ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

April 1999


A Sunny Forecast
Grassroots Teams Help Sun Micorsystems Raise Customer Satisfaction

Coming Full Circle
Measuring and Improving Organizational Effectiveness

Oil Change
Externalization, Change Management Key to Realignment

Project Management:
Just Do It!

A Step by Step Overview ofa 1950's Organizational Tool Experiencing a 1990's Rebirth


Hope Is Where You Find It
by Peter Block

Sorry We're Closed: Diary of a Shutdown


Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Sites Unseen
Reader's Favorite Websites

The Quality Tool I Never Use

Book Review

Letters to the Editor

Calendar of Events

Views For A Change
Consultant Q&A

John Runyan responds:

You ask for help in envisioning a new communications system with many self-starting and maintaining characteristics. The best that I can do is to offer a number of suggestions about the context and inputs you can provide as leaders and then some ideas for your employees to consider as they design and implement their system.
First, I say to you as a leader and to your other company leaders—put clear, decisive, timely and important information into this system and the people in your organization will grow a communications infrastructure that will match the degree of your investment and the quality of your input.
If workers come to believe that they can trust and learn from the information that flows from the top, they will create and enhance the communications system needed to spread the word. On the other hand, if what you pour in is more partial, opaque, hard-to-understand, not-particularly-responsive and/or not reliable from their point of view, then the system will never evolve to a really useful level of effectiveness and efficiency.
Second, I think it is crucial for leaders to offer employees key conceptual maps about how you are envisioning this communication system, plus how you are managing and dealing with change. For example, begin by drawing rough maps that depict the flow of clear messages from management and feedback from workers. Include dynamic circles and spirals that show the self-generating involvement of all participants. Share your vision in this pictorial way and then let them modify and re-draw their own lines and flows of communication.
In particular, it is crucial for your employees to know and understand their role and leadership’s role as the kinds of changes you mention are initiated. In this arena, I find the ideas of Daryl Conner and his “Sponsor-Agent-Target” model for managing change very powerful in clarifying the roles, processes and boundaries for ensuring the kind of changes you describe. In particular, implementing Conner’s guidelines leads to the kind of responsibility and whole-system-monitoring you indicated that you want. Leaders can do their part to make these change processes work by consistently soliciting input from employees as they contemplate making shifts and by listening and responding to worker feedback when they roll out new processes.
Once the employees can count on the quality of the information coming from the top and clear guidelines about what they should do as changes unfold, then they can turn to building the communications system you describe.
I believe that leaders can best help with the launch of this communication system by:
- Bringing all 100 of the workers together in a meeting where you provide your vision, sponsorship and information about any resources and parameters for this system.
- Communicate your expectations so that everyone in the workplace must become literate and facile in this system—and commit to tracking and responding to questions and issues that are raised back to you.
- Provide enough facilitation for the employees to choose their own natural, grassroots leaders and working groups.
- Allow them time and space to begin to design such a system using “future search” methods to gather input and establish criteria for the system.
n Have one or more leaders stay close enough to their deliberations to be able to offer appropriate information about boundaries and issues of integration with other systems as they need it.
I want to say to the employees as they design and construct their multi-dimensional system:
- Rely on peoples’ natural curiosity to know “what is really going on.”
- Make this a communications system that helps people learn what they need to know when they need to know it.
- Use all of the modes available to you from in-person meetings to voicemail to email to other shared software outputs.
- Develop multiple channels and options for information to flow from large-scale bulletin boards to targeted email distribution lists to overtly confidential subgroup exchanges, when and as needed.
- Take into account that people have a very wide variety of styles of seeking and absorbing information.
- Consider creating a physical space (a room or a corner at each of your sites) where information can be pooled, displayed and digested by individuals and small groups on their own schedule.
- Balance the practical needs for quick, situational communication by electronic means with the human needs for face-to-face exchanges to deal with real working relationships and the most important topics.
- Provide everyone in the workplace with the means to call quick “huddles” of key players around a given project or issue (for example, designate a certain hour of the day or time of the week when everyone will be available to make “huddles” happen).
- Establish mutual expectations about frequency of check-ins on the system, the obligation to respond (perhaps at least by signaling that messages have been read) and any guidelines about inclusion, confidentiality and problem solving that make sense for your workplace.
- In the beginning, choose a “tracker/catalyst/trouble-shooter” for roughly every 8-10 participants in the communications network. Charge this person with serving as a local focal point for refining the emerging system and sitting on a broader employee coordinating/steering team as well. Eventually, have this role rotate among each of the employees in each pod.
- Use this employee coordinating/steering team to guide the early development and on-going improvement and maintenance of the system over time.
I believe that a system built on these premises —with a commitment by everyone to put in the real, important and reliable information that everyone needs to do their job—has the best chance of meeting the needs of all involved.

Jim Harrington's Response

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