ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

March 1999

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Military Intelligence - Not An Oxymoron

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by Peter Block
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Military Intelligence—Not An Oxymoron Anymore
Team Projects at the Pentagon Make Use of New Model

Christine Cabell’s workplace is one filled with a chain of command, red tape, top-down management and bureaucracy.

Kathleen Fenton’s workplace is one filled with collaboration, teaming, involvement and participation.

Together these two were able to help transform one of the world’s largest office buildings and military institutions into an organization where decisions and communication became more effective, involving and results-oriented.

The office building in question...the Pentagon. And the process that helped transform the institution....Fenton’s “Teaming for Results” model.

Background, Breakdown and Blame
Based in Washington, D.C., Fenton has worked closely for the past four years with Cabell, the quality coordinator for the Joint Staff and program manager for Management Oversight and Controls at the Pentagon. Headquarters for the Department of Defense, the Pentagon is one of the world’s largest office buildings, with over 3.7 million square feet of office space staffed by more than 23,000 military and civilian employees. In conducting scores of Joint Staff team-management projects at the Pentagon, Fenton and Cabell have served as facilitators for projects involving more than 1,400 team members.

According to Fenton, the common problem with team initiatives is that past experiences have soured many leaders’ opinions of teamwork. “Failure to achieve measurable team results has left many managers reluctant to try again in their effort to use teaming as a step in organizational improvement,” Fenton states.

“All too often, they blame the team members for a lack of commitment and give up without attempting to examine the reasons for failure.” According to Fenton, there may be a number of other causes, including a lack of relationship between teams, a lack of management involvement or the lack of an effective process for teaming.

This common breakdown of teaming efforts led Fenton to develop her “Teaming for Results” model. In fact, it became the model that Fenton and Cabell applied in the improvement efforts at the Pentagon, specifically with Joint Staff teaming projects.

Model Behavior
“The model suggests the correct order of steps in setting up the right teams, including management involvement,” says Fenton. “At its core, it is a process to ensure open lines of communication at every critical juncture.” This is important, she adds, “because each team is different, as are their respective missions.

“What each team is charged to do should be formally thought-out and put into a written statement. A team should not just be told to ‘go do this,’ later give its report and feel the assignment completed.” By putting the overall goals in writing at the beginning of the teaming efforts, teams are more able to remain focused.

Another factor which Fenton believes to be of great importance in the setting up of teams is the choice of “key players in each team’s life cycle.” Depending on the team goal, the “key players” could involve a mix of managers or staff members and cross departmental boundaries.
Fenton further identifies elements critical to the success of the teaming process. Recognizing these even before teams are set up, while they are at work, and after recommendations for improvement have been submitted can dramatically increase the probability of measurable results through teaming,” she reports. Fenton stresses particularly the importance of a PDSA Cycle. The letters stand for Planning, Doing, Study and Action.

“The PDSA cycle denotes a preliminary team set up to develop a plan on a small scale concept,” she explains. “The team devises and carries out the plan, studies the results for further fine tuning, and then takes action toward that single small improvement.” This PDSA model then serves as a precursor to the subsequent major team-management effort. Fenton feels that the victory in this initial attempt serves as an incentive for the teams which follow.

One Part Military, One Part Civilian
Every team is unique and teams at the Pentagon are no exception. According to Cabell, setting up Joint Staff teams involved a mix of civilian staff members and military personnel. This odd coupling actually ended up being an advantage to the teaming efforts. “In fact,” Cabell says, “the number of military personnel in our teaming was a tremendous advantage.”

She went on to explain that “The Goldwater-Nichols Act requires any officer heading toward high-rank advancement to have had experience as a Joint Staff member. So the Joint Staff military represent ‘the best of the best.’ We have very good people — fast-starters.”

In addition, Cabell points out that the military profession is, in general, comprised of team players. “A war effort depends upon teamwork. These people are career-oriented.” In support of that statement, Cabell reports that “most of the Presidential Quality Award winners, using the Baldrige criteria, have been in the military.”

Results of Joint Staff “Teaming for Results”
The Joint Staff teams have addressed a wide array of issues - of both a military and a business nature. Cabell describes the Joint Staff teams as undertaking “a great variety” of projects. “For example, supplies; logistics, the business of getting materials from place to place; automated systems management; security issues; and internal and external planning. The internal planning involves divisions, directorates and branches; the external ones concern areas outside the Joint Staff,” Cabell states.

According to Cabell, a number of goals have already been achieved by Joint Staff teams. These include some designed to save tax dollars. Another team effort brought about an improvement in communications, both vertically and horizontally.

Fenton mentions the importance of maintaining “open lines of communication at every juncture,” and Cabell provides the following example from a Joint Staff team effort.

“In the Pentagon, certain directives must, of necessity, come from the top, so one of our teams worked to provide top-down guidance, making sure that orders are better understood at each point along the chain of command. Teamwork now takes place across the directorial boundaries within the Joint Staff and also crosses organizational boundaries of the services, the staff agencies and the Department of Defense.” Cabell mentioned that quality tools have included flow-charting and reviews with a systemic management overview.

Asked how application of Fenton’s “Teaming For Results” model had enhanced the Joint Staff team management effort, Cabell described the process as having been “a very rewarding experience.

“We began about four years ago, and early-on, process action teams looked at issues involving our computer system, including its management and security. These team recommendations led to the formulation of a Joint Staff Information Resources Management Office.
“On another occasion, at the request of the Secretary of Defense, a process action team considered the nation’s Presidential Selected Reserve Call-Up system. According to law, Reserves can be called up within 24 hours,” Cabell continued. “However, in recent years, a number of recruits have been asking for more advanced notice.
“So, an across-boundaries team was set up. It brought together representatives of the Joint Staff, the military branches, the office of the Secretary of Defense, and the Unified Command, a group of 15-20 in all. This team reviewed advance notice procedures and discussed how these might be done efficiently, effectively and still give ample time to those leaving homes and jobs. After considering all of the issues and ramifications,” Cabell reports, “the team came up with an improved plan in less than two weeks.”

Fenton sums up her team model approach by adding that, “Teams, not individuals working alone, are the surest route to the best solutions. But you need to use them wisely,” she cautions, adding that “for team success, it’s imperative to have the right team, addressing the right problem at the right time.”

March '99 News for a Change | Email Editor
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