For Waste & Recycling LeadersTeamwork

Can you think of a business, an environment or a situation where teamwork isn’t a good idea? Probably not. Any organization benefits when its leaders and employees work together like a well-oiled machine.

Recycling operations are no different: strong teams drive the plant’s productivity, efficiency, and profitability.

Great teamwork doesn’t just happen. It’s not a magical outcome or a fortunate circumstance. You can’t throw people together and expect a team to emerge. Teamwork requires sound processes, leadership, and commitment.

“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”
                                                                                                 Henry Ford

3 Pillars of Teamwork

Leadership is the key to building successful teams.

Whether an organization has one leader or a matrix of managers across the business, it’s imperative for leaders to align and to spend time and resources on creating a culture of teamwork.

There are three pillars to this work.

1 – Trust. Teamwork is built on a foundation of trust within the team. This is the slowest and hardest part of creating teamwork.

Leaders can start building trust on Day One. New employees are suddenly working with 30-40 people they don’t know. It’s the role of leaders to initiate relationships among employees that build trust and confidence.

Take the time to welcome new employees to the team and personally introduce them to each other. Nobody likes being a stranger.

Partner new employees with strong, tenured team members for the first week or two on the job. Creating a sense of comfort and friendship is an excellent start to incorporating new employees into the organization’s culture of teamwork.

2 – Clear Expectations. Leaders must communicate goals and expectations for each individual and the team as a whole.

Every employee needs to understand the purpose of their specific job and how it contributes to the big picture. Team members, especially new ones, seek a sense of purpose in their work and how they help the organization achieve its goals.

At the end of the day, every employee wants to know that they’ve been successful and have done a good job.

3 – Recognition. Successes and milestones need to be recognized – publicly. Individual contributions also need to be noted and rewarded – 1:1 and publicly. This is a leadership role.

Recognition and reward can take many forms. Financial compensation isn’t the only option. In fact, money doesn’t directly change behavior or build teamwork.

What works is a simple thank you. When leaders take time to tell an employee that their pick rates per minute have improved, or that bale quality has gone up because of their efforts, they’ll feel the impact they’re having on the bottom line. That type of recognition instills pride and is a catalyst for continuous improvement.

Making Teamwork the Norm

How do you know if your leadership team has successfully created a culture of teamwork, an environment of trust, and a workplace that celebrates achievements?

Look at the behavior of the team members.

Strong teams have high morale. Their work is efficient. There’s a spirit of collegiality and connection on the floor. Attendance is steady, turnover is low, and good safety practices are in place, as demonstrated by attention to hazards and low incident rates.

These behaviors are what MRF operators strive for.

The opposite is also true: if these behaviors are missing and the facility’s teamwork isn’t fundamentally sound, it indicates that leadership didn’t do a good job of building the three pillars.

How NOT to Build Teamwork

The most effective teams are built by leaders who understand the three pillars of teamwork…and the practices that work against the team. They know these three things.

1 – You can’t stick a group of people together and expect them to form a team and work out their issues without a leader.

2 – Leaders have to be seen, heard, and present. Teams need to know in their core that leaders and the facility support them.

3 – Employees need to feel that they have a voice. They are the resident experts in their tasks; leaders know this and listen. Teamwork grows when individuals contribute to making the operation better.

Teamwork is an Evolution

Teamwork is vital to any operation’s success. The only way it flourishes is when leaders lead, trust is fostered, expectations are clear, and recognition and reward are shared sincerely.

Teamwork evolves under the guidance of committed, engaged leaders.

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