The key ingredients to making a great team

By Steve Carter

Early Years:

Over the years I have come to recognise that my own life skills will fall into one of three baskets, things I am good at, things that I can probably get away with and things that, quite frankly, I am bloody awful at. Give me a drum kit or a football and I am in my element. Give me an artist’s palette and a piece of canvas and there has been no improvement from when I was a five-year-old, bringing paint splodged paper home from school which my mum would lovingly put on the fridge door. There it would stay for a whole week until the next paint splattered piece of paper took pride of place. 

A mutual trust:

Don’t get me wrong, I would always try and improve on anything that fell into each of those three baskets. If I am good at something, I can still get better. If I can get away with something, then let’s try and make some improvements. If I am awful at something, then anything is an improvement. From quite a young age I realised and accepted that there were people around me that could do certain things better than I could and, in some cases, a lot better than I could. I also realised this was a two-way street and there were things that I could do better than other people. Acknowledging and accepting this always stood me in good stead. On the football pitch my height and reading of the game allowed me to play well as a centre half or right back. Try putting me on the wing or in the centre forward position and it just didn’t work. I didn’t have the required speed, nifty footwork, or guile to do it, but I knew that in the teams I played in, there were other individuals that absolutely could do it. They trusted me and I trusted them. By watching them in front of me, it helped my game as I could hazard a pretty good guess at what my opponent would be likely to do and then act accordingly.

A good grounding:

During my working life I have been very lucky in that I have had some extremely good mentors, one in particular when I first went into a management role. A really sound piece of advice that he gave me very early on was that in any team that I manage, there will be people in that team who can perform parts of their roles better than I can. He went on to tell me that this is fine and is why they were put into that role in the first place. My role, he told me, was to manage those people and get the very best out of them. 

While other people may have pondered over that advice and thought that it couldn’t be right that people in their team would be better at certain things than they were, my view was very different. I likened the advice back to the football pitch; how many top-level football managers would dare to say that they could perform better than the eleven people they send out over that white line? I knew what was meant by the advice that I had been given, those people in my team have a talent, let them use it, let them flourish, encourage them to develop that talent even further because when you bring those various talents together you form a strong team. 

What makes my team members tick?

That very same mentor once asked me how I like to receive praise. The flippant or easy answer would have been to say in my pay packet, but I knew where he was coming from and why he was asking. I had managed to achieve something which was of benefit to the company that I was working for. He wanted to share that achievement with the business but didn’t want to do it in a way which embarrassed me or made me feel uncomfortable, hence the question, how do I like to receive praise. It isn’t really in my character or personality to have big fanfares or announcements, so the members of the board each had a quiet word with me, thanking me for my efforts. And yes, it was recognised in my pay packet.

Going forward, that taught me to find out as much as I could about the character and the nature of the people in my team. Some people may like praise heaped on them in a public showing, others may not. Some people may not mind words of encouragement or chivvying up carried out in a team environment, but others may need a different approach and an arm around their shoulder with a quiet word. We are all different, there is no right or wrong way, and no one cap fits all, it’s my job to really get to know everybody in my team and understand what makes them tick. 

Building a successful team:

I consider myself very privileged to have been able to manage some brilliant teams over the years. There have been purchasing teams, warehouse teams, distribution teams, furniture installation teams, customer service teams and now the wonderful Advantia head office team. The teamwork that I have witnessed in each of them has been an absolute pleasure to be a part of, but it wasn’t always like that. I have seen deflated teams, I have had rotten apples to deal with, I have had personality clashes between team members, and it is all part of the learning curve of building up a team which thrives on teamworking. Let me give you an example; I once managed three distribution depots, one I had looked after for several years, the other two coming my way after an acquisition and a change of roles. The two that I inherited were the two worst performing depots in the country, which was evident from the drivers and supervisors bonus payment tables. Was I being tested out here, was my initial reaction. That said, I do like a challenge and a challenge was what I was about to have.

I walked into both sites on consecutive days armed with an A4 pad and pen. Immediately I could see that ‘here we go again’ type look. I think they were expecting me to start telling them what they needed to do and why they needed to do it, but how could I? I didn’t know what they needed to do. It is a bit like phoning the local garage, telling them that your car has broken down and asking how much it will cost to fix it. How can they know that until they have found the cause of the breakdown? My message to the respective teams followed those lines. The team members began to open up and my pad began to fill up with pretty basic things that were causing some challenges on a daily basis. Fairly quickly, as a team, we worked through the list and made improvements. We got skips in to clear broken trolleys and various other unwanted items, we got a builder in to repair the damaged concrete at one of the sites, we dealt with a rotten apple and I persuaded the cleaner that looked after my existing site to spend consecutive Saturday’s giving both sites a good cleanse. On both of the Monday’s following, I did receive some rather choice feedback from the cleaner, which was only to be expected. Male only sites, having not been cleaned for a year or so, certain rooms worse than others, which I will leave to the imagination.

The morale and performance in both teams improved immensely over the coming weeks and months. I went out with some of the drivers for the day, got to know them, got to know their routes. We recycled waste and gave the proceeds to charities local to where the teams lived. There was now a real feelgood factor in both of these sites which was brilliant to see and be a part of. 

Over time those two worst performing depots became two of the best performing depots in the country. I took great pride in showing both teams the performance tables and took even greater pride in telling them that they were responsible for the massive turnaround. All I did was provide the tools for them to bond together as a team, they made it happen. An anagram of the word ‘team’ is ‘mate’ and that is what we had. Two depots with teammates working together and helping each other.

The A Team:

There is a metaphorical manager hat that comes with the role I am now in, but I rarely wear it. I know that I have an extremely good team of people around me who I trust implicitly. They all come up with excellent ideas and know that they can share their thoughts and opinions openly with the rest of the team. They also know that they are empowered to make decisions in order to provide the best support for our members. Within Exertis, our main supply partner, we are affectionately known as The A Team and I will take that term of affection all day long.

It is great being part of a team, especially this one and I am very proud of each and every one of them.

If you’d like to know more about how you can become part of the wider Advantia team then please do contact us today for a friendly chat.

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