ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - April 2000

Issue Highlight - Hard Measures for Human Values
--- We have now made the stock market our primary measure of well-being. It is the lead story on the news, it stares me in the face at the top of my home page. It peers at me from the lower right hand corner of my TV screen...

In This Issue...
Looking For Adventure
Healing Blue Cross And Blue Shield
Applying The Magic Of Disney
When Teams Are Destructive

Peter Block Column
Views for a Change

Diary of a Shutdown

When Teams Are Destructive
Traditional Views of Teams and Change Management Are Often Counterproductive


--During 22 years of helping organizations manage change, Mark Samuel has made some intriguing discoveries and learned a few things that run counter to popular wisdom. "I found that organizations weren't getting results fast enough," he says. "That had a dramatic impact on morale, causing a lot of negativity and resistance."

--Based on his observations, Samuel has written "The Accountability Revolution: Achieving Breakthrough Results in Half the Time." His theory of accountability-based processes diverges from traditional approaches. While a strong believer in teams, Samuel feels they "are only a means to an end, not an end in itself."

Teams Are Often Destructive
-- In fact, he suggests, teams are often used in destructive or counter-productive ways. Some managers use teams to avoid dealing with non-performing employees or departments. In other cases, they defer communicating bad news to teams. By empowering employees to study a problem and make recommendations, management can avoid responsibility for change.

-- "Naturally," Samuel points out, "this type of manipulation promotes a lack of trust." Teams can also be misused inadvertently, according to Samuel, especially when members share no common purpose.

--"When organizations use teams merely to build morale, improve relationships, empower employees or transfer accountability from managers to employees," he suggests, "the results are usually short-term at best."

Buy-in for Change Is a Myth
-- Samuel dispels other myths involved in leadership and change. Foremost among these, he says, is the notion of getting buy-in before change is implemented. "It actually causes more challenges in many cases," he says. "When you're going through change, people are going to be uncomfortable. That's a given."

-- In fact, getting beyond this myth is one of the ways Samuel makes the change process more accountable and efficient. "The time to get buy-in is after the change has been implemented. Then people can see the results of the change and buy into it based on results and on the organization's commitment to change."

-- A foundation needs to be built. "What you want to get prior to that is people's involvement in change, without necessarily having their buy-in. What happens in that case is you have a lot of credibility, because you're not trying to sell the change to begin with. What you're doing is presenting the context, the reason for the change."

--Samuel says, "Accountability means creating an organization where people can count on each other-count on each other to keep commitment, count on each other for getting accurate data and information, count on each other for support, count on each other for keeping agreements around relationships and communications."

--Another myth has to do with a change in perspective. Too often, Samuel suggests, "We focus on perfection instead of recovery. We do 'analysis paralysis' to have the perfect plan-partly to get people's buy-in and partly so the people who do the planning don't get blamed for a problem-but what it does is create fear and resistance from the people who are going to implement the plan.

--"The other thing that's really interesting about that," he continues, "is that when a problem shows up, once we've done all this perfect planning, we have no recovery systems. So what takes place is we all freeze and become paralyzed."

The Best Laid Plans
-- Samuel recounts the health care client he was consulting with when his accountability-based ideas truly gelled. "They were a very conscientious organization," he says. "They read all the latest management books on change before they went to implement their change practices. They set up committees to involve everybody and to empower them." But when these committees began to fall into conflict, management deflected their requests for assistance, telling them they were empowered to solve their own problems.

--"What happened after they implemented the change, they had so much resistance and negativity as a result-even though, they'd had all these people involved. I was basically employed for a year afterward to deal with the grievances and breakdowns in the teams. It took them a year to do it, so I was there for a year cleaning up the mess."

-- Two years later the organization went through another major change. This time they followed Samuel's accountability approach. "It took four months to plan and communicate the change, instead of a year. And the fall-out was four months long, almost exactly." Even though this round of change involved organizational downsizing,

--Samuel says, the entire process was much less painful. Samuel makes this work by focusing on the desired result. "We need to recognize that teams need to be structured and execute to accomplish outcomes." The purpose of the team is to optimize execution. Hence, all teams don't necessarily look alike or need to meet with all members, all the time.

Batter Up!
-- Assembling a team, according to Samuel, is a matter of assessing resources and assembling the right players, and sub-sets of players, to carry out the task. He uses a baseball team analogy to illustrate his point: The infielders, outfielders and pitchers each practice by themselves. When they come together, "They practice execution and recovery. They don't practice to improve individual process. They practice to improve their (team) execution: How do they link their process with their skill? What happens when the ball gets dropped? What happens when a man gets on base? We don't do that in organizations. We plan on perfection, and then get stuck when perfection doesn't show up."

-- Change sometimes leads to doubt, Samuel has discovered. "Acknowledging success as you go is a critical step," he stresses. "Whenever you bring about change, regardless of how successful it is, people will get discouraged, as if they hadn't made enough improvement.

-- "You'll generally find a logarithmic curve where it starts off slow for the first three months," Samuel says of the change process. "For the next three months, you start to see an exponential curve that means they got great results. So people postpone the measurement." Samuel had a client who kept delaying an assessment of progress. When they finally had him come in, he quickly determined they were experiencing a 60 percent improvement in performance.

--"There's a component where people just get discouraged," Samuel says, looking back at such clients. "They don't want to measure, and then they treat that as reality. Measuring and acknowledging your results is critical for sustaining issues."

--Ultimately, Samuel's accountability concept works to streamline team-oriented change processes because he addresses essential issues. Most particularly, he creates a "priority matrix," in which everyone identifies their own priorities and who is affected by them. It shows who needs what, further defining how the team needs to work. "You don't have to determine what kind of team you are," he points out. "It's more important to see where your interdependencies show up and create a team based on that."


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