ICMI is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


To Team or Not to Team? That is the Question

Christine received her bachelor’s degree in May and was fortunate to land her first job within 45 days of graduating.  She was excited to begin the next phase of her life.  After just a few months on the job she recognized that, while her education provided her with a great deal of the technical training she needed, she, along with many of her peers, were all experiencing many of the same challenges--regardless of their major. Colleagues had minimal interaction with others and, in many cases, there was consistent outright bickering between co-workers.

The vast majority of her new coworkers worked by themselves and, in fact, did not even want to interact with others. They wanted to work alone.  Rumors were being spread about colleagues, there was a significant amount of scapegoating, and there had even been numerous verbal workplace confrontations.

Christine reached out to a number of her college friends, who were spread out across the country, and discovered they were experiencing many of the same challenges, even though they worked in a wide array of fields and industries.  Did their education miss something?

Gregg Gregory Teamwork Quote

Although Christine graduated in 2014, the challenges she and her friends face has changed little in the last 40 years. A 2013 University of Phoenix national survey revealed that less than 25% of those who worked on a team actually prefer to work on a team, and 36% of those between 18 and 24 would prefer to work alone. Nearly 70% of those who have worked on a team at some point in their career admit they were part of a dysfunctional team.

One of the most challenging reasons for these numbers is attempting to collaborate with such a wide array of personalities. The University of Phoenix study points out that a majority of college graduates say that team-building and collaboration skills should be among the necessary skills for students coming out of school today.

Dr. Bill Pepicello, President of the University of Phoenix, said “Employers and students should expect education to mirror the dynamics in the workplace.” Many graduates today do not receive team or collaboration training until they get into the workforce and that is only if they are fortunate to have an organization that is committed to employee development.  

Take a look at your contact center and survey your colleagues to find out how many had any type of team building training during their formal education.  In my workshops I often take the following informal survey:

What grade were you in when you worked on a project with a least 3 other people and the grade you received was the same grade for everyone on the team?

The majority of my attendees overwhelmingly reply somewhere between sophomore and senior years in high school.  A few have even responded that they were in their post graduate years before this took place.  Remember, this is not formal team-building; rather it is just getting students to work in a team-based environment.  On the other side of the equation, I have had a microscopic few say they had to work on a team-based project in the fourth or fifth grades.

So what does it take to actually think like a team player?  Many do not think that a contact center needs to work in teams.  Conversely, a team will make the contact center stronger, not to mention more effective.   

Here is a simple scenario; the contact center agent receives a call and solves the immediate issue.  During the process of solving the issue, the agent recognizes that a particular situation needs to be addressed to prevent future challenges.

There are six stages of progression for team player thinking:

  • Stage 1: Waits for the team leader to assign a task to be done.
  • Stage 2: Makes a recommendation, and then waits to be told what to do.
  • Stage 3: Advises others that something needs to be done and then takes action
  • Stage 4: Takes action, and then advises others on the team exactly what they did
  • Stage 5: Takes immediate action to solve the situation and continues with their day
  • Stage 6: Takes action and briefs other departments affected by what they did

Let’s look more closely at each of these and how they affect both the immediate and other teams that may be affected.

Stage 1:

It is possible that this may be a newly hired agent who is still learning the contact center process.  On the other hand, if this is a more experienced agent, they are showing signs of not necessarily working on tasks outside of their immediate purview and duties.

Stage 2:

This particular agent is likely not one who will accept responsibility to step up and tackle a problem without being told.  They may have a limiting midset that fears making mistakes .  It is very possible that this person may have stepped up in the past and found it was a mistake. Leadership may not have handled the situation effectively and now they are apprehensive about accepting responsibility or taking point on any project.

Stage 3:

At this stage, the agent recognizes they need to raise a concern or bring a suggestion to the team. They are looking for reassurance that what they are about to do is the right thing.  In this stage they are also showing their vulnerability, which helps in building trust with other team members, and leadership.

Stage 4:

Agents at this stage are looking for personal validation and praise.  Failing to give this person positive feedback may result in them regressing back to Stage 2 or even Stage 1.

Stage 5:

These agents show confidence in their personal abilities and they’re also team players.  They do not want to burden others with a challenge they can handle and they do not need personal validation or reassurance.  They are not overly confident or cocky; if they need help, they will ask for it.

Stage 6:

At first, this stage may sound a lot like Stage 4 where the agent shares information with others.  The difference is that at this stage the agent shares information with others in different positions, or with teams who may have similar challenges.  At this stage employees are thinking beyond their immediate team and collaborating with others in the organization.

The strongest teams are comprised mainly of members at Stage 4 or above.  Think about your personal situation and the stage in which you typically find yourself.  If your team is struggling with members below stage 4 here are four simple strategies to help them step up

  1. Encourage them to step up
  2. Praise them a little more than might be considered normal
  3. Partner them with stronger members
  4. Talk with them and find out the real reason they have not stepped up in the past.  This can be eye opening for everyone

Let’s face it, today’s workplace is competitive and the ultimate advantage any company can have is teamwork. What is your organization doing to enhance your teams and increase productivity, morale and employee retention?