ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - March 2001


Issue Highlight — Someone To Watch Over Me
- Peter Block discusses how technology and aggressive measuring can damage learning behaviors and the importance of human connection to the education of a child.

 In This Issue...
With A Little Bit Of Luck
Using Both Eyes
In The Face Of Change
Answering A Big "What If?" In Chicago

Peter Block Column
Views for a Change

Heard on the Street

Return to NFC Index

Using Both Eyes
A Method as Easy as Breathing Helps Teams Find Out What They Really Want

Ever finished crunching the numbers during a team project only to have the uncanny sense that you don’t have the answers? Lunell Haught knows how that can feel, and states it succinctly: “It all adds up, but it doesn’t make sense.”

  Haught, a Spokane-based consultant with two decades of experience in improving workplace effectiveness, says, “I think we are pretty sophisticated at doing quantitative measurements so that we can be very specific about lots of things with teams and achievements. What we’re not necessarily so good at is making qualitative assessments.”

  Haught draws the analogy of using binocular vision: “The purpose of quantitative measurements is to be able to generalize, and the purpose of qualitative measurements is to be able to make things specific to a group. So I can see this looking out of both eyes. You want the quantitative, the quantifiable aspects of success, but you also want to make sure that’s giving you the qualities you want, the kind of team you want.”

  To do that, Haught developed a method that enables teams to find out what they really want and don’t want. “When they’re going through transitions, this method allows them to have more control. It allows for a quicker feedback system. And it’s not difficult to do. I tend to like things you can work on from the back of a pickup truck!” she chuckles.

Drawing from the Past
  Haught’s common sense theories about workforce performance come from a varied background. Before launching her organizational development consulting practice in 1996, she spent six years as the training manager for Spokane County in Washington, where she developed and implemented training programs for 1,700 employees. In 1989 she managed the State of Washington’s Centennial Summer Games, the largest multi-sport event in the state’s history. She also has experience in higher education, where she managed human resources and student services for several institutions. Haught earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration from Lewis and Clark College, a master’s degree in counseling from the United States International University and her doctorate in organizational change from Gonzaga University.

  Her approach to applying qualitative measures with teams or groups is to involve them in outlining four aspects of an issue they are facing. First, they define the positive aspects of one perspective and the negative aspects of that perspective; then they look carefully at the positive and negative aspects of the opposite perspective.

  An example makes this clear. Haught worked with two groups of pathologists, physicians and technicians who diagnose diseases. One group was hospital-based, while the other operated independently in its own laboratory. The two organizations had no problem exploring the facts, especially the cost benefits, of a potential merger.

  “You can have all of the statistics in the world about how many blood tests and urine tests you do,” Haught notes. “But what these people were concerned about, in addition to these statistical measures of financial success was, ‘What’s it going to be like?’” These issues were specific to the two groups of people, and there was no way a factual analysis could answer questions about the environment of a merged organization.

A Meeting of the Minds
  Haught brought the groups together to get to know each other. They described their practices, their normal working conditions and the challenges and pleasures of the way they had been working together. Then she broke them into four mixed groups to analyze the impact of merging their two organizations into one.
Focusing on the positive aspects of merging, one group identified that there would be more resources, better patient care and more opportunities for professional development. Looking at possible negatives, a second group cited having to learn about new people—from their names to their work habits—and a sizeable logistical concern over the necessity of moving between several hospital sites. A third group looked at the positive aspects of not merging, noting in particular that it would not require change; a factor that appeals to our basic human nature. Negative aspects of not merging, including staying the same when change was needed and concerns that another company could take over their operations, leaving them with no say in the outcome, were identified by the fourth group.

  All four groups shared these thoughts with the entire group, giving each perspective a full hearing. Subsequently, each factor was assigned a weighted importance that helped everyone identify priorities. This made for much easier decision making. The goal of a team in a qualitative evaluation, Haught maintains, is to get the whole picture from everyone’s perspective.

  “Knowing each other’s priorities and that each concern was addressed in a comprehensive tool helped each person understand their colleagues,” she says. “It highlighted things a steering committee should particularly attend to in proceeding with the merger. The tool could be used throughout the merger as a way of providing feedback to all participants about how the process was moving along.”

The Sand in Our Shoes
  Haught sometimes conducts individual interviews with team members prior to bringing the entire group together. “Most of us don’t want to talk about the things that bug us,” she notes. “I find it’s not the mountain in front of us: It’s always the sand in our shoes.” As she talked with some of the pathologists, she heard things like, “How come Joe always gets the easy cases?” an observation an individual might not feel comfortable making to the entire group. “I can work that in as part of the qualitative assessment in terms of fairness of work distribution,” says Haught. “That’s the kind of stuff that’s going to drive people crazy. We convince ourselves that we’re really bigger than that, and it gets to us.”

  Her four-cornered process also acknowledges the various dimensions of issues that teams must weigh. She often calls these issues “dilemmas” and poses their analysis in terms of “dilemma management.” That process involves understanding and addressing the two characteristics of a dilemma: continuing, ongoing features and interrelated poles.

Making it Work
  “We have a cultural preference to solve problems,” Haught notes. “It’s the biggest muscle that we have, but not everything is a problem to be solved.”

   Typically, problem solving involves an issue or a situation that can be resolved, a decision that usually excludes other choices. On the other hand, when teams are facing dilemmas, the best response might be “a little of this and a little of that.” Haught’s “dilemma model” acknowledges those situations requiring a balance rather than an answer.

  She likens the process to breathing: “You breathe in and think that your lack of breath is a problem. So your solution is to breathe out. Which will be fine until you don’t have breath again. So do you breathe out again? No. You have this great solution that doesn’t work. That’s what working with people is. People say, ‘Are we going to be a team or an individual?’ Well, you’ve got to figure out how to go back and forth between those two things. We need to look at all of the advantages and disadvantages. This helps people think about what they want to achieve and don’t want to achieve when they think of their transitions.”

Going to the Mat
All of us resist change, even when we know it’s inevitable. It’s easier to accept change when our resistance is acknowledged and addressed. Haught believes her process works because, “It validates people’s experience and makes it OK to have great feelings and awful feelings. It helps people know that they not only have some control, but that someone actually cares how this change is affecting them. If it’s done well, they know somebody will actually do something about the changes affecting them. It puts that on the table and it takes the organization out of the just-looking-at-the-numbers thing.”

  Bringing qualitative factors to bear in team situations has resulted in consulting success for Haught. “I think it gives people great insight. If you say, ‘What do you want to achieve?’—five times or five ways or whatever it is—you begin to find out what is important. And you begin to make transitions. People will actually tell you, ‘Well, I don’t care about this and this and this. But this one? I’m going to go to the mat over that.’ Those are frequently qualitative things.”
Haught has seen her process work. “I would really like people to use the qualitative as well as the quantitative view.” It’s as simple—and obvious—as using both eyes.

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