Historically, the focus was not always on having strong teams. In a lot of companies there has been a tendency to create a “parking area” for those staff members who were not functioning well. The reasoning behind this was that a non-performing person would not hurt the organization when transferred to a less critical position in the company.

While this approach might have worked somewhat in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s of the last century, the world is very different now! There were major changes in legislation, certification requirements and customer expectations in the food industry over the past two decades, and this attitude cannot be maintained anymore.

Even stronger, in too many companies a substantial amount of the staff don’t have the right level of education and experience, let alone the right competencies to be truly successful in the current world. To have a strong team is so important.

Globally, GFSI certification requirements have gone up dramatically over the past 10 years. In EU, the introduction of the General Food Law in 2002 (and subsequent additions) have forced a much stricter regime in terms of quality and food safety management. The most recent biggest change without a doubt is the Food Safety Modernization Act in the USA, which is the largest overhaul of food law in the USA in the last 70 years!

Today, it’s paramount for any company producing or handling food to have a competent, knowledgeable and motivated workforce with strong professionals. Unfortunately, this is not true everywhere.

This article outlines the 6 steps to move towards a stronger and more competent workforce in the organization.


Step 1 – Assessment to Create a Strong Team


It all starts with setting up a proper assessment of the entire department to create a strong team. This to ensure you have the right people onboard.

If possible, and if management agrees, you could even do this for the entire organization (the same 6-step approach would apply). In this assessment, you want to focus on four areas: education & knowledge, mental capabilities (IQ and EQ, or intelligence and emotional quotients), teamwork and personal management style preferences.

There are various tests that would fit the description of these main areas, especially to assess IQ, EQ and personal management style preferences. In order to keep things simple, you might consider using free or very inexpensive tests, like the ones on

When you communicate to the people in your department that you’re going to conduct this assessment, you should make it very clear upfront that the information you will gather will be used for development purposes only and not for appraisal, job level scoring etc. This even holds true for those people that already are known to be ill performers. In many countries labour law will not allow you to use this type of information for those purposes.


Step 2 – Activity Analysis

Next to the assessment it is wise to ask all staff in your department to keep a detailed time sheet for one month. This will give you insight into what areas of each person’s work take most time and a good view on the overall work pressure.

Again, before starting this exercise, you want to explain to the staff members that all the information will be used to shape the program later on, not for personal judgement. For this reason, you will not report individual data, but only aggregated data across the entire department.

Before stating this exercise, you should make a list of all potential activities people can perform as part of their daily tasks and divide these activities into three main categories:

Operational tasks. They are executed for operational control and ensure certification is maintained.

Troubleshooting tasks. They originate from small mistakes, quality and sometimes even food safety issues. Typically, they prevail over other tasks and cause high perceived workloads.

Continuous improvement tasks. They are directly connected to improvement activities.

If you’d like to have an example of an Excel file to use for activity monitoring you can download it here.

urgencyOnce you have gathered all the activity information, you can bring it together and create a graph like this to discuss with your senior management.

In most organizations you will find that approximately 50% of the time is spent on operational tasks, around 40% on troubleshooting and the least amount of time is spent on continuous improvement.

However, considering that the bar is continuously being raised by customers’ expectations, external certification requirements, and in some cases regulatory changes as well, it is clear that continuous improvement is the most important area to spend time on, in order to prevent future issues.


Step 3 – Personal interviews


Once the data of the assessment and activity analysis is available you should schedule personal interviews with all your staff members. Discuss the personal results with them openly and let them give comments from their side. Ensure you take good notes and listen very well. Do not go into a judgement mode, because this will upset people.

Re-iterate that this process is a starting point to building a stronger team. Explain once more that the individual information will not be shared with management and only summary figures will be discussed as part of the overall approach. Finally, stress again that the information will not be used for appraisal purposes.

During the personal interviews you can already start focussing on people’s training needs and see if you can start building a long-term training plan for each staff member. This way you will get a long-term training plan for your department as a bonus. You will need this once you have convinced the senior management to authorise the investments you want to make. They also benefit when you have a strong team;-).


Step 4 – Culling to Create a Strong Team

Sometimes there will be people in your department who are not fit for the job. This should already be clear from past appraisals. If it’s not, you must start this assessment as soon as possible. If you really want to build a strong team, you may want to dismiss them from the team, and most likely also from the entire organization.

However, always make sure that you don’t use any of the information you gathered – as you made it explicit from the start that this wold not happen – and that it happens in a respectful manner and following the HR processes of your organization.

In the end this is best for the person and also for your entire team. Most likely, the team has been aware of the ill-performance of those members for a long, so they will applaud you for taking the right action.


Step 5 – Feedback and Improvement Plan for Creating a Strong Team

You are now ready to discuss your high-level plans with senior management to obtain approval and know what budget you will be able to attain for your plans to create a strong team. Sometimes you might have to adjust the timescale for budget reasons. This is not a problem – the most important thing here is to get an improvement plan in place and deliver it.

Have a look at our website for a useful presentation on how to create a sense of urgency with your senior management.

Once senior management is onboard with your high-level plan, it’s time to organize a workshop with your department present and discuss with them the results of the previous assessments, the training requirements, and the plan of action.

It’s not necessary to make big strides from the start. Just make a detailed and realistic plan for a 1-year horizon.


Enable all team members to give input during the workshop. An easy way to do this is to work in small teams of 3 people and ask everybody to brainstorm their improvement ideas on post-its, which are then prioritized by using a matrix with high/low impact and high/low effort. Once each team has done this, you can bring all the results together in one big overview. Typically, you will focus in the first year on the high impact/low effort proposals for implementation.


Step 6 – Continuous Attention

Once you have an agreed upon detailed action plan, make sure to pay continuous attention (at least monthly) to its progress. Very often, some members of the team will have minor setbacks. When that happens, help them and don’t “punish” them for not reaching a target. It’s al about creating a strong team!

There will also be successes – these you want to celebrate with your team. Wins are an important factor in creating team spirit and a stronger drive for all the other results yet to be achieved.

One final note: make sure that you are not the owner of all the actions, it should be a fair distribution across the entire team. This is also necessary to create cohesion.

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