blue-handshake-puzzleIt’s no secret good jobs are hard to find and when the economy and job growth lag, good jobs become even more scarce. Budget cuts, layoffs, stagnant hiring practices, and lack of corporate team building initiatives have all but stymied the career growth and advancement of the American worker… especially lower wage workers. The not so distant recession also took a toll on business profitability which added to the demise of the well-paid worker. The question worth asking, therefore, is are team building exercises the solution to career advancement for lower wage workers?

When tied to work performance — Absolutely!

Around 27 million people—one in six American workers—are unemployed or underemployed. Even for those employed full time, the recent economic recovery hardly helped. Nearly 60% of the jobs created since the recession ended have been low wage, whereas 60% of the jobs lost during the recession were middle wage.

Business profits also took a beating through the recession, plummeting 23% from 2006 levels through 2009. Customer pocketbooks slammed shut as the Consumer Confidence Index plummeted from 110 in late 2007 to less than 30 in 2008. Even today, it stands at a paltry 59.7. The resulting financial squeeze challenged the resiliency of proven business models and even the best-managed firms. In 2008 alone, more than 800,000 businesses closed or disappeared, more than 1 in 10. Although corporate profits have rebounded since then, almost all the growth has been in the financial sector. Firms in most other industries continue to struggle. There also reports of high levels of employee disengagement and broken trust.

A recent Hitachi Foundation study argued the case that the challenges for lower-wage workers and businesses are not separate and unique. They are, of course, intricately linked. And when team building exercises engage employees to be more collaborative and cooperative in their approach to work, more can be done with less.

Examine the problem at ground level, in American businesses and workplaces, and you find job-quality/business health solutions hidden in plain view. The foundation identified and profiled more than 90 resourceful employers who solved business challenges and social problems by implementing innovative workforce strategies and product/service models. In so doing, these pioneers captured new opportunities, raised business performance, and extended the ladder of opportunity to their frontline and lower-wage workers.

Their common attribute is a vision and ability to reorganize the firm and engage workers more productively toward key business goals; innovating new products and processes, raising product or service quality, reaching new markets, and increasing productivity.

Consider this case:

High Plains, Lamar, Co: This rural community health center struggled to stay afloat after its founding in the mid- 1990s. An overhaul of its workflow, training, and job functions for medical assistants helped dramatically increase the productivity of its providers and improved outcomes for many of its chronically ill, safety-net patients. The result has reduced costs by nearly 10% per year over the past decade. The strategy turned on intensive training and increased reliance of medical assistants across multiple front- and back-office teams. In the process, the medical assistants’ compensation transitioned from hourly wages to salaries with benefits and promotions. The practice approach developed by High Plains Community Health Clinic (High Plains) has increasingly been pointed to as a model for healthcare reform, especially for rural primary care providers.

We have also found this to be true in other smaller communities where we have built reponse  teams in the aftermath of health care mergers.


The strategies of this health center and other firms are captured in more than 90 case studies commissioned by the Hitachi Foundation. Those examples are illustrative of an effort aimed at engaging the private sector within its profit-making mission as a predominant generator of opportunity. This Pioneer Employers Initiative addresses the question, can businesses make money while providing a pathway out of poverty for their employees? To find out, the Hitachi Foundation engaged industry associations and nonprofits to uncover firms that were doing well by doing good; that is, surpassing their competitors’ performance while also generating robust earnings gains for a large proportion of their own lower-wage workers.

The findings across “pioneer” employers show remarkable consistency in leadership and teambuilding policies that raise the bar in employee satisfaction, career advancement, and productivity.  How employers train and educate workers, develop career ladders, and craft supportive human resources (HR) policies, among other motivators determines the level of job satisfaction, business profitability, and ultimately wages. Over time, these benefits are reinforcing, creating a symbiosis and collaborative workplace culture between frontline workers and their employers.

Copyright TIGERS Success Series by Dianne Crampton

funny-men-with-puzzel-piecesAbout TIGERS Success Series

TIGERS Success Series is a team development consulting company that helps leaders build high levels of employee engagement and commitment buy developing group norms and processes that support trust, interdependence, genuineness, empathy, risk and success.  TIGERS offers team building certification to HR professionals in the use of work culture and team diagnostics and tools that build and track high performance teams.

Learn more