High Performance Teams

Eric Arling | Integrity Express Logistics

Earlier this year, we had one of our larger shipper customers visit our headquarters for an account review that concluded as most of these meetings do, with a dinner. We covered the usual array of topics from which facility had the longest loading times, to our carrier selection process and ability to retain carriers for their lanes. We then got into the real reason for the meeting and one of the more prevalent challenges we all face; how to increase freight visibility by the implementation of freight tracking technology.

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Like most large shippers, they are pushing for more of our hired carriers to use their supply chain tracking software of choice. It quickly became clear that the implementation of this technology is not possible without the ability of our team to make it a reality. A 20-year veteran of the shipping industry says this about the qualities he looks for when composing a team, “What I look for when adding to our high performance team are individuals who demonstrate the same qualities and core values as we have used to build our company over the 32 years we have been in business. Both internally and externally having the ability to build trust and confidence is key to success and is probably the most important trait we are looking for in a team member. The customer must trust and believe in you in order to have a fruitful partnership.”

With technology at the forefront of nearly every conversation surrounding the 3PL industry, it tends to come at the expense of other critical areas required to be successful in today’s environment.

Before technology took center stage, the key point of differentiation 3PL’s had to offer was the internal strength of the teams it created to meet its shipper’s needs. As speakers pointed out during various presentations at the TIA Capital Ideas Conference in April, the need for high performance teams is in greater demand than ever.

The creation and development of high-performance teams in our industry is critical due to the unique challenges we all face daily. Teams must be able to adapt to regulatory changes, market fluctuations, implementation of new technologies, and weather events all within a very short period. Unless a team is well constructed and properly equipped, the fast pace and time-sensitive nature of transportation can eat it alive. Factor in growing customer demand for value-added service and around the clock access, a team must be able to problem solve all while maintaining a high standard of customer service.

Providing a competitive price is something that can be obtained in several ways. Providing service that gets you the business over the next person, is the difference maker. As we all know, it’s no small task creating that type of culture within our business units.

How is a 3PL expected to balance creating both cutting edge technology and highly functional teams and why it is important?

Like most things in business, it starts with proper planning.  A team, whether new or existing, in sales or operations, without a clearly defined mission and objective is destined to struggle. High performance teams seldom emerge naturally. They must be well thought out groups of individuals who clearly understand the tasks they are being asked to perform. Without an understanding of the direction the organization is going, the team will not thrive. Team goals must be carefully aligned with organizational goals to ensure all teams are moving in the same direction. Items the leader might consider during the planning phase are; mission statement or team charter, job descriptions, performance review procedure and documents, KPI’s or performance metrics. Regardless of the specific approach that is best for your business model, it is the leader that must create and maintain the culture of the team.

In the planning phase, it is critical the person who is responsible for the success of the team gains buy-in from each of its members and explores ways the formation or direction of the team can align with individual personal and developmental goals. For a team to reach its potential, a leader must find ways to unleash the internal motivation of its members. The pace at which our teams must operate does not lend itself well to team micromanagement or decision making. The team must have driven individuals who find value in their role.  Another way to gain support for the initiative is to include team members in planning. People are much more likely to incorporate their own ideas into their day-to-day process. Creating a collaborative team creates an opportunity for the leader to spend less time making smaller decisions and remain focused on the bigger picture.

Team planning must be both short and long term. Many teams start out with two or three members who have similar roles within the organization. The goals for a team of that size will differ greatly if the team doubles or even triples in size to support a growing organization.

We regularly ask our leadership to go through a simple exercise: create an organizational chart for your team assuming it doubles in size. Identify new roles, specifically in supervisory capacities that will be created. Then ask yourself, does my present team have the skill set necessary to be highly effective on this large scale?  What sort of new skills will be required that the group doesn’t currently possess?  Can we acquire those skills through training or do I need to factor that in when hiring?

This type of exercise not only allows a leader to be proactive but can be used to show a smaller team opportunity for advancement and personal development.

After the planning phase, the next progression is usually the team going live. The look of that will vary. It could be the launch of a new workgroup entirely, or new initiatives within an existing group. Now the real work begins and hopefully, your planning will pay off. But the leader must not stop there. Some form of performance monitoring will need to occur as well as a process to ensure the progress of the team remains on target and is aligned with the direction of the overall organization. It is also worth considering if the team faces any new threats or new opportunities. That is where feedback from the frontline member is most important. The leader must trust their input and be prepared to make adjustments.

Equally important is finding a consistent and meaningful employee recognition.  If a team has reached the size it is likely to remain within an organization and growth is not a concern, a leader can focus on maximizing the skills and aspirations of its members to expand its services, increase knowledge, or create new initiatives. High performance teams will not want to meet a goal and grow complacent. A leader must find ways to keep them engaged and challenged so team members can be retained and feel their development is still important to the organization even if there is no upward trajectory within their specific team.

Technology is poised to continue to grow and expand its reach within the 3PL industry. But it is the 3PL that can layer the technological advancements into an already high-performance team culture that is putting itself in the best position to prosper. In many cases, the evolution of technology is still largely unknown. Focusing on team building and company culture that supports those teams is something that can add stability and consistency to any organization.

Eric Arling is Director of Operations at Integrity Express Logistics, headquartered in Blue Ash, OH. He can be reached at contact@ielfreight.com.

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