ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

June 1999

100 Percent Waterproof

Taking Teams To A Higher Level

Making The Soft Stuff Hard

The King Of Leadership Programs

Merger And Acquisition: The Six Deadly Sins

Enough Is Enough

by Peter Block

Tick Tock, Your Life Is Like A Clock
by Greg Smith

Sorry We're Closed: Diary Of A Shutdown

Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Book Review

Site Unseen


Taking Teams To A Higher Level
A Whole Systems Approach to Implementing and Sustaining Large Teams

How many people constitute a team?

In professional sports, it's 12 for basketball, 25 for baseball and 48 for a football team. Surprisingly, for pros working toward strategic change, the number on a team may hit a thousand.

Robert Jacobs and Frank McKeown, partners at 5 oceans, inc., a consulting firm in Chelsea, Mich., specialize in whole systems change efforts. They developed Real Time Strategic Change (RTSC)- a principle-based approach to fundamental change which is rapid, sustainable and occurs throughout the entire organization.

Teams of all sorts are considered critical to the success of many organizations. But what about large teams? Usually, they're not even thought about, let alone tried. Jacobs says that, being all-inclusive, they are best-suited for strategic, whole-systems change because they pay the greatest dividends in leverage, synergy and speed of implementation.

"They are deliverable. They accelerate the pace of changes," Jacobs explains. "More importantly," he adds, "they are sustainable. They are non-Teflon; they stick; they are enduring."

Rising to the Challenge
Jacobs and McKeown challenge a number of assumptions concerning team management efforts. They say that for major turn-around, a rapidly created, highly effective large team capable of achieving sustainable results "is a real, achievable building block of organized success."

Contrary to the common belief that skill development is best done in groups of up to 30 in order to optimize learning, the whole systems practitioners claim that when people are engaged in ways that they value and on issues that matter to them both individually and collectively, real issues can be addressed in groups numbering 1,000 or even more.

Jacobs and McKeown would seem to agree that a representative team has to be customized for each specific situation, but unlike pro sports, where team limits are mandated, studies and changes in systems, structures and processes can often capitalize on the leverage and synergy available only in large teams.

"We need to challenge our assumptions and generate new ideas and possibilities," McKeown declares.

5 Steps for Real Time Strategic Change
In their large-team application of Real Time Strategic Change methodology, the consultants stress the importance of five key steps.
First, according to McKeown, is the need to "Create a clear context. This step requires an ongoing process for gaining broad appreciation of needs, interests, possibilities and issues to be involved. It includes creating a clear, carefully considered roadmap for building and sustaining the large team. We say roadmap because the direction may change, but it should address the work that needs to be done, who will do it, and how."

As an example, McKeown tells of having worked with a regional unit of a major oil and gas company that was seeking to be more competitive and to increase its return on investment.

"The unions were concerned and were given representation on the initial 15-member leadership team. From their discussions came a 28-member design team charged with setting boundaries for the change effort. Design team findings suggested that various areas of the unit seemed to be working independently, with the petroleum, gas and engineering areas given more importance than the business end of the operation. In recasting the strategy, or roadmap, the design team decided that everything would be negotiable except jobs and pay. Clear lines of thought in putting a business frame over gas and oil production followed. This was the design team's part in creating a clear context before moving forward."

The second step toward Real Time Strategic Change is the developing and aligning of leadership."This involves gaining agreement and commitment from ownership and leaders for developing the roadmap," Jacobs explains. It concerns the initiative, the required resources and leadership's role in providing support over time.

"In the question of who needs to provide the leadership, the answer is not necessarily the top executive," Jacobs adds, saying, "It should be a broad-based leadership."

Lead By Example
As an example of this step, Jacobs cites an East Coast telecommunications company with 10,000 employees and an annual revenue of $2 billion.

"Rapid action was necessitated by fast-moving changes in the industry. What had been a telephone company was suddenly involved in the new world of telecom, providing not only communication services, but information and entertainment services as well. Continuing to be competitive demanded a total make-over."
Jacobs goes on to point out that the CEO involved favored holding on to one-man direction. But he also saw the handwriting on the wall and knew he would have to loosen the reins.

"Fortunately, he was willing to talk openly about his reluctance and the personal risk he would be taking before a meeting group of 800," Jacobs continues. "His truthful recognition of the situation served as a catalyst for the rapid changes to come."

