The writer, of Hugh Latif Associates in Vaughan, Ont., is a management consultant and author of Maverick Leadership.
SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) normally refers to a military or law-enforcement unit, or a team that is created to handle violent confrontations and special situations. The personnel are carefully selected. They receive special training, and are equipped with weapons and state-of-the-art equipment, gear and accessories.
But a SWAT team doesn't have to be confined to a hostage-taking or military operation. It can also be used in business – any type of business.
Many years ago I was the service manager for a large B2B provider and led a department of 150 people. The department was responsible for a telephone order board (now we call it a call centre), as well as filing, photocopying, typing, telex (for those who remember that), fax, mail room, printing, etc. In reality it was more of an assembly line than a department because all the work followed an assembly-line process, which meant delays in one area created holdups in another. Such delays were caused by extra work, absenteeism or equipment failure, and it all affected productivity and bottom-line results. There was also high turnover because the tasks were routine and repetitive, and morale was low.
To address the problem, we created a SWAT team consisting of top performers from all areas of the organization. These team members were selected based on their creativity, initiative, high productivity, flexibility, engagement and – most important of all – their positive attitude. We cross-trained every one of those people for a variety of tasks.
The team, which had a 'get-the-job-done' approach, was first deployed to those backlog areas where bottlenecks were expected. Pretty soon the 'assembly line' was humming along smoothly. Absenteeism dropped, turnover slowed and productivity went way up. We managed to turn that assembly-line operation into a well-oiled machine, and the SWAT team became a fixture in the department. When needed, it was immediately dispatched to the area requiring help, and when it wasn't needed, the team members remained in their primary job functions. But it was always there and ready to go.
In any business process there are countless examples of crises that cause problems. It might be when key personnel quit, you receive extra work without warning, equipment fails or you must suddenly transition to a new way of doing things. Anyone who has ever run a business or managed a department knows this.
This is why if you are running an assembly-line operation, you should consider forming a SWAT team that is ready to deploy when the need arises. A SWAT team can resolve day-to-day problems and boost productivity. Here is another example of how effective it can be.
No matter what kind of business you are in, sales are crucial. Who would argue with that? A SWAT team can be a very effective tool for sales.
When I was running a company in France, our major competitor had a bigger sales force than we did, not to mention a loyal client base. There was no way we could duplicate the same number of sales personnel, so we created a sales SWAT team consisting of a small group of salespeople who travelled across the country and – for lack of a better word – 'raided' certain cities and regions. Their only objective was to open new accounts – accounts held by the competitor.
When these 'sales paratroopers' invaded a city for ten days at a time they created major difficulties for our competitor, whose local salespeople were taken by surprise and, at least for this task, outnumbered. Before the competitor realized what was happening, our sales SWAT team had picked up many new accounts, which were now handled by our salespeople working in those same cities and regions.
While a sales SWAT team may not be applicable to all scenarios, it can be a valuable tactic for many situations. But keep a few things in mind.
A SWAT team is a tactical tool, not a strategic one. Think of a SWAT team like the emergency ward or ICU (Intensive Care Unit) in a hospital. It has a specific role, but should never be used to cover up faulty processes. That is not the purpose.
Just like special military troops, SWAT team members should be carefully chosen, properly trained and wisely deployed.