ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

September 1999

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Not So Common Sense

Establishing Teams: The Agony And Ecstasy

CEOs Have Little Control Over Bottom Line

Older Vs. Younger

Drum Roll Please



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A Conference For, By And At The People
by Peter Block


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Establishing Teams: The Agony & Ecstasy
Trials and Tribulations of Forming Successful Teams

Irving Berlin underscored the popularity of dancing "The Turkey Trot" back in 1911, when he wrote a tune claiming "Everybody's Doin' It." Popularity tends to be like playing "follow the leader." If it weren't for the lure of fads, what would have happened to all those hula hoops, Cabbage Patch kids and Beanie Babies?

Lest companies hop too quickly onto the "Let's form a team" bandwagon, Diane Beal and Dick Beal, of Quality Breakthroughs in Brainerd, Minn., suggest taking an informed look before leaping.

According to the Beals, setting up a team without a sense of unity, with no accepted guidelines or well-established goals, can often be worse than no team at all. As with the lad who cried "Wolf" once too often, every false start may adversely affect the organizing of successful teams when they are urgently needed.

Teaming Up
"First of all," says Dick Beal, "consider what a team is. We feel it is a group of people working to a achieve a common purpose, and whether it's to win a ball game or to increase sales, the members must work well together. It has to be a cohesive group."
Beal goes on to recall his own first team experience: "It happened when I was in grade school. I was the biggest kid in the class and totally uncoordinated. I was definitely not excited about becoming a team member."

"In forming a team, you cannot assume that everyone will be excited," Diane Beal quickly adds. "Teams may need alignment."

She goes on to point out that in her experience as a management consultant, she has encountered a variety of teams. Some are, by the nature of their objective, permanent ones; others are short term. Some may be structural or organizational; others focus on a single project, problem or improvement. But whatever the objective, she says, the process begins with setting up a team that will prove successful in achieving its objective.

Addressing Barriers
"What are the barriers to effective teamwork?" Dick Beal asks prior to citing a few which may stem from the organization itself.

"Some companies regard problem-solving as a far too serious business. Humor and camaraderie are considered out of place. They regard reason, logic and practicality as good; intuition, feelings and 'wild ideas' (brain-storming) as bad.

"To others," he continues, "tradition may be preferable to change. Team members may suggest changes, but, quite clearly, the only ones that win out will be those that don't make waves. Mistakes cannot be tolerated, at least none that may cost money."

Other organizational cultural norms which he mentions as barriers to effective teamwork include a crisis management atmosphere in which everything is "needed yesterday;" a lack of cooperation or trust within the organization itself or a lack of reinforcement or rewards for the team as a whole.

"There are also individual barriers to effective teamwork," Ms. Beal breaks in. "For example, a team member who is unable to see a problem from various viewpoints or one who sees only what he or she expects to see, which is a kind of ingrained stereotyping."

"There may be prospective team members who are emotionally insecure; they lack self-confidence and fear failure. They are not likely to offer much input."

The consultants go on to say that some team members may be too eager, latching onto the first idea that comes up or not wishing to take enough time to seek a better answer; others, like young Dick Beal, may just not want to join the team. They lack commitment.
Finally, says Diane, there are those individuals who are likely to think first of their own security.
"They are strongly in favor of the status quo. They lack team motivation."

Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing
According to the Beals, the problematic barriers become apparent during four stages of team development, which they refer to as Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.
Addressing the initial stage, Dick Beal asks clients, "Do you have an example concerning an unwillingness to participate?" His question is answered with a torrent of silence.

"Precisely," he comments with a grin. "Typical member behavior in the forming of a team is one of apprehension and uneasiness. Don't answer. Wait to see what happens next. Participation is hesitant; people are afraid to speak up."

In the Storming phase, member behavior is likely to go in the opposite direction.
"During team sessions, a pecking order may be established," Beal continues. "Those who speak loudest or most often may try to take over. There may be increased tension and the team may have difficulty keeping focused on its objective. Minimal work will be accomplished."

"Things begin to settle down during the stage we refer to as Norming," Diane interjects. "Members begin to avoid conflict for the good of the group. Beginning to know each other better, they share personal experiences and confide in each other. With a sense of cohesiveness, a common spirit and clearer goals, team members complete a moderate amount of work.

