Let's Give Them Something To Talk About
by Peter Block
Sorry We're Closed: Diary of A Shutdown
Military Intelligence—Not An
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
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.
“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.
“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
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”
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
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.”