Teams With Knowledge Workers: The Practitioner's View
San Francisco Bay Area is a virtual laboratory of knowledge worker
Increasingly, our field is recognizing that interventions which
succeed with process-intensive organizations that do repetitive
work are inadequate for those whose focus is knowledge work--which
requires creativity, inventiveness, speed, and collaboration. We
are two experienced practitioners, one internal and one external,
who have together implemented major change in a knowledge worker
client organization is a product line division of a Silicon Valley
company. Its purpose is to define, design and deliver highly
specialized and integrated electronic components for original equipment
manufacturers (OEMs). Of its population of 275, the vast majority
(including the marketing people) have engineering or other technical
backgrounds. Like many other Valley companies, the workforce is
ethnically diverse and management is predominantly male. Because
of its markets and customers' changing requirements, this division
is unique within its corporate environment. It is continually faced
with the need to bring a variety of complex products to market ever
more quickly. Creating these products requires significant interdependence,
cross-functional and organizational collaboration, and integration
(both technically and interpersonally). At the same time, increased
technical complexity raises production costs while commoditization
division's vice-president wanted an organization that could meet
these challenges while evolving to face others that would arise
in the future. The overriding requirements for increased interdependence,
sharing of resources, and faster cycle times led us to create a
team-based, high-performance organization. Our strategies emerged--and
continue to emerge--from sources including in-depth interviews;
the literature of organization change, systems theory, and team
development; previous experience; and the effect of other company
events occurring during this time.
concepts have been useful to us in designing and implementing this
Morton Salt Box Theory. On
the familiar blue cylindrical box, there is a picture of a little
girl in a yellow dress, carrying an umbrella and a box of salt.
The box under her arm has the same picture on it, which features
the same picture, and so forth. In this infinite regression, the
picture stays the same, while its size changes predictably. This
is a way of understanding patterns of organizational behavior: if
you verify a pattern at one level, you can depend on seeing it at
other levels. This diagnostic tool reduces the need to see a particular
pattern everywhere before drawing conclusions and moving forward.
The opposite principle also holds true: once you create and diffuse
a new pattern, it will also recreate itself on levels other than
the initial one.
Iceberg Model of Emergence. Only
a small part of any iceberg is visible above the ocean's surface.
If the water level drops, more of the iceberg's topography will
be revealed, improving the likelihood of successful navigation.
While you may know that you are near an iceberg (and therefore which
chart to use), you cannot know the exact navigational course until
you are closer and can read more variables. Doing work that, in
effect, reduces the "water level" makes it easier to determine subsequent
Model of Change Adoption.
Everett Rogers predicts that the likelihood of a change effort
being sustained is based on the percentage of the target population
that has embraced the change over time (see Figure 1). When 5% have
adopted a change, it is said to be embedded; it will not go away
even though it may never be completed. When 20% of a group have
changed, completion is said to be inevitable--the effort cannot
be stopped. This model suggests that there are advantages to introducing
an intervention systematically to carefully selected sub-groups,
building acceptance as quickly as possible to 5% and then 20% of
these three models helped form our strategy. We thought of the essence
of the desired change as a new picture on the Salt Box, and we wanted
to systematically implement instances of congruence with this new
picture by leveraging critical opportunities. In this hierarchical
organization, the first 5 % to embrace the change had to include
the managerial staff, since they had leverage over both the formal
and informal reward systems. The next groups of "early adopters"
had to succeed in a visible and salient way. As the work progressed
from there, it was continuously monitored and assessed against the
characteristics of the new "Salt Box" and the emergence of new "facets
of the iceberg."
I: Building A Foundation
began with the vice-president and his staff. In a hierarchical organization,
those who control the reward mechanisms must adopt a change and
model it before others will follow. We coached the vice-president
to articulate his vision, enabling him to lead the staff in crafting
the division's mission, vision, charter, and operating principles
(which we call foundation statements). These comprised the picture
that continues to be on the Salt Box. Four activities during the
following year- and-a-half provided the staff with opportunities
to work in ways that were more participative and collaborative--in
effect creating, recreating, and reinforcing the picture (model)
on the box.
First was the joint creation of the foundation
statements, and when they were completed, each director began
the process of team development with his or her staff in order to
begin modeling the new behavior at the next level of the organization.
Second was drawing the next layer into discussions
about the direction of the division and the relationship between
the parts and the whole. Each director's staff was encouraged
to become a team responsible for its business rather than a group
of functional managers. Each of these staffs set working agreements
that were congruent with the foundation statements.
Third was the reorganization of the division
to enable more efficient and collaborative use of human and technological
resources and to incorporate an additional business into the division.
Though not without a fair amount of struggle, the new organization
looked quite different from the old, and for the first time ever,
directorates were positioned to share resources and come together
to standardize on common design and test tools and methodologies.
