Building Teamwork in the Office

Take it from top companies Pharmasave Drugs and Schill Robinson Insurance Brokers – teamwork gives everyone a stake in the company.


Take it from top companies Pharmasave Drugs and Schill Robinson Insurance Brokers – teamwork gives everyone a stake in the company.

Corporate leadership used to be all about giving orders from on high, but in recent decades a team approach has come to be recognized as much more effective. In the old style, one boss took all the decision-making responsibility simply because of his or her job title. In team leadership, that position is set aside, and the boss simply becomes one of the team focused on finding the best solution. It’s a co-operative management style that extracts new talent, cements relationships, hones established skills, mentors junior members and helps all staff to better understand how decisions impact the company.

Pharmasave Drugs spreads leadership

At Pharmasave’s regional head office, teams cut across department boundaries: 26 staff in five departments form project teams, management teams or looser co-operative groups to set strategy, create dialogue and determine the best course for the company. Spreading leadership across the company also keeps the departments connected.

“Everyone is very familiar with what goes on in the other departments,” says Leanne Kennedy, human-resources manager for Pharmasave’s B.C. office. While there are defined duties within departments, every employee realizes that decisions impact the company as a whole.

Pharmasave’s team approach to leadership extends to hiring, where everyone is involved in decisions. The need for a new hire and what that person should bring to the company would come up at a monthly managers’ meeting, Kennedy explains: “I would probably place the ad but the department manager would do the first interview.” On the second interview, some of the other managers may sit in, not to make a decision, which is ultimately left to the department manager, “but to give another perspective.” Staff sitting in on these meetings may see a hidden talent in a job applicant, and that may impact the department manager’s final decision.

Kennedy describes team leadership exercises that can help employees break out of their traditional roles to reveal hidden leadership qualities. She cites the recent example of staff teams participating in a cake decorating competition. “There’s always the guy who wants to put the decorations on before the icing,” she says. “Then you discover that someone has a strength you didn’t realize existed.” In this case, it was Saran Johal, an accounts payable clerk, who showed she could wield a pastry gun like a cowboy with a six-shooter, nailing a rosette at 30 paces. Johal led her team, which included the CEO, to victory.

Cultivating leadership

Making team leadership click takes effort; individuals need to feel comfortable as they climb off the traditional corporate stack and onto a team where all are equal. Kennedy explains how social functions held throughout the year play an important role in creating this open dialogue between employees and managers. At a Christmas party, for example, a staff member showed off a surprise flair for photography with a scenic portrait he donated as a gift. A keen manager would see in that a strength or resource that might provide a crucial building block in a team project that requires creativity and a flair for design.

The executive team plays a key role in fostering a leadership style that includes employees in decision-making and has kept most staff coming back for 10 to 30 years, says Kennedy. “In some ways, we are like a family,” she explains. “We have our squabbles, but at the end of the day we try not to go home mad at one another.”

Schill Robinson Insurance Brokers keeps communication open

At Schill Robinson Insurance Brokers Ltd., with its five retail outlets, the managers’ offices are empty. “We don’t have branch managers,” explains Kari Schill, who looks after human resources and retail operations. Instead, there’s a strong team spirit in-house and among the branches to solve problems, keep the retail outlets competitive and exchange ideas and information.

“We definitely run as one team and have open communications between the different branches,” Schill says. It works well, she adds, because of the focus on communications inside and outside individual branches: “We are very open with the employees, very transparent and always looking for their input in how to do business better.”

Once a month, each department holds a teleconference that allows employees across all five offices to join in with questions, concerns or news. “Everyone in the department is welcome to dial in,” says Schill.

Schill visits each branch at least once a week, looking for concerns and issues that she will put on the agenda for the next teleconference session. Each session works through those topics and leaves room for an open discussion at the end. “It also keeps everyone on the same page,” Schill says, and ensures customers receive the same information and experience, regardless of which branch they visit.

The importance of face-to-face

Schill Insurance, though, recognizes the importance of getting team members together face to face. “Our Christmas party, held in January, is a big overnight event at the River Rock in Richmond, and this summer we hosted a boat cruise for the staff and their families,” she says. In September Schill had a sales contest with the successful staff earning tickets to the Canucks’ season opener. Events such as these foster more inter-office exchanges between colleagues and reward employees.

“If it were not for the hard work of the employees, we would not be as successful as we are,” says Schill.

“We don’t really have employee conflicts,” she continues, adding that the team attitude within the offices mitigates this, plus individuals have clearly defined areas of responsibility.  Schill’s branch visits also help defuse problems: “I’m not one who jumps to conclusions. So I find out the facts and then take a calm and rational approach.  I know the employees as individuals, which helps me to understand the situation and find an answer.”


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