Enough Is Enough
by Peter Block
Tick Tock, Your Life Is Like A
Sorry We're Closed: Diary Of A Shutdown
Taking Teams To A Higher Level
How many people constitute a team?
In professional sports, it's 12 for basketball, 25 for baseball and 48 for a football team. Surprisingly, for pros working toward strategic change, the number on a team may hit a thousand.
Robert Jacobs and Frank McKeown, partners at 5 oceans, inc., a consulting firm in Chelsea, Mich., specialize in whole systems change efforts. They developed Real Time Strategic Change (RTSC)- a principle-based approach to fundamental change which is rapid, sustainable and occurs throughout the entire organization.
Teams of all sorts are considered critical to the success of many organizations. But what about large teams? Usually, they're not even thought about, let alone tried. Jacobs says that, being all-inclusive, they are best-suited for strategic, whole-systems change because they pay the greatest dividends in leverage, synergy and speed of implementation.
"They are deliverable. They accelerate the pace of changes," Jacobs explains. "More importantly," he adds, "they are sustainable. They are non-Teflon; they stick; they are enduring."
Rising to the
Contrary to the common belief that skill development is best done in groups of up to 30 in order to optimize learning, the whole systems practitioners claim that when people are engaged in ways that they value and on issues that matter to them both individually and collectively, real issues can be addressed in groups numbering 1,000 or even more.
Jacobs and McKeown would seem to agree that a representative team has to be customized for each specific situation, but unlike pro sports, where team limits are mandated, studies and changes in systems, structures and processes can often capitalize on the leverage and synergy available only in large teams.
"We need to challenge our assumptions and generate new ideas and possibilities," McKeown declares.
5 Steps for Real Time Strategic
As an example, McKeown tells of having worked with a regional unit of a major oil and gas company that was seeking to be more competitive and to increase its return on investment.
"The unions were concerned and were given representation on the initial 15-member leadership team. From their discussions came a 28-member design team charged with setting boundaries for the change effort. Design team findings suggested that various areas of the unit seemed to be working independently, with the petroleum, gas and engineering areas given more importance than the business end of the operation. In recasting the strategy, or roadmap, the design team decided that everything would be negotiable except jobs and pay. Clear lines of thought in putting a business frame over gas and oil production followed. This was the design team's part in creating a clear context before moving forward."
The second step toward Real Time Strategic Change is the developing and aligning of leadership."This involves gaining agreement and commitment from ownership and leaders for developing the roadmap," Jacobs explains. It concerns the initiative, the required resources and leadership's role in providing support over time.
"In the question of who needs to provide the leadership, the answer is not necessarily the top executive," Jacobs adds, saying, "It should be a broad-based leadership."
"Rapid action was necessitated by
fast-moving changes in the industry. What had been a
telephone company was suddenly involved in the new world
of telecom, providing not only communication services,
but information and entertainment services as well.
Continuing to be competitive demanded a total
"Fortunately, he was willing to talk openly about his reluctance and the personal risk he would be taking before a meeting group of 800," Jacobs continues. "His truthful recognition of the situation served as a catalyst for the rapid changes to come."
According to Jacobs, this firm's union representatives had previously met with senior management only at times of contract negotiation, but in adopting a vision for starting anew, the two became a working partnership.
"During three days of meetings, they
addressed a number of issues, including the controversial
ones of substance abuse and effective discipline. Their
agreement on policies and procedures involved real work
and created a vision that was both substantive and
symbolic. Thus, did they develop and align the
leadership," says Jacobs.
"This entails developing both the macro and the detail of the chosen 'roadmap,' and in this context, 'designing' means turning the roadmap into a thoroughly considered, detailed and well-accepted working plan that includes ways of measuring the progress."
As an example, McKeown refers to a public agency which they served: Employment Services in the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and North Ireland).
"The agency found jobs for people and gave assistance to the unemployed, but it seemed at a stand-still. It was a push-pull operation. So the reality of the design team microcosm became that of using collective wisdom to envision better ways of doing business. The reality was a need for innovation, and with that image of what better could look like came a greater sense of power-sharing."
"To engage team members and possibly key stakeholders in crafting a preferred future - a realistic, achievable and time-bounded win-win picture of success is the purpose for which large teams are convened," Jacobs explains. When asked, "Why bother?" he is quick to say, "Because it gets the work done faster, the work is done better, and in the long-run, it's cheaper. Despite the up-front investment in time and money, the early returns compound in funding later efforts."
Jacobs goes on to stress that Marriott
already had a good reputation, but with hotel operations
in so many far-flung places, it sought improvement by
eliminating gaps between varying turfs.
"Marriott's first major undertaking in the strategic change effort was their successful First 10 program," Jacobs points out. "Receiving national attention, the effort promises that a Marriott guest shall be moved from curbside to room in no more than 10 minutes." Other gains in customer satisfaction would soon follow.
The final step in Jacobs and McKeown's Real Time Strategic Change methodology stresses the importance of supporting the large team over time.
"In reality, this step is embedded in
the four previous ones as well," says Jacobs. "Support
for the team is implied throughout the process, but it
has to remain in place until the vision becomes
Gaining Support Over
"One-fourth of the freshman class will be attending a school in which the curriculum will be theme-based. A theme of 'motion,' for example, would connect with geographic movements, actions of history, chemical reactions, etc." According to Jacobs, this approach will be a four-year trial project, and new faculty members will be working on the revised curriculum this summer. It typifies a large team effort requiring longtime support.
The Whole Is Only As Good As The
Sum of Its Parts
According to Jacobs, "A microcosm is no small thing. It is the DNA for building large systems. It replicates how the business runs, and if you happen to be part of a large team, act as if you are. A team's success depends, in part, upon the group's mind-set toward bringing about an achievable vision."
In other words, if you are part of a major turn-around and have the determination once expressed as going out "to win one for the Gipper," your team might well be a thousand members strong.