BOCA RATON, FL - Allowing techs to form teams and control their own destiny may be just the ticket to get them to “buy into” the company and be more dedicated employees, reported Eric Bindner, president, Climate Engineering Corp., Denver, CO.

In his session on “Self-Directed Work Teams” at Excellence Alliance Inc.’s National Executive Meeting here, Bindner said that his company has evolved from a centralized dispatch system to its current work teams approach.

Why did he decide to change? His better techs wanted more say over their work, he noted. His dispatch system was reaching its limits. And he wanted to provide better quality output to customers.

The first steps in going to self-directed work teams included having techs planning out maintenance each month. He started with four techs. He also had these techs quote service work.

“There was some resistance” to this within the company, from the dispatcher especially, said Bindner.

Each tech has a material-labor sheet and a markup schedule. One tech quickly learned how important it is to get complete information at the jobsite; he didn’t once, and he had to go back.

The techs also scheduled repairs. The initial results, he remarked, were somewhat successful, but it was limited.

Forming Teams

At a brainstorming session, the company vote was that the firm needed more of a team-oriented system. A group of techs and office members recommended that technician teams be formed with responsibility and accountability.

The strengths of going to self-directed teams, stated Bindner, are that customers are loyal to the team, and not an individual. So if a particular tech leaves, the account won’t leave with him.

The team system provides depth of coverage. Techs can take a vacation and feel comfortable that their customers will be covered. There’s also a feeling of peer support. Plus, recruiting is done by team members themselves, talking up their team system.

Challenges presented by this approach include resistance to change, both by techs and by office people. Others are dealing with different team personalities, and dealing with team conflicts, both internal and with other teams.

Communications is also a challenge, and a team may start to assume total autonomy, thinking a dispatcher is no longer necessary.

Bindner said that his company then put together five-person teams, each with an apprentice. Maintenance accounts are assigned to the team, not an individual. The culture and structure was up to each team. Selecting a team leader is up to the team.

No one really wants to be a team leader, he noted, “but it’s been functioning OK.”

The team is responsible for all maintenance and repair scheduling. They provide communication of their schedule to dispatch. Emergency calls are given to the team, which then delegates who takes the call.

Let’s Meet

“It’s important to have team meetings,” said Bindner, especially at the beginning. Initially, meetings were held once a week, then every other week, then once a month.

Bindner acknowledged that there may be some inefficiencies with each team working on its own, but he said each team buys into its way of doing things. Also, the dispatcher can step in if she sees that two trucks will be passing each other.

“The dispatcher has the final say,” he continued, because everything still goes through her. She can determine if a specific job must be done today.

“We could use more help with people issues,” he said. An individual within the group can create a problem for that group.

On the whole, however, “Gross margin per manhour continues to improve for us,” stated Bindner, so he believes the work teams program is going well at his firm.

Publication date: 12/25/2000