team
Much has been written and discussed concerning this subject, but the truth is, not every group of employees wants or needs a team structure. Think of it this way. Would your people perform best under the structure of a basketball team, a baseball team or a football team? 

  • Basketball teams meet when they need to re-group (calling a time out) or at a scheduled time determined by the play clock. The team can use this time to call a play for a specific situation, make minor adjustments in responsibility or simply to encourage each other. The coach can instruct an individual player during minor breaks in play, like foul shots or out-of-bounds or he/she can call instructions in from the sidelines. This structure allows more independence from the coach during play. An individual player can pick up the pace and make a significant impact in a short period of time.
  • A baseball team generally meets only when it has accomplished a set objective (three outs), or if a crisis erupts (bases loaded with no outs).  The coach can have a significant impact on the game, but most of his advice is done privately (with hand signals) to specific individuals while play continues. A team may have a significant amount of time to re-group while it is in the dugout, and can use that time to encourage other players or plan the next move.
  • Football teams huddle after every play. They call a play, execute the play, huddle, call another play based on the previous one’s results, and so on. A football team needs strong leaders and decision makers in its quarterback and defensive captains. Also, each player must execute his  assignment flawlessly or the play fails.

Communication between the coach and team leaders must be exceptionally clear, and those leaders must pass the message along just as accurately. This structure provides a clear set of objectives, specific assignments and instantly measurable results.

Making it work
As a supervisor you need to recognize the type of team that fits your production system. 

If your staff needs little day-to-day contact with you and works well independently, think of your team structure as that of a basketball team.  Maintain regular contact with individuals to handle circumstances specific to his or her production area. You can hold a few regularly scheduled  meetings, and watch for the need to call special meetings to handle uncommon situations.

A baseball team structure would work best if you have some individuals that need regular contact, and other staff members that perform well independently. You can coach team members on an individual basis and as a group ù whatever the situation requires. You can hold meetings on a regular basis, and the staff knows that you will call a special meeting to exchange information and develop a new strategy when needed. These team members may need to spend time together as a group to learn from each other.

A staff roster that has many new members or has positions that interact with other people, may need the advantages that a football team structure provides. Because workers’ may be more dependent on the actions of others, discussing situations regularly has its merits. Staff meetings, updates on roles and duties, encouragement from the coach and other  players is essential.

Of course, in any team structure communication goes both ways. The coach is not the only one providing information. Team members must report unusual circumstances, personal insights, and updates on their area of responsibility. Without that information, the coach and team captains are more prone to make poor decisions.

Don Tyler is president of Profitable Solutions