ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

July 1999

Teams That Work And Those That Don't

Teaching Dollars And Cents Makes Sense

Cycle-Time Redesign

Baldrige Winner Wins Again

Be Careful What You Ask For

by Peter Block
Sorry We're Closed: Diary Of A Shutdown

Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Book Review

Site Unseen

The Quality Tool I Never Use

Views For A Change
Consultant Q & A

Dave Farrell Responds:
As this question clearly demonstrates, the existence of a team does not insure teamwork. A team can simply be a collection of individuals with (hopefully) a common objective. Teamwork, on the other hand, is a process based on relationships which gets things done.

Let's assume that since Appleton Papers has a "team environment," the development of problem-solving skills has been a part of this process; this situation calls for the application of those skills. So, let's look at defining the current state, diagnosing potential root causes, then posing possible solution alternatives.

It is not clear from the question whether the team referred to is a natural work group in which members must work effectively together day-in and day-out, a project or problem-solving team, or an "ad hoc" team of short duration. Causes of the behavior described and the solution options available will vary in each case.
· Disruption (or lack of cooperation) occurs when expected work practices and personal behavior get out of sync. These actions may be habitual, reactionary, unconscious or quite conscious and intentional. Do the employees know they are impeding progress by their actions?
· Have we appropriately differentiated between "problem people" and simply "people who see things differently?"
· Irrespective of the dysfunctional behavior, how valuable are those employees' individual contributions?
· Team building is not a one-shot activity. Have team building activities been included as a regular feature of the team's development?
· Is the problem systemic, or limited to several individuals?
· What impact is the behavior having on other members of the team? On their willingness to continue their own teamwork? On the ability of the team to accomplish its objectives?
· Have team members responded to this behavior? Have they provided candid feedback to the individualists?

Even the questions begin to suggest possible remedies. Potential Root Causes:
· Fundamental value conflict-individualism over cooperation?
· Unclear or vague behavioral guidelines or rules of conduct?
· Misunderstanding or misuse of consensus as a decision-making strategy?
· Absence of clear, direct feedback?
· Failure to reward or recognize appropriate behavior?
· Absence of consequences for inappropriate behavior?
· Inappropriate role modeling by upper management?
· A "team environment" is not yet the expected norm throughout the organization?

Possible Solution Alternatives
Choose appropriate messengers to provide clear, candid and objective (fact-based, non-judgmental) feedback about their behavior and its consequences. Candidates include other team members, team leader, team facilitator or coach, managers and other colleagues with whom the employees have a positive relationship.

The entire team shares responsibility for effective teamwork. Include periodic but regular team self-assessment of its performance vis-à-vis its own agreed-upon ground rules, behavioral guidelines and results. Team diagnosis can be accomplished either through a series of confidential interviews followed by published results and discussion, or through open sharing of data and opinions. The latter alternative requires very skillful facilitation, both to elicit candid input, and to deal with the personal issues that are likely to arise.

Revisit your use of consensus as a decision-making model. To some degree, the failure to fully support a decision reached through apparent consensus is a failure of the decision-making process itself. The well-known Abilene Paradox may be at work here. Make sure that sufficient time is allowed, and that an environment is created, which enables full and open exploration of alternatives and concerns. Include in the consensus process sufficient detail so that not only the basic decision is clear, but also how it will be implemented, who has what responsibilities and when actions are due.

Then, hold all members accountable for their agreed-upon tasks to support the implementation. Report implementation status and roadblocks on a regular basis.

Develop a customized recognition program. Provide "different strokes for different folks." Recognize and reward those who make meaningful contributions.

Make teamwork an explicit performance expectation-build it into your performance management system. Hold people accountable for cooperative behaviors and for contributing to the success of the team. Avoid settling for mediocre or sub-par behavior, expect "top performance" and allow no one to pick up the slack for non-performers.

William Dyer, in his book "Team Building, Issues and Alternatives," offers a succinct list of strategies for addressing problem team member situations:
· Direct confrontation between the team leader and the problem person
· Confrontation by the group
· Assign special responsibilities (recorder, agenda builder, discussion summarizer, even acting team leader)
· Limit participation (attend, but not participate, attend only on occasion)
· Other assignments not related to the work of the team

Of course, a time may come when you have no other option than to help the individualist seek alternative employment opportunities. We need only recall for an example a certain former Chicago Bull and L.A. Laker whose individualism has become legendary. Even the most valuable individual contributor's behavior can become so destructive to the long-term objectives of the team that he must leave it.

James B. Showkeir Responds

July '99 News for a Change | Email Editor
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