AppNet Inc., a Bethesda-based software development firm, is on a quest. Employees are told to "Be the Best by Any Measure."
And that's what six administrative assistants at the Laurel division of the company set out to be by chasing that ever-elusive organizational ideal: inter-departmental cooperation.
What was different about the effort was that it sprang from the bottom up, not from a dictated management missive.
The six support staff members joined together in the spring of 1998 to form what they call the Business Executive Support Team (BEST) to streamline communications between different departments in the 137-employee Laurel division, and create new procedures to make the operations run, well, the best they can run.
The six administrators from different departments of AppNet formed the group because they felt they were not working as a team. If one administrator was on vacation, no other administrators knew what to do with her job. If one portion of the firm had problems with the way paychecks were passed out, the other departments didn't know what to do about it. They decided that if they worked together, the entire company could benefit.
"We were all in individual departments with no backup support. No one knew what the other was doing," said Pamela Mullay, administrator with the government business division, echoing a standard concern of many mid-size companies. "I think we were wasting a lot of time."
BEST now meets about once a week to discuss some of the problems it should tackle next. "Whenever there's a problem, we try to come up with a solution, and take suggestions from other members of the company," Mullay said. "We help run the company."
Several projects the team has taken on included a new employee orientation program, a different and more efficient way to buy supplies and a transition of the company's proposals from black and white books to color.
"They're all over the place and constantly making suggestions," said John McBeth, division president of the $14 million company. "We've become very dependent on the BEST team and turn to them all the time."
One "amazing" example, he said, was when the company moved on April 23 from its one-floor office to a three-floor office across the parking lot. The BEST team took on the transition as their project, even cutting the move into "phases."
"The movers were like, `What the heck are these phases?' " said McBeth. "By the end, the movers were yelling that they were done with phase three, moving onto phase four."
The move of 137 people appeared flawless to most of the employees. "Our computer network went down at 4:00 Friday afternoon. By Sunday afternoon, everything was back up," said McBeth.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the six members of BEST worked on the plan for about three months, coordinating everything -- switching the security alarm, mapping out where everyone's desk had to be, making sure the networks were connected and even coordinating a "welcome to the new office" breakfast for everyone Monday morning.
"It was a great experience to show the company how to work together as a team," Mullay said.
Another prime example of BEST's efforts is the orientation for new employees. Previously, the first day on the job consisted of one administrator from human resources giving the new employees the requisite papers to sign, then sending them on their way.
Now, the new employees receive a welcome phone call a week or so before they start the new job, they receive a structured morning schedule, they go on a facility tour and meet other employees. The BEST team decided new employees should receive more than just a few papers to sign.
The extra duties BEST team members have taken on aren't exactly in their job descriptions.
At AppNet, employees are given leeway with their jobs, McBeth said, and are not given distinct job descriptions. Knowing this, the women saw how the administrative support had to help to streamline the operations at the company and decided this streamlining would be their additional duty -- as a team.
"The company has been very supportive," Mullay said. "Especially upper management. In the beginning, we had to run most of [our ideas] by upper management. Now we are on such a roll, we don't need to do that."
In fact, BEST members proved themselves even more this month. They won the American Management Association's first Office Innovation Award. They also received a company award for their work.
"We've been really proud of the efforts our team has made," said Candi Krug, executive assistant to the division president, and member of BEST.
The main thing BEST has done, said Krug, has been to put unobtrusive processes in place to help the company run more smoothly. Duties that are taken care of naturally at big corporations are never assigned at smaller companies, she said.
"We don't have someone for hooking up the telephone, replacing light bulbs. The team took that on and we split those responsibilities among ourselves," Krug explained.
And those responsibilities are paying off. "We have an excitement with the team that we think is really contagious," said Krug. "We think that really helps new employees -- they see a team effort."