Teams And Balancing Skills – Part 1

Workplace teams are everywhere. Some people have bosses, some have supervisors, and others have team leaders. And those in charge do not all use the same approach, just as coaches in sports have their own, unique style.

My most challenging assignment was the staffing of a new manufacturing operation, designed around a team concept. There were to be twenty teams ranging in size from six to twelve. We intended to not have dedicated maintenance workers, but we wanted to have the technical skills on each team. There would be leaders, but not supervisors. The crews would work without direct supervision and the members were accountable to each other.

The equipment was modern, and the role of the operations employees was to manage the process. They learned how it should run, what the failure modes were, and how to keep the process at centerline. If there was a problem that was outside the skill sets of the crew, they knew who else on site at any point in time might have the skills they need. If the problem was outside the scope of anyone in the plant, there were appropriate technical contacts that could be called in.

Staffing like this requires that each crew have a balance of unique skills. In case of an opening, someone who passed all the interview process and was in the hiring pool might not be the best candidate for the vacancy, because their unique skill might be redundant to the team. Everyone in the hiring pool was successful in the interview and selection process, which meant we would be ready to hire them at the next opening. But until there was an opening, we couldn’t be sure what unique skill the team would need. If the departing employee had pipe fitting skills that we relied on from time to time, then we looked in the pool for that skill.

The unique skills were not all technical. Even without a supervisor, you need situational leaders, people who will step up when a problem happens and take charge. And we needed people with information management skills. There were reports and spreadsheets that had to be managed as part of the process.

How do you hire when “one size fits all” is not the formula for selecting talent into a team?

Over the next few posts, I will share with you the approach I have used successfully not only in hiring teams, but in drafting teams into new operations. There is nothing surprising or revolutionary about the approach. Think about a baseball team. You want all the players to be productive offensively. You want them to be able to face both right and left-handed pitchers and put the ball in play. Defensively, they play different roles and are not easily interchangeable for those skills. The same is likely true for any team that you may have in your workplace.

The next post will explain the framework. I think about a team as needing skills in three areas: Technology, People, and Information.

In each of the three posts that follow, I’ll break those down into a model that can help you think about the depth of skill needed in each area. In one final post I’ll put it all together, and give you all you need to hire the right person for the next vacancy you have. Well, except for how you evaluate, select, and hire in your process – that part is up to you!

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