"Then comes the part which is the most productive and certainly the most fun," Diane continues. "It's the fourth and final stage: Performing. As members experience insight into the interpersonal process, constructive self-change comes about. They trust one another and are committed to team goals. They become interdependent and a great deal of work is accomplished."

Setting Up A Team
Having defined a team and traced the likely behavior of team members during four stages of team development, the Beals next speak of the possible reasons for setting up a team.
"What are some good reasons to have a problem-solving team?" Diane asks. "Well, it might be because the problem being addressed crosses organizational boundaries. It may be inter-departmental, requiring changes in a number of areas.

"It may be a company-wide problem causing a great loss of revenue and sales. Or it could be an issue requiring the expertise of members from various departments.
"It is best," she says, "to analyze the work to be done or the problem to be solved before deciding that teamwork may be the answer."

Are there ever any reasons NOT to form a team?
With an emphatic "Yes," Quality Breakthroughs' two-member team agrees most heartily.
First off, Dick Beal points to the notion that turning problems over to a team will eliminate management headaches.

"We had a client who thought self-directed work teams would be the answer to all his management problems. Unfortunately, he thought that people intuitively knew how to function in this new environment. They didn't."
Diane cites the wheel-spinning involved in setting up a problem-solving team when you already know what you want to do.
"Don't put a team through the motions of coming up with an answer in a case like this. It will be very frustrating for the team and can only result in lowered morale."

"Another reason not to form a team is when only two or three people are involved with the problem at hand," adds Dick Beal. "It will be more expedient to have them come to some agreement than to have the overhead of an entire team when it is not warranted."
He also warns against the idea of establishing teams purely as an exercise in problem solving.

"Wait until a real problem presents itself, then teach them the team building skills they will need to address and solve that real issue. Let them learn by doing.
"We were once called into an organization after everyone in the in the organization had been assigned to a problem solving team. Many of the teams were floundering, trying to identify a problem worth solving. Others were in some stage of team development, but were bogged down. What resulted was that with everyone on one or more teams, people were spending so much time away from their regular jobs that everything and everybody suffered."

Finally, Diane stresses not setting up a team when explaining an existing policy would solve the problem.

"Sometimes a common sense approach indicates that a policy just hasn't been followed or completely understood. Better communication is the obvious solution."
Diane also reiterates the advice not to form a team just because it's currently a
popular thing to do.
"Doing that reminds me of my typical teen-ager plea that I should to something or other because 'all the kids are doing it.' To which my mom would say, 'And if they jump off a bridge are you going to do that, too?' Form a team only when there's a good reason to do it."

Advice from the Experts
A high level of trust and communication are also extremely vital for team success, say the Beals. In their Quality Breakthroughs presentations they use two questionnaires which can be given to team members, the results of which can aid a facilitator in reinforcing the group's level of trust and understanding. The first is an assessment of group behavior; the second rates individual listening habits.

Diane Beal's prime piece of advice toward empowering a team effort is that of seeing that a charter is first prepared by the sponsoring organization or individual.

"It should state the purpose or mission for establishing the team and focus on a problem to be solved or a goal to be achieved. It should identify the sponsor and answer likely questions, such as, Who is going to be team leader? Who is to direct and conduct the meetings? Is there to be an internal or external facilitator? Who shall be team members, and why? What are their areas of expertise? Will it mention customers and their needs?

"What is the team's scope or its boundaries? Are its objectives specific and measurable? Identify some of the positive or negative factors. State the available resources. An initial statement covering most of these issues can save many hours of confusion once the team effort gets under way.

"A charter doesn't specify how to bring about changes," Diane explains, "but it must establish the objectives and the focus. It doesn't say 'how,' but it does explain 'why.' It's up to the sponsor - the senior member or officers of an organization - to set the objective and to make clear who is to receive the team's information."

Do's and Don't's
What are the final Quality Breakthroughs "do's and don't's" that Diane Beal might offer?
"I would say begin by using teams for the right reasons and select the right type of team for the task at hand. Ensure proper organizational readiness prior to instituting the teams. Provide adequate training and support for teams and individual members. Reward and recognize desired behaviors and actions."

What about the don't's?
"Don't use teams as a solution to every situation and problem. Don't reprimand people by assigning them or not assigning them to teams.

"Finally, as I've said before, don't set up teams just because everybody's doing it."

September '99 News for a Change | Email Editor
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