What if you had to build a completely new team? Where would you start? This is the story of my experience with that exact opportunity.
Our internal IT service desk had been outsourced for decades. It served as the central contact point for IT issues for22,000 plus employees nationwide. They took calls 24x7x365 from issues as simple as tier one password resets to as complicated as application specific, technical tier three issues. They logged both service requests and incidents, taking between 8,000 and 10,000 calls each month. The business saw an excellent opportunity to insource the desk, saving money and addressing the poor customer service that had become the standard. Our team, all new, were hired and charged with bringing the desk in house, in a brand new service center.
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While I would not begin to suggest a magic formula to make this work, we did lean on a few core ideas that ultimately led to our success:
- Be a conductor
- Seek diversity
- Set goals and priorities that align with business needs
- Purposefully build trust and relationships
- Communicate, communicate, and communicate
- Learn from the misses
- Celebrate success
Be a Conductor
The single best advice I can offer in building a team is to approach the leadership role as a conductor. The conductor of an orchestra or a choir doesn’t play all the instruments or sing all the notes. Instead, they lead the individuals as they play their part in the musical production. The combination of talented instruments or voices, led the right way, combines to make beautiful music. This idea was very important in building our new team. We needed individuals with strengths in knowledge, customer service, metrics, team building, process improvement, technical skills, etc. No one person could provide that level of expertise. In building the team, we looked for individuals with strengths in a few of those areas and built a team where the success was in the teamwork.
Another critical consideration in building a team is diversity. For this purpose, workplace diversity can include race, gender, ethnic group, age, personality, cognitive style, tenure, organizational function, education, background, communication, adaptability, and change. The benefits of diversity include increased innovation, improved performance, and employee engagement. There is great strength in differences. Seek them out.
Once the team was in place we needed to set goals and ensure that we were properly aligning with the business needs. This step, like the previous ones, is essential. You must set clear, SMART goals for the team, each member, and yourself. For us, goal setting meant taking a look at the level of service the outsourced team had provided and exceeding those goals. Initially, we measured daily, weekly, and monthly, looking for opportunities to constantly improve. Our laser focus on goals allowed us to meet and exceed our goals every single month. We proved our value to the business and created a team driven for success.
With the team in place and goals set, the important work of trust and relationship building must take priority. No team will be successful without trust. This was an especially difficult step for our team. When all new people start a new job together there are a lot of dynamics in play. Building trust takes time. As a leadership team, we leaned on resources we’d used in previous roles—personality assessments, several Patrick Lencioni books, John Maxwell’s 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, and Kerry Patterson’s Crucial Conversations. My team met outside business hours to bond and participated in several team building activities around getting to know each other and learning each other’s personality. While there are great ideas for team building and the resources we used were excellent, ultimately trust takes time to build. It didn’t happen in days or weeks or months. Well into our second year, we are still constantly working on this. Building and maintaining trust is a commitment that must be renewed regularly in today’s workplace. Inattention to this detail can and will break a team.
It almost goes without saying that communication played a crucial role. Because we were still team building and building relationships, there was an increased need for even more communication. The pressure associated with this kind of venture in combination with new coworkers created an environment where misunderstandings were bound to happen. As a leader, I purposely tried to over communicate everything—with my senior leadership, with the business, with my direct reports, and with the entire service desk team. As much as I felt I was communicating, this is an area that I definitely could have improved upon. When things are going well, human nature is to sit still and not “rock the boat.” In this particular situation though, constant and clear communication must continue all the time. In hindsight, I could have communicated up more. When in doubt, tell the story.
Learn from Mistakes
As wonderful as all this sounds and as hard as you work to avoid it, there will be misses. Things will go wrong. People will make mistakes. You will make mistakes. When mistakes are made in a new team, the most vital move is to not place blame. You should create an environment of forgiveness and learn from mistakes. This will go a long way in building trust in the team and in nurturing a creative and collaborative atmosphere.
Things will go wrong. People will make mistakes. You will make mistakes.
One final step is noteworthy in building a new team; celebrate success. Of course it makes sense to celebrate success, but it often is overlooked. In a new team, there is a lot of uncertainty. It is important to let your team know you see them doing well and you appreciate them doing well. This does not require a big party with bonus checks. While that would be nice at the end of a big milestone, it simply isn’t always an option. Celebrations can be much smaller and have impact. I’m amazed by how happy employees get over donuts or cookies. Often just a verbal thank you means a lot. Find out what motivates your employees. Ask them. The important thing is to be consistent and fair.
These ideas proved to be fundamental to building a successful team. Our team met SLAs in the first month and every month after. We significantly improved customer satisfaction from the outsourced group. Our service level set standards across the business. We reduced backlog, lowered time to resolution, and increased first call resolution. We created a robust knowledge base and set standards for new service onboarding. In addition to all that, we created a team that worked together toward a common goal and built relationships that will last a lifetime.
Vicki Rogers is passionate about developing people, customer service, and milkshakes. Currently a senior IT manager at Amtrak, Vicki is pursuing her PhD in leadership and organizational development at the University of Georgia, focusing on women in IT.