Fifteen years ago, Maria Cortez was working as a freelance writer of technical manuals for a variety of companies. The manuals supported a number of products including household appliances, alarm systems, lawnmowers, and tractors. SoonCortez’s freelance activity became more than she could handle, so she subcontracted work to oneother freelancer, and then another, and then another. Two years later, Cortez founded Tymco and the firm has grown steadily. The company now provides technical manuals, training and development, and foreign language translation and interpreting.
Tymco now employs 75 full-time employees, as well as about 45 freelancers who help the company with peak loads and specialized ser- vices. For example, one freelancer translates software into Japanese. Another freelancer specializes in preparing user guides for digital cam- eras and digital video cameras.
Cortez recently became concerned that the unit heads and other key personnel in the company were not working particularly well as a team. She explained to Tim Atkins, a training specialist on the staff, “We all work for a company called Tymco, yet we function like independent units and freelancers. I notice that our staff members hardly ever have lunch together. I’ve arranged a couple of group dinners and we have a nice meal, but no team spirit seems to develop.
“I think that if we had better teamwork, our units could help each other. We might even be able to cross-sell better. I’ll give you an example. A person in the technical manual group
might have an assignment to prepare a manual for an appliance. He or she should immediately mention that Tymco has another group that could do the foreign language translations for the manual. A lot of manuals for U.S.distribution are written in English, Spanish, and French.”
Atkins replied, “Look, I’ve been eager to runa team development activity that has worked
well for dozens of companies. It is so simple. We first designate who you think should be included in the group that requires the most development as a team. You choose one work day for the team-building activity. It involves targeting an old house badly in need of repair in a poor neighbourhood. Abandoned housesdon’t count. We need a house with a family living in it. Working with churches in the neighbourhood, it’s easy to find a suitable house and a family willing to be helped.
“About a week before the team-building date, a handy person and I visit the house toget some idea of the type of work that needs to be done. We then purchase paint, roofing shingles, wood, and other needed supplies. We also round up the ladders, paint brushes, and tools. Our team descends on the house about 7:00 a.m. the morning of the rehabilitation.
“On team building day, the group descends on the house and starts the rehab process. Two
days is usually needed. If we start the job on Friday, it could be finished on Saturday. In this way the group would receive one day off from work and the members would contribute one day of their time.”
Maria was so enthusiastic about Atkins’ ideathat she agreed on the spot that Friday, May 19
would be the team-building day. She suggested that the day be called Tymco Home Rehab. Cortez made up a list of ten key employees, including her, to participate in the team- building activity.
Friday morning five cars and trucks arrived at 47 Blodgett Street filled with Tymco staff members, ladders, tools, and home-buildingsupplies. Teena Jones, supervisor of technical manuals, shouted to the group, “We can’t get anywhere until we start getting rid of the debris around the house and in the hallway. So, let’s get shovelling. The dumpster is on the way.”
“Grab a few people and do what you want,”said Larry Boudreau, supervisor of technical documentation. “If we don’t patch up that roof first, nothing else will matter. I need two warm bodies who aren’t acrophobic [afraid of heights] to help me.” Two staffers agreed to work with Larry, while the seven other staff membersincluding Cortez formed the clean-up brigade.
“Carpentry is my thing,” said Mary Benito from translations services. “Let’s get out the hammers, saws, nails, and screws and startrepairing this broken porch first. I want us to be ready for painting the house by noon tomorrow.”
“Do what you want, Mary,” said Dale Jenkins, a technical training team leader. “I’m good at home plumbing, and the toilets andsinks here are leaking more than the Titanic. I need a skilled pair of hands to help me. Any volunteer?”
Maria said, “While you folks are shovellingdebris and fixing, I’ll run out and get us the food for snacks and lunch and I’ll order pizza for a supper break.”
“That’s the most sensible idea I’ve heard today,” commented Larry.The Tymco team building participants hadsupper together at 5:00 that evening and wenthome at 8:00, planning to return at 7:00 the next morning. By 1:00 Saturday painting had begun, with all ten people on the team participating. By 7:30, the house at 47 Blodgett Street was painted. The family, who were staying with neighbours, came by to cheer and weep with joy. The Tymco team members exchanged smiles,
hi-fives, and hugs. “We can all go home now feeling that we’ve accomplished something really important as a team. And we can comeback to the office on Monday morning knowing that we can work well as a team despite a few bumps and bruises.”
“Good comment, Mary,” said Ian Grahamfrom the technical manual group. “Yet, I’m not so sure that replacing shingles on an old roof has made me a better team player.”
- What evidence was presented in this casethat the staff members from different units at Tymco might have become better acquainted.
- What should Maria do next to improve the chances that the home rehab day results in genuine team development?
- What evidence is presented in this case that the home rehab day did give a boost to team spirit?
- How valid is Ian’s comment about replacing shingles having no particular impact onbecoming a better team player?