Leading Teams in Today's Economy

Many companies (Harley Davidson, Gore, Levi Straus, Google, Black and Decker) are reaping huge operational benefits by shifting traditional management duties to teams of non-managers. Companies with the desire to succeeding are now learning the value of a motivated team.

In the 1960’s consumers had choices. They could have Good, Fast and/or Cheap. They could pick any two of the three! But today an organization that can’t produce high quality work both quickly and economically is at serious risk.

Today’s buzzwords for potential improvement activities include: Total Quality Management (TQM), strategic process management, self-directed work teams, reengineering, high performance work systems, benchmarking, the learning organization, factory of the future, doing more with less, best practices, time-based competition, just to name a few.

Regardless of what you call it though, there are three traditions that require change:

1) Internally Driven: Decisions are made based on narrow professional or departmental self-interest or habits. This paradigm should be shifted to focusing on change driven by constantly updated customer needs. Shift from Internally Driven to Customer Driven.
2) Functionally Focused: Companies see themselves primarily as a collection of separate departments, as “silos” of vertical power which often waste time and energy competing with each other for resources and rewards. This needs to change to a more holistic approach that is Process as opposed to Functionally focused.
3) Management Centered: Managers tend to see themselves as the central players within an organization and assume they need to control almost everything. As a result managers can deny employees the information, skills, experience, and authority that employees must have in order to make meaningful improvements in their own areas. Thus the shift must move from Management Centered to Employee Involved.

The new manager must:

1) trust and build trust
2) focus the team on the mission, goals and boundaries
3) energize the team
4) assist the team
5) expand the team’s range of effectiveness
6) share information
7) encourage innovation and risk taking
8) make the team genuine business partners
9) build commitment
10) be the coach

In a team environment managers shouldn’t focus on making the organization more stable but rather on making it more flexible. Traditionally the manager’s perspective was to take control and orchestrate all the actions of his/her team. But from a team perspective the manager/leader needs to anticipate change and create the framework to support it. Trust between members of the team and between the leader and the team is essential to teamwork.

Managers need to set boundaries for their teams and let them know that they can make decisions within those boundaries. Then as they grow and mature, the boundaries are increased so they can make larger decisions and possess a greater span of influence.

A newly created team will generally experience 4 stages of development:

1) Forming: in the first stage there is much anxiety and anticipation. Nobody really knows anybody and everybody is generally polite and tight lipped. This is the time the manager/leader needs to first establish trust by setting the boundaries and showing his/her willingness to support the team and honor the boundaries.
2) Storming: In this stage enthusiasm gives way to frustration as people become more comfortable and allow their true personalities to show. This stage is crucial for management as it is in this stage that the team is looking most closely for reasons not to trust their team members and management. Management must continue to provide support and resources through this phase and work on increasing trust instead of destroying it.
3) Norming: If the team can survive the storming phase, they will begin to find their balance and equilibrium. Team members have a better understanding of one another and routines are established. Although this stage is much preferred over the previous one, it is now the manager/leader’s responsibility to continue to push the team and not allow them to fall into a rut. More trust, responsibility and resources need to be provided through this stage.
4) Performing: This is now a high performance team. Members have learned to work out their own differences and know when to take risks and when to make their own decisions. There will still be differences among the team, but the increased level of trust will allow them to work more synergistically. There still will be the odd set-back to the Storming stage, but these will be short-lived and should result in renewed enthusiasm and creativity.

5 Basic Principles to Help Foster Trust

1) Focus on the issue, behavior or problem, not on the person
2) Maintain the self-confidence and self-esteem of others
3) Maintain constructive relationships
4) Take initiative to make things better
5) Lead by example

Team Decisions

There are four different ways a team can make a decision:

1) Minority Decision: This usually occurs in crisis and may be the quickest but has the lowest buy-in.
2) Majority Decision: This form or decision comes down to a vote and the majority rules. This works well when the members do not have an emotional stake in the decision and may have low commitment levels from the “losers”.
3) Unanimous Decision: The entire team agrees on the best alternative and may result in the highest level of commitment. However sometimes people agree just to put the issue to rest and may result in overlooking other options.
4) Consensus: In this situation, everyone agrees to commit to the chosen solution even it is not their first choice. This results in both high creativity and high commitment, but it does take patience and facilitation skills.

General Facilitation Skills

1) Prepare the team for a focused meeting.
a) define the meeting’s purpose
b) create an agenda
c) specify desired outcomesd) develop ground rules, i.e. no put downs, no interrupting
e) get team to agree on the first four points up front
2) Encourage Diverse Points of View
3) Handle Disruptive Behavior
4) Keep the Team Focused and Moving Forward
5) Explain Why Consensus is Needed
6) Determine Guidelines for Decision
7) Lead an Evaluation of Options
8) Get each team member’s commitment to the decision
9) Plan Action Steps and Follow-up.

Guidelines to Initiate Team Empowerment

1) Set task boundaries
2) Train
3) Coach
4) Monitor Progress

The big payoff for facilitating and supporting team decisions is that you don’t have to get people to buy in, they’ve already bought it. If they’ve made their decision, it’s their decision and they own it. It’s now up to them to make their decision a reality and thus the work gets done.

Dealing with Conflict

The best way to deal with conflict is to be frank about it – get things out on the table, address it and move on.

How is this best accomplished?

- Call a “time out” and describe the nonproductive behavior. Focus on the issue and not the individual.
- Ask team members to say what’s keeping them from moving forward but again, focus on the “what” and not the “who”.
- Summarize and clarify what each team member has said. By summarizing the issue the team can think about a shared solution.
- Ask team members to identify points of agreement and disagreement.
- Invite the team to suggest ways to proceed

Leaders and their Teams

Leaders will not realize their greatest potential if they focus solely on their team. They must monitor the entire company, follow industry trends, and bring about internal change to keep pace with the world. The open system view states that in a dynamic business environment companies will prosper only if they continuously adapt to changes in that environment.


article taken from Leading Teams: Mastering the New Role, Zenger, Musselwhite, Hurson, and Perrin, Zenger-Miller Inc., 1994



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