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People Power! How Xerox gets the most out of teams

Contributor: Aqua Porter
Posted: 12/07/2010
Aqua Porter
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Creating the right team is an important part of the success of any initiative. In this article, guest contributor Aqua Porter, Vice President of Lean Six Sigma at Xerox, explains the technique Xerox uses to help teams work better together.

One thing I’ve learned working in Lean Six Sigma is that you can have all the right parts in place, but if they’re not put to good use, the entire process suffers.

This can be as true with a team’s members as with any other business asset.

Each person possesses strengths, weaknesses and varying knowledge and skill sets but need to be properly engaged within the team to have a maximum impact. Recognizing that, Xerox Lean Six Sigma uses the Belbin® Team Role system to keep the most important parts of any project, its people, working at their highest potential.

The importance of knowing your role

The Belbin Team Role system was developed in a nine-year study beginning in the 1970’s by Meredith Belbin, a researcher in the United Kingdom. He investigated what factors made teams efficient and inefficient, identified nine set behaviors, or team roles, and concluded that a mix of the roles proved to be more effective than a group of like-minded members. Belbin found that most teams comprised of members who had similar roles were difficult to manage, prone to destructive and unresolved debates and were more competitive than collaborative. These teams were also found to be prepared for some tasks, but unequipped for others.

The Belbin Team Role process can be implemented before a project begins or once obstacles start to occur; however, it is most effective when a team is put together with the nine essential roles in mind rather than looking for roles within an established team. Belbin also determined that even though there are nine roles, the optimal group size is five to seven people; any less could create voids and more could have a surplus of roles.

The system is incorporated into Xerox’s Team Accelerator workshops and Lean Six Sigma Black Belt curriculum to help product development teams identify members’ strengths, weakness, roles and skills.

Teaming up across the miles – how it works in practice

We’ve used the Belbin Team Role Process at Xerox since 2003 on a variety of initiatives. One recent example included was the Xerox ColorQube™ 9200 Series product development team.

The ColorQube 9200 Series was an important product launch for Xerox. These multifunction printers (MFPs) used solid ink technology, a print method that creates 90% less waste than a comparable laser device.

It was also a very technically complicated product. The product development team was taking elements of technology from other industries that had never been used in this way and adapting them for specific use. There was a huge amount of code, mechanical devices and physics that needed to integrate in order for the subsystems to work. For example, one group was looking at a new way to calibrate a print head using a scanner and an individual image printed on the device. This process was extremely complicated and was without precedent.

Additionally, the team was spread out among multiple locations around the world, including members in the U.S., Canada, England and Malaysia and had to find a way to share information and collaborate with colleagues in various regions.

The print head subsystem alone involved five teams located at different locations – two teams in Wilsonville, Ore. were responsible for creating a unified print head out of four separate print heads, the teams then sent the project to Malaysia for additional development. Meanwhile, team members in Webster, N.Y. developed the complicated coding for the subsystem and a team of engineers in England were responsible for integrating the complete subsystem into finalized machines.

With complicated technical challenges and a variety of team members working on one solution, the opportunity for miscommunications and misunderstandings were high.

Jeff Blank, vice president, Direct Marketing Products oversaw the entire project with Don Titterington, vice president, Print Head and Ink Research Development and Mark Tennant, director, Advanced Development. Tennant and Titterington found themselves focusing too much on team dynamic dilemmas.

To resolve these issues, the project leaders turned to Team Accelerator workshops for the ColorQube team in Wilsonville, Oregon. At the workshops, the ColorQube team began by establishing team ground rules. Then, each member was asked to develop their perceived needs and align expectations. Before the training, the team found that parallel solutions developed by different groups often lead to conflict. This training helped the team identify these problems before they began. As the team identified their strengths and weaknesses, they developed a better understanding of the group’s dynamics and how to better communicate to avoid problems.

By implementing Team Accelerator workshops, the ColorQube team learned how to draw on the strengths of each team member and work together to create one of Xerox’s largest product launches this year.

The Team Accelerator workshops program greatly benefited the team responsible for the ColorQube launch, but its influence didn’t stop there. Titterington found himself incorporating what he learned within his daily routine. "Not everyone is going to fit into a perceived mold, to be successful I have to play to my strengths and understand areas where I am not as strong. Team Accelerator and my Black Belt training helped me to identify my skill set and tailor my techniques," Titterington said. "For instance, I’ve updated how I run my staff meetings and have made them much more efficient."

After experiencing the success of the workshops first hand, Titterington, Blank and Tennant saw that Team Accelerator can help to resolve issues in the process before they become problems and minimize duplication of work, to improve overall efficiencies. Recognizing the talent and uniqueness in team members adds value to the team as a whole.

For further listening…

You can hear Aqua Porter describe in more detail how the Team Accelerator workshops work in our latest Profit through Process podcast.


Thank you, for your interest in People Power! How Xerox gets the most out of teams.
Aqua Porter
Contributor: Aqua Porter