How Do You Spell Team?

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Columnist Paul Cardis talks about the meaning of teamwork and how to build it more effectively by implementing a Neighborhood Quality Team approach.

June 01, 2006

There has been a lot of builder buzz surrounding teamwork's ability to boost customer satisfaction with homeowners. But all of the buzz will simply be lip-service if your company doesn't understand what teamwork is and how to create it effectively.

Teamwork can be defined as people working together to achieve a greater goal. But it's more than just working together; it's working effectively together, which is harder to achieve than you think. One way we have helped our clients create the ultimate teams has been to implement Neighborhood Quality Teams (NQTs).

NQTs are buyer-oriented programs that create team synergy and improve communications among a builder's departments.

Truth be told, there has been a lot of challenge to NQTs, but companies that have done them successfully have some of the highest customer satisfaction ratings in the industry.

A major tenet of NQTs is that each community operates as if it were an independent business. To do that, you need to bring together the builder, salesperson, project superintendent, loan officers, designers and warranty personnel on a regular basis to discuss how individual sales are progressing in a specific community. As a team, they should review the flow of deals and discuss the progress and potential issues with individual homebuyers.

Depending on the state of development, these meetings might need to be held monthly or weekly. People might resist planning around another meeting in their already overbooked schedules; however, to benefit from employees' working together in a synergistic manner, it is imperative everyone participate.

To ensure attendance and participation, senior management must believe in the concept and lead by example. It also helps if the NQT has a set time and place to meet. Attendance should be mandatory, with any absences approved in advance by the NQT leader. Team members must understand that their participation on the NQT is a priority.

Setting the Agenda

Once you have the team together, make efficient use of everyone's time by having a detailed agenda and sticking to it. Some things to include:

  1. Discuss new home sales and how overall sales are progressing.
  2. Review homes being built. These should be discussed customer by customer, including where they are in the process, the next major milestone, who is communicating and any problems they are having.
  3. Analyze customer satisfaction surveys received since the prior meeting. Discuss where these home builders are in the process.
  4. Develop a list of action items and assign them to individual team members.
  5. Review action items from the last meeting and discuss whether they are complete or more action is required.

    As you can see, the success of this meeting largely depends on team members' being able to gather all of the necessary information and be able to present it in a clear and timely manner. If a builder's organizational structure doesn't make this information easily accessible to all team members, they won't be able to prepare for the NQT meeting.

    Pointing Fingers

    It is important to note that the mere existence of an NQT doesn't guarantee a boost in your customer satisfaction ratings. It all depends on how well the team performs.

    As problems with individual homebuyers arise during NQT meetings, some employees may be quick to blame and point fingers at other departments. Part of the problem is that the home-building industry comprises different disciplines that are too often fragmented, even within an organization.

    It takes a strong and united NQT to mitigate these circumstances. Such teams have clearly defined ground rules regarding the tone and content of discussions. They realize that there are no sacred cows and that honesty and fairness are necessary if the organization is going to successfully face the facts, no matter how cold and brutal they may be.

    This is not easy to achieve — especially with overworked and underappreciated staffs. In fact, the inability to work together and to take individual responsibility is another reason why many NQTs fail.

    In the end, NQTs are about building a culture where teamwork is a top priority. When employees and departments operate individually without coordination, you are unable to effectively manage customers. But when you have achieved a level of teamwork where the project supervisor can rely on the salesperson to communicate information to the home buyer, or the salesperson can count on the project supervisor to handle a unique request, it has a significant impact on your customers' level of satisfaction.

    Some builders are skeptical about the return on investment on NQTs. That is a fair concern. But the very best providers of customer satisfaction remain committed to NQTs because they know they work. They realize that NQTs can bridge the divide between departments and keep everyone's attention on what really matters: the customer.


    Author Information
    Paul Cardis is CEO of NRS Corp., a research and consulting firm specializing in customer satisfaction for the home building industry. He can be reached at paul.cardis@avidratings.com.
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