Fostering Logistics Teamwork

Fostering Logistics Teamwork

Copyright 2004, Traffic World, Inc.

With even the most automated logistics operations, departments and individuals working well together can mean the difference between so-so and great results. Elaborate buildings, good carrier contracts, and the latest gadgetry are worthless without cooperation and teamwork.

Whether you own the logistics department, are a 3PL, or use a 3PL, artificial barriers between departments and lack of good training doom logistics operations to poor performance and, ultimately, failure.

There are four basic areas that should be looked at closely when auditing a logistics operation to assure successful, well-coordinated functions: properly segmented operations; presence of fiefdoms; mutual respect within the operation; and cross training.

We''ll look at each area and explore how each relates to the most effective logistics operation.

Properly segmented operations

In larger companies, many logistics workers require specific ongoing direction. Often they are organized into very specific duties or crafts, sometimes under union contracts. In a warehousing and shipping operation you might find separate groups for receiving, breakdown, packing, put away, picking, consolidation, packaging for shipment, routing, and shipping.

Ask yourself: does the manner in which tasks and workers are segmented add value to the overall process? If not, what should the makeup look like?

In the most effective operations, less segmentation works best. Yes, building teams based on functions can be a motivator, but consider the benefits of building a team across skills, not by skill set. Labor can be used where needed to eliminate bottlenecks by concentrating on the entire work flow.


We''ve all seen them: groups led by managers more interested in looking out for themselves than for the best overall results. People and assets are hoarded. Cooperation with other groups is often limited or nonexistent. They use the "That''s not our problem" mentality.

This kind of group poisons the whole operation. Nothing good will come of a group like this and the faster you can break it up, the better. Do it for everyone in your organization as well as your personal sanity.

Mutual Respect

Healthy rivalry can be a positive force within every operation. But when there is open hostility or actions border on sabotage, it''s time to rethink your organization.

Carefully examine the degree of teamwork within the operation. Create an environment where it flourishes. Reward strong teamwork whenever possible.

As part of your audit to measure the extent of mutual respect, honestly assess how your group would respond to the following situations:

-- Late in the day, the shipping preparers are struggling to get the last few orders to the carriers. The packagers are done for the day but are still on the clock. Will the packagers eagerly pitch in, or is it "not their job"?

-- A shipment is completed and labeled, ready for the carrier to pick up. A person from another group recognizes from experience that the identified customer would never order what is being shipped to him. Would the mistake be rectified? If so, would it be done without recriminations and acrimony?

The goal of your operation is to encourage selflessness and an environment where getting the job done correctly is the rule. An organization where there is automatic double checking to assure accuracy without ranker and finger pointing is the rule.

Cross training

Once the operations are properly segmented, fiefdoms dismantled and the mutual respect is present, there is one final component necessary for total success - strong cross training.

The benefits of having cross trained employees are huge. Consider:

-- Moving versatile employees with the workload during the day or placing them in key operations during seasonal spikes to improve overall productivity

-- Cross training will create extra sets of eyes to catch potential errors before they occur.

-- Employees will be motivated and more satisfied with their job because tasks are varied from day to day.

-- Training can bring better processes and ideas as people with hands-on experience, different perspectives and problem-solving skills are exposed to issues.

-- If your labor contracts allow, your most versatile employees can be paid more, permitting you to retain the best ones.

Knowledge and the sharing of knowledge should be a goal within your organization. If not, the group falls back into the segmented organization, lacking mutual respect that you wish to avoid.

Many may have a union environment that precludes major immediate changes to your operations. But there are excellent examples of companies that were able to have very effective logistics operations by applying the same audit concepts and working toward the proper goals. It is an evolutionary process that takes skill and patience.

Your logistics employees ultimately make or break your shipping/warehousing operation. The ability to encourage cooperation, communication, and teamwork among all involved is key.

-- This is the sixth part of a series on tools and tactics for today''s shippers. The final segment will appear next week. Dwight Sigworth is president of Shipping Strategies Group of Portland, Ore., a consulting company. Its Web site is