ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition — September 2003

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BRIDGES: Internal Consultants for Change and High Performing Work Cultures
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Leading Wholeheartedly: A Quality Approach
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BRIDGES: Internal Consultants for Change and High Performing Work Cultures

A learning organization requires a mindset where employees choose to build BRIDGES, not walls, where collaboration is the rule, and internal competition is the exception. Many of us were raised to have the right or the best answers, be the best in the class, or in some way to compete. Those interpersonal traits of an I.K.E. (I Know Everything) were rewarded. Many IKEs became young leaders, then the future leaders of organizations and institutions. Reward came through being first and first alone, with rarely a word about sharing or creating through the collective talents and wisdom of those around us.

In today’s organizational environment with greater competition and higher service expectations, the IKE style does not always serve us well. As leaders, IKEs often create “knowing organizations,” where people can’t possibly be told by another of a different way—or even worse, where people are afraid to ask for help, even when they realize they need it. On the other hand, a learning organization evolves in a work culture where employees are able to build BRIDGES, to collaborate even when that means being vulnerable, to take risks, and to not know everything.

Failures abound when organizations seek to bring about work culture change for high performance. Reasons include the lack of a strategy to teach the necessary collaborative interpersonal skills, as well as a way to integrate those skills as the new norms in the work environment.

If people are to learn and then change something about how they work together, constant and real use of new interpersonal skills is needed. Growth is about using new skills and getting open, honest feedback. Feedback focuses on how well I am doing in terms of what I want to keep doing, stop doing, or do more frequently to be effective with people while getting work accomplished.

In Minnesota, Hennepin County’s Economic Assistance Department implemented an effort that improved the work culture, sustained positive change, and increased the potential for moving from that knowing organization to one of learning and higher performance.

The three questions and their answers discussed in this article present our methods and experiences and show the following:

  • A specific approach and strategies that can be modified for an organization of any size.
  • A menu of interventions that directly support work culture change and learning that can be taught and used by internal facilitators.
  • The knowledge of previous success and failures from actual implementation.
  • The methods to sustain positive change to support the shift from a “knowing” to a “learning” organization.

It’s important to remember that effective change cannot be sustained through quick-fix programs, such as flavor-of-the-month, magic-bullet expectations, or leadership changes. When leaders attempt a cheap and quick fix, they’re likely to get results quite different from what they expected, including a series of false starts and the surfacing of resistance. Quick fixes are not an effective approach for driving and integrating change and learning.

One proven strategy for creating sustainable change involves the use of a champion or change agent. Although an external consultant can help create a road map for change and provide the tools to make change happen, internal consulting facilitators are those who live in the organization and are there for the long term. Internal consulting facilitators are the holders of sustainability, guiding the organization to the new behavioral practices and standards.

So how do you create a sustainable effort to improve your work culture from a human resource perspective? Improvement begins with clear leadership direction and expectations, followed by a solid infrastructure of interpersonal and communication skills for all employees. Improvement requires organization champions willing to model those skills and behaviors and hold others to those standards of new behaviors. Trainers are selected who exemplify or are willing to learn the values and skills taught.

After training, real-time application of skills is led by a group of internal consulting facilitators who are actual organization leaders. They serve as role models by facilitating individual and group learning.

Interventions to use during these facilitated sessions include:

  • Leader feedback:
    This is a structured experience for a leader and direct reports. It allows direct reports to give feedback to the leader in a safe and helpful environment using a small group approach. This ensures the leader will get the most useful, reliable information to grow as a leader.
  • Third-party conflict resolution:
    This is a structured approach for two people who have hard-to-resolve issues. The process uses issue identification and requests for agreements to improve the work relationship. This can be peer-to-peer, supervisor-to-direct report, direct report-to-supervisor, or for any other co-workers.
  • Team building and group conflict resolution:
    This approach helps the work group to explore issues that prevent higher performance and to make agreements for improvement. The session can be effective whether there are specific issues to address or the desired result is to improve an already high-performing team.
  • Interpersonal styles exploration:
    Survey instruments can reveal work groups similarities and differences based on a personal strengths orientation. Awareness of styles and strengths leads to a more effective work environment. The session can raise awareness about conflict resolution responses based on interpersonal styles.
  • Transition management for leadership or organization structure changes:
    This is a process to assist with leadership or organizational structure changes by engaging the group in the move. This is especially helpful when a new leader comes to the work group or the role or mission of the work group changes significantly.
  • Inter-group image exchange:
    This intervention is used to build stronger work relationships between two groups with common overarching objectives: Workers can improve and make agreements on how they interact together. This enables a work group to learn how others view them and to give feedback to the other work group.

Visual Explorer ™, a photo-imaging tool for picturing approaches to complex challenges, is available from the Center for Creative Leadership, Greensboro, NC, and can serve as a resource for groups seeking to explore complex topics through a variety of perspectives.

Internal consultants can demonstrate how to build BRIDGES and provide the forum and tools to make that happen for employees. Through these interventions, some employees with long-standing interpersonal issues clear the air and make firm, specific, actionable agreements to rebuild credibility and trust, resulting in improved organization performance.

What support do internal consulting facilitators need as they build BRIDGES? First, it’s important to recognize that the time commitment and learning curve for the internal consulting facilitators is substantial. Also, facilitators may be uncomfortable with the intensity of some sessions, or they may become discouraged with the lack of change or progress. A support system to continue their technical development, as well as to provide emotional buttressing is needed.

Building BRIDGES sounds like it requires a lot of work and a lot of money!! What is the payoff for the organization to do this? Hennepin County’s Economic Assistance Department found this effort worthwhile because it was moving from internally competitive silos to collaborative lines of business, from individual case workers to teams. The organization also recognized that one-time training wouldn’t do the trick, as evidenced by earlier false starts. The department was willing to invest the time and expense necessary to build long-term BRIDGES to introduce and sustain change in people because it realized that generating new behaviors and cultural norms takes time. There are no magic bullets!

MARGARET SEIDLER , M.P.A., is an organization development consultant and master trainer. Her practice involves organization assessments, work culture advancement, leadership development, team building, and work relationship training. She has extensive experience as a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award examiner through service in South Carolina, Georgia, and Minnesota. She can be contacted at www.margaretseidler.com .

CRAIG FLYNN is an internal organization development consultant for the Hennepin County Economic Assistance Department in Minnesota. He leads a team of facilitators in providing team building, interpersonal, and growth services to a department of more than 1,000 people. Flynn has coached and provided services to leaders from first-line supervisors to department directors. Additionally, he does independent facilitation, training, and consulting for teams, groups, and individuals.

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