ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

October 1997


1996 Baldrige Winner Continues To Grow
Information Sharing, Dispersing Control and High Quality Standards Keys to CRI Success

Kaizen Events: Two Weeks To Dramatic Process Improvement
USBI's 'Kaizen Events' Working to Keep NASA Flying

Electronic Monitoring: There's No Place Like Home

When Cultures Collide...
Keep The Best-Lose The Rest


by Peter Block

We...They...Them...And Us
by Cathy Kramer


Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Book Review

Letters to the Editor

Views For A Change
Consultant Q&A

John Runyan Responds

These questions most surely resonate with leaders and change agents around the country as businesses everywhere turn from traditional hierarchical structures to many forms of self-directed work teams.
Organizations have a variety of reasons for turning to these special work teams. For example, some simply want to eliminate whole layers of management and supervision in a single sweep. Others are experimenting with creating new teams to take on tasks and opportunities that have not existed before. And, finally, others want to really leverage the multiple talents and power of teams across the board while retaining their supervisors as on-going members of these teams. It is these latter organizations that I would most like to address.
Supervisors who continue as members of self-directed work teams can sometimes choose and be chosen to play various roles. For example, if they are to take on the role of a new team leader, they have the challenge of maintaining a kind of leadership role, but shifting their style from one of exercising authority and direction to sharing responsibility and power with the team.
To me, this means becoming the developer of capacity and talent throughout the team. What used to be only one modest part of the supervisor role now becomes primary. When I put myself in this developer of talent role, I believe that my abilities to inquire and listen are the keys to providing the support and coaching that other team members need. Team members of newly-formed self-directed work teams tell me that there is no substitute for simply being included and heard about what matters to them most - and then being respected and trusted to make a contribution. Being included and heard involves helping to set team agendas, rotating meeting leadership and facilitation roles, and shaping job designs and work priorities in ways that take all into account. When team leaders offer these opportunities and then expect the best from their members and behave in ways consistent with that expectation, they often get the best from those teams.
In some other organizations, former supervisors become team member peers of those they are joining in this new working configuration. In this situation, these former managers need to find ways to turn away from some of their directive inclinations and style and turn toward an array of behaviors, which may or may not have been part of their repertoire.
In particular, I believe the primary role for these previous managers is one of catalyst for team learning. What I know directly from my own experience in developing self-directed work teams is that learning how to share responsibility takes initiative, persistence and patience. Time and again I have seen former supervisors who have personally declared their openness to mutual learning - and others struggling to make sense of the demands of self-direction. Thinking and acting congruently means being willing to bring all of yourself to the effort, for example, by both being opinionated and responsive to others ideas. Acting collegially also means taking on small, day-to-day team chores cheerfully as well as taking a pro-active role in the larger shared leadership tasks of the team. Reaching this balanced give-and-take with former subordinates is not always easy, but it is essential to being a strong team member. The great reward of this work is seeing fellow team members blossom into more articulate, capable and dependable colleagues and contributors to team success.
You ask about how to get former supervisors aligned and in support of self-directed work teams initiatives.
The answers are many, but they are all built from the
fundamental values of engagement, trust and respect:

o First, put yourself in their shoes. Inquire, listen and empathize.
o Don't assume that you know what is in their heads and hearts.
o Acknowledge their dilemmas and deal with them in open, straight ways. This includes being clear when downsizing and de-layering is some or most of the reason for moving to self-direction.
o Talk openly with them about what they may be losing as they shift into this new working world. Don't deny their feelings.
o Invite them to explore the opportunity that they have to serve in the role of catalyst for learning - both their own and others.
o Offer them the option of a mutual learning and support group for themselves as a special subset of former managers.
o Listen to and learn from their experience as an important constituency in the large-scale
organizational change work.
o Offer those who struggle with these new team member roles a chance to serve as valued individual contributors, when this is possible in the new organizational structure.

By working in these basically sound ways, you can open your organization to the value that these former supervisors can bring, if you and they so choose.

Oct. '97 News for a Change | Email Editor

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