Ten steps to effective teamwork

 - March 28, 2007, 10:18 AM

Managing a flight department is a task equally as challenging as any confronted by other executives within a company. It involves dealing with talented people, each of whom might have his or her own thoughts about how best to run the show. The dollar investment in equipment is large, and the responsibility is significantly larger. By providing safe, secure and efficient transportation of a firm’s most important assets–its employees–the flight department as a whole is a key component in achieving a company’s strategic and tactical objectives. No question about it: flight department managers have a big job.

Accomplishing that job successfully requires teamwork. Being a one-person dynamo is not the best way to run any operation, least of all something as sophisticated and important as a company’s flight department. Creating a team, and leading it, is the best approach. Teams, not individuals, win ball games. Many times we see losing teams richly staffed by individual superstars who fail to act as a coordinated unit. Everyone on a winning team is a winner, but there are no winners on a losing team. The role of the successful flight department manager is to create and lead a winning team. Even the individual who is a company’s only pilot needs to think about the many people who either directly or indirectly participate in the successful completion of his or her flight.

A team is defined as a group of individuals working collectively to achieve a common goal. A manager must demonstrate leadership with a clear vision and mission for the department. Vision is the big view of where the department is headed; it must be aligned with the company’s overall vision. Mission encompasses the jobs to be accomplished. When team members have a clear sense of vision and mission, everyone is focused on where the flight department is going and sees his or her role in completing the department’s mission.

Remember, leadership is fundamentally different from managing. Managing is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things. Well stated, easily remembered and compelling statements of vision and mission enable team members to focus on the right things to do.

A flight department manager must resist the urge to impose personal statements of vision and mission on the team as a dictum, no matter how well intended, insightful or carefully crafted his or her words might be. While it is absolutely essential that you have a clear picture of what you want the department to achieve (vision) and what objectives should be fulfilled (mission), it is far better to engage all team members in generating statements of vision and mission, so that everyone has an opportunity to be heard. A manager’s job is demonstrating the leadership to listen to what others say and shaping the team’s collective thinking along lines that are best for the company. At the end of the day, all parties should feel they had a stake in the department’s articulation of vision and mission.

Realistic expectations are a must for teams, as well as for individuals. Based on vision and mission, the team should agree on goals to be achieved, including a definitive timeline for tasks and what measures would be used to determine success. Collectively agreeing to do the impossible results in discouragement and eventual failure. Agreeing to do too little also is self-defeating. Realistic team expectations are essential.

The same is true for individuals. Each team member must have realistic individual expectations and strive to meet them. Managers help teams and individuals arrive at realistic expectations.

From the outset, team members must agree to collaborate. Much can be accomplished when individuals work together, and team success should be treated as the success of every individual on the team. Thus everyone has a vested interest in working with each other. Collaboration is a powerful concept that will pay great dividends.

With goals and expectations clearly stated and a commitment to collaborate, teams and team members can conduct self-appraisal of progress and consequently exercise self-management in fulfilling what is expected. Managers find that self-assessment and self-correction are effective ways to achieve results, and results speak for themselves. If results tell a disturbing story, the manager needs to focus on helping the team develop more effective solutions. Correction ultimately must be team and individually centered, not dependent on the manager overseeing every task.

Candor is essential as a team strives to collaborate effectively. To achieve candor, individuals need to exchange ideas and concerns as adults seeking fulfillment of team goals. Any idea or suggestion that is oriented toward achieving the team goal is acceptable and should be encouraged. When team goals are realized, everyone on the team wins.

Communication is absolutely crucial for collaborating and achieving team goals. Hence the need for candor, since communications must be clear and not disguised by code words or distorted by concern that someone will be disadvantaged by what is said. Communication must be in all directions: up the chain of command, down the chain of command and sideways within positions of equal status (that is, within a peer group). Communication must always be related to achieving the agreed-upon team goals. Such a focus allows people to be candid and receptive to constructive dialogue.

Listening is a basic requirement for effective communications. It is said that we have two ears and one mouth, so that we can listen twice as much as we talk.

Finally, for a team to be effective there needs to be a culture that accepts–in fact welcomes–constructive dissent or contrary points of view. With a commitment to achieving the agreed-upon team goals, any point-of-view that attempts to offer constructive suggestions is welcome.

Leadership, realistic team goals, realistic individual goals, collaboration, self-
assessment, self-correction, candor, communications, listening and an atmosphere that welcomes constructive dissent are 10 effective elements in the culture of teamwork. Creating an effective team is a flight department manager’s greatest accomplishment, as well as a powerful asset for achieving success.

John W. Olcott, president of NBAA from 1992 to mid-2003, continues to advocate the advantages of business aviation as president of General Aero Company, located at Morristown Municipal Airport, N.J.