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Eight Steps to a Build a Stronger Dealership Team

Do your employees function as a team? In an effort to motivate employees, most managers talk about team building, but not all of them walk the talk. Many auto dealers face challenges when they try to build teams because their culture was established on rewarding individual performance rather than rewarding the efforts of a team.

Yet there are many reasons to promote team building in the workplace. Employees who function as a team:

  • Communicate effectively and have better relationships
  • Motivate each other and hold one another accountable
  • Learn to better identify their own and others’ strengths and weaknesses, and adjust responsibilities accordingly to maximize productivity
  • Report higher levels of employee satisfaction, morale and happiness
  • Promote mutual respect and understanding of fellow employees
  • Have each other’s back
  • Work together to achieve organizational objectives
  • Prevent rogue employees from doing things their own way

If you’re serious about building a strong team environment in your dealership, following these steps will help you create an organizational structure that supports teams.

Step 1: Define Organizational Goals

Every human being desires purpose. Every great organization has a mission statement or vision that inspires purpose. Where do you want your dealership to be in five years? Do you want to be No. 1 in sales volume in your region? Do you want to be recognized as one of the best places to work in your community?

Create a mission statement and share your vision with your employees. Sharing helps creates a team mentality. You need the team’s help to get you where you want to be.

Step 2: Define Team Goals

In auto dealerships, it makes the most sense to define teams by department. Then define goals for each team. Some dealers may find it difficult to break away from thinking of revenue as their only goal. But revenue goals do not inspire teams.

Instead, create goals that encourage team efforts. In sales, this could be assigning the sales team to achieve certain key performance indicators (KPI)s. In service, this could be implementing a new technology such as auto dispatch or mobile tablets.

For cues on how a department should operate as a team, look to accounting. The accounting department usually operates as a cohesive team. If one person is out sick, another steps in to fill their role. Everyone in accounting knows there are certain deadlines every month and everyone does their part to ensure those deadlines are met. Employees are often cross-trained so they can do one another’s jobs.

Step 3: Rethink Your Reward System

Most salespeople make commission on the gross profit of units sold. In service, bonuses are based on gross. The problem with pay plans that reward individual performance is that they set up a culture of “What’s in it for me?”

Many large auto groups are blazing new trails with pay plans that promote teams. Commissions and bonuses are based on achieving group goals, such as improving CSI or Net Promoter Scores, increasing adherence to processes and achieving KPIs. Recognize and reward employees based on how well they contribute to the team, not individual performance.  

Step 4: Promote Competition Between Teams

Imagine if there were no winners or losers in sports. Why would team members be motivated to work together? There would be no fans because there would be nobody to root for.

In business, friendly competition solidifies team relationships, motivates members to work together and encourages them to root for each other. Competitions can be friendly and don’t have to be based on business goals.

Engage your teams in fun, competitive activities such as cooking competitions, laser tag or Knockerball. If your culture includes a health and wellness component, have teams compete in local bike races and walk-a-thons.

Step 5: Organize Social Activities Outside of Work

A study conducted by MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory analyzed communication behavior among dozens of teams in different industries. It found that the best predictors of productivity were a team’s engagement outside of formal meetings.

In fact, the degree to which team members socialized away from their workstations contributed to as much as a 35 percent improvement in team performance.

Encourage team members to take coffee breaks or eat lunch together. Organize lunchtime power walks, happy hours and volunteer projects where team members can get to know each other.

Step 6: Form Cross-Functional Teams

Once you have created a team atmosphere in your dealership, the next step is to form cross-functional teams. These teams include employees from different departments, and their purpose is to accomplish specific organizational goals that are unrelated to department goals.

In auto dealerships, examples of goals for cross-functional teams include:

  • Improve customer experience
  • Improve employee experience
  • Vet new technology solutions
  • Create new processes
  • Solve process problems
  • Interview and hire new employees
  • Create a health and wellness program
  • Organize and promote community involvement

One of the primary benefits of cross-functional teams is that you get a variety of viewpoints and fresh perspectives. For example, requiring all job candidates to interview with several team members from different departments is a best practice if you want to identify candidates who will fit your culture.

Or let’s say that you want to develop a new “We Owe” process. If you leave it up to the sales and F&I team, they may create a process that creates problems for accounting or service. Having a cross-functional team ensures you end up with a solution that everyone can live with.

Other benefits of cross-functional teams are giving employees a chance to learn about other departments and processes, and developing new skills.

Step 7: Train Managers

Team building is a top down activity. It isn’t enough for a principal or GM to promote a team building philosophy. Department managers must buy in and offer structure and support; in short, they must be willing team members.

In dealerships this can present a particular challenge if, for instance, one of your managers was promoted into that position because he or she was a top performer. If your sales director is a former top producer and is naturally self-motivated, he or she may not understand the need for team building, and therefore, may not support your efforts.

Is there a department in your dealership that suffers from low morale, low productivity, infighting, failure to follow processes and/or rule breaking? If so, that department manager may need to be trained on how to build and manage a team.

Consider sending department managers to a team-building program or workshop.

Step 8: Measure Your Progress

The purpose of team building in dealerships is to help you get somewhere that you want to go. Using your dealership management system (DMS) reports is one way that you can track and measure progress towards achieving your organizational goals.

Is your goal to become the #1 dealer in sales volume in your region? How many units will that take? Break that down into monthly goals and keep an eye on your KPIs. Don’t be afraid to set the bar high but acknowledge that it may take a while to get there.

If a goal is to increase customer pay work in service, use your reports to track customer pay revenue. Drill down to identify the types of work that produce the most revenue. Using this data, you can create service specials and marketing campaigns designed to bring more customers into your service department.

If your goal is to become a top workplace, enter your dealership into local contests run by business journals, or the annual contest run by Automotive News. Measure your employee retention rate and set a goal to improve it every year.

Team building is a proven way to create a profitable, dynamic workplace. These tips should help you build cohesive teams in your dealership. If you need additional help, ask your team! You’ll be amazed at what team effort can accomplish.


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