When teams are successful, people -and managers- have the idea that it’s either a happy coincidence comprised of amiable personalities with unparalleled drive and skills -happily motivated to produce miracles in 80 hour work weeks; or that the successful team is due to the recruitment of highly paid gifted individuals and consummate professionals. In my experience, neither is true. Rather, most of the successful teams I’ve seen are staffed by very ordinary people.
The best product development team I ever knew was comprised of 5 people; the designer, pattern supervisor, pattern maker, pattern grader (CAD operator) and one sample maker. In the 3 years I knew them, the team came to provide the backbone to a company:
-who’s sales increased 39% -and at a time the industry was waning;
-that produced a a 10% increase in the number of styles;
-who’s returns went from .07% to a rate so low it was statistically insignificant. The defect rate wasn’t zero but the 4 women in rework lost their jobs and were absorbed into the sewing lines.
-that went from 3 pattern makers down to 1;
And that’s all I can think of right now. Most managers out there are convinced that this must have been a singular group of outstanding individuals but nothing could be farther from the truth. Or you be the judge. This lean dream team was comprised of:
A designer who couldn’t draw. He photocopied past sketches and used white out to replace lines. No, he couldn’t sew, didn’t go to design school and didn’t have the sense to add zippers into a fitted pencil skirt. His mind remained blissfully unaware of the nuances of one-ways, repeats and nap. He had the hots for a woman whom he later made the fit model -in order to curry favor.
A pattern supervisor was so psychologically disturbed she wouldn’t date a guy unless he beat her. She actively undermined her own staff, broadcasting staff salaries (the pattern maker made more than anyone else), arrived at least 30 minutes late every day; she hung out in biker bars, sang karaoke and drank heavily. She couldn’t sew either. Also the VP’s occasional lover.
A grader and CAD operator who hated everyone else in the department. Her digitizing was sloppy and she wouldn’t have known a good grade rule if it bit her on the nose. Incapable of making a decision, she often hid behind the curtain separating the plotter from the rest of the room. Miss Digitizer couldn’t sew if her life depended on it. She really hated the pattern supervisor.
A pattern maker who ran 50 miles a week, smoked like a chimney and never stopped eating. She often left work at least an hour early and spared no feelings if someone -including the owner!- made the mistake of chatting her up while she was working. Singularly responsible for an impromptu protest in the parking lot attended by most of both sewing lines. She did sew well.
A sample maker was five foot square and very religious meaning she took a lot of time off for feast days (she was Pueblo Indian). If she wasn’t giggling, she was laughing or visiting with the pressers. She was afraid of the pattern supervisor, designer and owner, and resented the pattern maker. She undermined the department with the sewing line supervisors.
And lastly, as far as I can recall, they didn’t put in one single hour of overtime between them. Now that I’ve established the very humble origins of lean dream teams, we can talk about ZARA. I’m not suggesting Zara is this dysfunctional but I am saying that Zara is not a miracle and anybody can do it. Pretending that the leaders are somehow better than everyone else is a cheap-shot way for followers to abdicate their own responsibility and controls in the matter but I’m not so nice as to allow you all to do that. Let’s demystify the leaders before we start, eh?