DN Staff

July 22, 1996

4 Min Read
A 'novel' approach to team management

Teamwork is rapidly becoming the key requirement of every modern organization. Employees must demonstrate the ability to work effectively in teams.

For example, in a current consulting situation with HighTech, a development/manufacturing firm, our challenge is to help mold employees who come from diverse functional organizations, each with conflicting interests, pressures, perspectives, and prejudices, into a series of hard-hitting, single-minded working teams. The firm wants teams that can develop, produce, and deliver high-quality products in acceptable time frames.

Novel instruction manual. To get the ball rolling and to provide a common reference point for discussion, we are asking the participants to read FlyingFox1. This unique, development-oriented story describes how a company successfully dealt with most of the same challenges with which HighTech is confronted. We found it to be especially useful because it is based on a composite of similar real-life situations. As such, it presents numerous useful ideas and concepts as seen through the eyes of Ron, the newly assigned project leader.

- Ron must change and learn to manage in a new way.

- The old ways that made Ron so effective and successful will not work in the New World of the mid-1990's and beyond.

- Ron must change his mental image concerning authority. He is not being asked to command a team; he is being asked to help the team members facilitate their jobs. Coach them. Support them. He was not used to this, and neither were they. It takes a lot of time and effort to do it right.

However, experience has proven that changes such as these must be considered by leaders of any cross-functional team. Ron and the other team members also soon learned the following valuable lessons:

- Team membership is not an extracurricular activity.

- Teams cut across rival kingdoms. Culture clashes are inevitable, but they are not unsolvable.

- Teams need some early successes to generate enthusiasm.

Good communications are critical, especially when a team member is a much-traveled field salesperson or is someone located on the other side of the country. As team members grow more comfortable with each other, it comes to matter less and less how they communicate, so long as they communicate. They could use fax, voice mail, video conferencing, telephone, or face to face. Every technology enables communications between team members at different times and in different places.

All in the family. A product development team is much like a family, it is not a purely rational body. It can have its flow charts, scatter diagrams, and the time plots right, but if it hasn't got its relationships right, forget it.

1FlyingFox: A business adventure in teams and teamwork, by John Butman, 1993, AMACOM, a division of the American Management Assoc., 135 West 50th St., New York, NY 10020.


Ask the Manager

Q: Who reviews a team's work and how are the individuals evaluated?

A: Generally, individuals are evaluated by their department managers, who should be asked by upper management and the human resource people to include team participation as an evaluation criterion. The manager should also consult with the project leader and include his/her comments in the overall evaluation.

Q: What long-term effect does participation on a team have on the members' jobs and positions in the company? Do they receive more money? Do they receive more authority? Does a successful team leader remain a team leader forever?

A: Most firms that are instituting cross-functional management do not yet have the answers to these kinds of questions. Everyone must realize that such companies are involved in a change process as they work out new ways of doing things better.

Q: Your 5/26/96 Managing Design article referred to Weber's concept of bureaucracy and Henri Fayol's five principals of management. The article did not include Weber's first name, and my references to Fayol are in French. Could you please help me out?

A: The giants of early 20th century management of thought include Max Weber, Henri Fayol, Frederick W. Taylor, Abraham H. Maslow, Peter F. Drucker, Elton Mayo, Douglas M. McGregor, Chris Argyris, Herbert A. Simon, and Rensis Likert. Read about them in The Great Writings in Management and Organizational Behavior, by Louis E. Boone and Donald D. Bowen, Petroleum Publishing Co., 1421 S. Sheridan Rd., Tulsa, OK 74112.

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