Michael Phelps became a household name by setting world records and winning more Olympic medals than any competitor in history. He's a one-man swimming marvel, with a physique that appears custom-made for the water. While many of his victories are from solo butterfly and individual medley events, seven of his 39 world records are from relays, earned with the help of an all-star team. Phelps recognizes the important role that his peers have played in his success. "Swimming's an individual sport," he explains, but with relays, "we have to come together, we have to work as a team, otherwise we're not going to win."
In this sense, swimming is a lot like working in a call center. While at first glance it often appears that agents are operating the phones, uninvolved in the activities of those around them, the opposite is true. Star employees may set records and top the charts, but their true potential can only be tapped when their strengths are combined with the abilities of a supportive and collaborative team. This effect has been confirmed by researchers in Germany, who defined teamwork quality as including six facets: communication, coordination, balance of member contributions, mutual support, effort and cohesion. Their study found that teamwork quality is "significantly associated with team performance as rated by team members, team leaders, and team-external managers." In addition, it was strongly linked to the personal success of individual team members.
A feeling of community and friendship shouldn't be underestimated either. Positive peer relationships improve engagement, and close friendships in the workplace increase employee satisfaction by as much as 50 percent. If your employees feel connected to and trust one another, they're more interested in supporting each other, training together and accommodating requests for time off from their coworkers. This can be a lifesaver for managers in the contact center world, in which demand and schedules often vary widely.
Team spirit also motivates employees to pursue continuous improvement. Increasing teamwork and its effects requires some effort, but it's accessible to committed managers. A few guidelines can help keep group interactions positive and productive and provide long-term boosts to key performance metrics.
- Build a sense of purpose. Setting longer-term goals binds coworkers and unites them around a shared cause. In the call center, this may mean focusing on seasonal or campaign-based goals, rather than daily or weekly metrics.
- Empower your agents. Teams only function when everyone participates. Employees who feel that their ideas or individual scheduling needs don't matter have little motivation to work hard. Allow for feedback in individual and team meetings, and encourage feedback from the front lines during busy periods. Self-scheduling also demonstrates trust and respect to your employees.
- Improve communication. Employees will only support one another if they have a way to do so. Provide a chat feature or knowledgebase platform so they can answer questions and help each other through tough calls and new projects.
- Allow for healthy competition. While pushing cut-throat competition may seem effective at first, it's sure to backfire in the long run. Instead, engage teams with gamification based on metrics such as average handle time, customer reviews and first call resolution.
- Recognize individual successes. Build up team goals to encourage employees to support one another, but don't forget to acknowledge individual top performers to keep everyone on their toes.
In the ever-changing world of contact centers, the importance of teamwork remains constant. It's a simple idea that can have big impact on both employee quality of life and organizational success. Rather than managing a group of employees, turn them into a true team: one that is focused, engaged and collaborative.