ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

October 1999


Not So Common Sense

A Fresh Squeeze On Labor Relations

Toughening Up Today's Change Efforts

People Before Strategy: Four Types of Employees that Help or Hinder a Changing Corporate Culture

The Missing Link
Failed Mergers Linked to Poor Management of Workforce Issues

A Few Kind Words: The Importance of Positive Reinforcement

Tool Time
Assessing Management Tools


Turnabout Is Fair Play
by Peter Block


Brief Cases

Diary of a Shutdown

Views for a Change


Views for a Change
Consultant Question and Answer

John Runyan responds:
The challenges for most work groups as they move from a traditional structure to becoming self-directed work teams are both obvious and subtle. While the concept of self-direction seems relatively simple and straight-forward, the inertia of history and human nature makes this shift more complex and difficult than most of us imagine.

You ask about the tools that groups should use in making this systematic journey. Immediately, I think of the most essential core values and mental maps that people need to progress into and across this new territory.

First and foremost, I believe that group members need to adopt a learning stance, a learning ethic and a set of learning skills as they try on this new way of working. This open, inquiring, experimenting and forgiving mind-set is crucial to getting past the many uncertainties and over the bumps on the way to real self-reliance and wise self-direction.

Beyond a commitment to this fundamental mutual learning approach, I urge work groups to consider these important maps and models:

· Seeing that a self-directed work team requires just as much leadership from individuals as any other organizational structure - in this case, however, the leadership needs to come from everyone, but at different times in different ways.
· Operating from the assumption that self-direction does not imply that all decisions must be made by the group on a consensus basis - rather the best teams figure out the ways to draw on the various leadership perspectives, values, inclinations, talents and skills of their members in some selective and/or rotational fashion.
· Paying attention to the crucial balance between structure and initiative - Whoever is leading at a given moment needs to provide just enough structure (direction, guidelines, agenda-setting and sequencing of tasks, for example) so that members can bring their initiative (new ideas, energy and willingness to move ahead on tasks, for example) - and the test of what is enough (not too much, not too little) structure is whether or not people are, in fact, taking high-quality initiative on what needs to be done.
· Establishing explicit, agreed-upon decision-making modes (as drawn from Bob Tannenbaum's work) from authoritarian to consultative to participative to delegative to laissez-faire - and then choosing one of these modes for each decision to be made.
· Clarifying goals, roles and responsibilities early and often (even in very short-term, incremental steps, if necessary) in the implementing of the self-directing mode; and then making it legitimate and appropriate for members to "go below-the-waterline" to share their questions, uncertainties and doubts as they wrestle with how best to live out this new, more democratic way of working.
· Setting aside enough time for the work group to discuss and decide on its plans - but at the same time focusing and concretely limiting its deliberating time so that all of its time is not taken up by its own group process.
· Creating customized, incremental mile-posts for marking and evaluating the work group's progress toward self-direction.

I see these ideas, maps and models as the most important tools for assisting a work group in progressing toward self-managing status.

Dave Farrell Responds

October '99 News for a Change | Email Editor
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