According to Jacobs, this firm's union representatives had previously met with senior management only at times of contract negotiation, but in adopting a vision for starting anew, the two became a working partnership.

"During three days of meetings, they addressed a number of issues, including the controversial ones of substance abuse and effective discipline. Their agreement on policies and procedures involved real work and created a vision that was both substantive and symbolic. Thus, did they develop and align the leadership," says Jacobs.
Frank McKeown goes on to explain the third step: designing the strategic change effort.

"This entails developing both the macro and the detail of the chosen 'roadmap,' and in this context, 'designing' means turning the roadmap into a thoroughly considered, detailed and well-accepted working plan that includes ways of measuring the progress."

As an example, McKeown refers to a public agency which they served: Employment Services in the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and North Ireland).

"The agency found jobs for people and gave assistance to the unemployed, but it seemed at a stand-still. It was a push-pull operation. So the reality of the design team microcosm became that of using collective wisdom to envision better ways of doing business. The reality was a need for innovation, and with that image of what better could look like came a greater sense of power-sharing."

Building a Team
The Marriott organization, a far-flung hotel organization with 100,000 employees served as Jacobs' example for the team's fourth step: creating the large team.

"To engage team members and possibly key stakeholders in crafting a preferred future - a realistic, achievable and time-bounded win-win picture of success is the purpose for which large teams are convened," Jacobs explains. When asked, "Why bother?" he is quick to say, "Because it gets the work done faster, the work is done better, and in the long-run, it's cheaper. Despite the up-front investment in time and money, the early returns compound in funding later efforts."

Jacobs goes on to stress that Marriott already had a good reputation, but with hotel operations in so many far-flung places, it sought improvement by eliminating gaps between varying turfs.
"It began with a focus on the individual properties, using quality performance and appraisal systems at each before moving to an alignment of the vision for all properties. Three-day sessions were held at every Marriott unit, and on occasion, employees were shifted from a neighboring unit to back-fill while In-House/On-Site sessions were occurring. Some meetings scored 100 percent attendance," Jacobs reports. A film shown during the sessions demonstrated the focus of customer complaints and was followed by group discussions.

"Marriott's first major undertaking in the strategic change effort was their successful First 10 program," Jacobs points out. "Receiving national attention, the effort promises that a Marriott guest shall be moved from curbside to room in no more than 10 minutes." Other gains in customer satisfaction would soon follow.

The final step in Jacobs and McKeown's Real Time Strategic Change methodology stresses the importance of supporting the large team over time.

"In reality, this step is embedded in the four previous ones as well," says Jacobs. "Support for the team is implied throughout the process, but it has to remain in place until the vision becomes reality."
As an example, Jacobs describes changes now under way at a large, technical high school in New York City.

Gaining Support Over Time
"This high school has been highly reputable for many years and has a rich history," Jacobs reports. Its alumni include three astronauts, two Nobel laureates and a number of others in leadership positions. But staying on top means becoming better-suited to today's changing needs. A total redesign effort of the school is in progress, and it involves 4,000 students, 270 faculty members, 100 administration members, 6,000 parents and other stakeholders, including loyal alumni.
In the design effort, schedules were shifted so teachers could participate, a former principal returned on a part-time basis, a coordinator was appointed, per-session pay was allowed for participating teachers and a number of public meetings were held. The event, to be launched next fall, will create, for a time, a unique school-within-a-school.

"One-fourth of the freshman class will be attending a school in which the curriculum will be theme-based. A theme of 'motion,' for example, would connect with geographic movements, actions of history, chemical reactions, etc." According to Jacobs, this approach will be a four-year trial project, and new faculty members will be working on the revised curriculum this summer. It typifies a large team effort requiring longtime support.

The Whole Is Only As Good As The Sum of Its Parts
Asked about the incentive for large team participation, Jacobs and McKeown cite not only the benefit of becoming part of a larger group, but of having individual gains as well, particularly the opportunity to be a part in creating one's own future.

According to Jacobs, "A microcosm is no small thing. It is the DNA for building large systems. It replicates how the business runs, and if you happen to be part of a large team, act as if you are. A team's success depends, in part, upon the group's mind-set toward bringing about an achievable vision."

In other words, if you are part of a major turn-around and have the determination once expressed as going out "to win one for the Gipper," your team might well be a thousand members strong.

June '99 News for a Change | Email Editor
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