Fourth, we held a Future Search conference that included participants
from all parts of the division, corporate stakeholder groups,
and customers. Its significance was threefold: (1) it brought
together, for the first time, the division's major constituents
to discuss its future; (2) it widely communicated direction; and
(3) its fundamental processes--openness, inclusion, and participation--conveyed
commitment to the operating principles.
additional key event was the Corporate Communications Survey. This
was a coincidental, real-time opportunity that we were able to incorporate
into the intervention. The division's results revealed three areas
for improvement, which fit perfectly with the direction that had
been set in the vision and operating principles. In their follow
up plan, the Steering Committee (the re-named division vice--president's
staff) chartered three teams to address aspects of the infrastructure:
increasing teamwork, improving communication, and aligning goals
and rewards to business outcomes. In a clear example of the Iceberg
Model of Emergence--establishing these teams provided us an opportunity
to create a model for cross-organizational teams, and to increase
commitment toward 20%.
Team Skills Development Team (TSD) became that model of how team
members could collaboratively achieve high performance. A number
of important elements were introduced here:
team sponsor who was a member of the Steering Committee
responsibility and accountability for a vision, project plans,
strategies, and deliverables delegated to the team
to resources required to accomplish their work, including time
and process support sufficient to encourage and enable their aspirations
group, a diagonal slice of the division known to be good team players,
invested heavily in what has come to be known as the Team Start-Up
and Orientation Process. They created and kept team agreements,
even when it required them to confront their sponsor, the Steering
Committee, and the consultants.
example, during the 1993 reorganization, the TSD sponsor and OD
consultants were constantly being called away for off-site planning
meetings. This forced the TSD team to cancel many of their meetings,
delaying their schedules. When the sponsor and consultants finally
became more available and were ready to re-start the team, they
were faced with apathy and the team's unwillingness to engage in
the process. When asked why, the team members said they were unhappy
with how the reorganization was being handled, it did not fit with
the new operating principles and how "it was going to be different
here." They felt they were being asked to create team skills in
the division without real commitment from senior management for
team behavior. They filled seven flip chart sheets, and the sponsor
presented their frustrations to the vice-president and the Steering
Committee. The Steering Committee agreed with the team, asked for
their help in fixing the current situation, and promised to handle
any future reorganizations differently (which they did when another
reorganization became necessary the following year). Only then did
the team feel listened to and understood, and willing to re-engage
in the TSD process. The team then felt they could take on any task
now that they really did have the support of the division management.
They kept subsequent commitments, met deadlines and dealt with the
difficult content and interpersonal issues.
has become one of the "critical events" in the team's history; it
is now part of the whole division's mythology. Together, everyone
involved--the team members, consultants, and sponsor--created and
shared the experience of being a high performing team. This team
did indeed become the model for those that followed, and many from
TSD seeded new teams, providing key leadership.
II: Team Skills Training
the earliest stages of this intervention, we understood that a training
component would be necessary in order to sustain the organization's
changes. Although our informal diagnosis of the group's training
needs was similar to those of most team-development training programs,
this step was instrumental to both the team's development and the
establishment of credibility among employees. Thus, we chose to
facilitate a process whereby the organization would determine its
own training needs and process. The original plan was to survey
only a sample of the division, but the TSD Team ultimately decided
that both the information and the participation were important enough
to ask the entire organization to complete the survey. The survey
was promoted at a division-wide meeting, and the cover memo explaining
the survey and restating the TSD goals was signed by the vice-president.
survey results showed that the training needs included goal-setting,
conflict resolution, roles and expectations, communications, collaboration,
consensus building, and meeting management. Respondents also expressed
a desire for additional training for team leaders. Using these results,
the Vendor Selection sub-team created an RFP and began the search
for a training vendor. Two final candidates were asked to present
proposals and demonstrations to the entire TSD team.
model chosen included 24 hours of classroom training, completed
in 4-hour modules every other week over 11 weeks. We conducted a
pilot round and two additional rounds for the remainder of the organization.
Classroom training was generally conducted with intact work groups,
including the Steering Committee who attended the pilot. In the
end, every member of the division completed TSD training. With a
summer hiatus, the cycle took a full year to complete. We were concerned
about sustaining the training's momentum for this long, but the
positive aspects of this design seemed worth the risk. In retrospect,
this was the right decision. TSD concepts and vocabulary were being
reinforced regularly during the year and quickly became part of
the organization's language and norms. The training served to systematize
and normalize the TSD team model.
features of the training included team and team-leader coaching
by the trainers during the TSD training weeks to reinforce the concepts
being learned in the classroom and team-meeting facilitation. Additionally,
every team has a designated OD resource whose role is to provide
ongoing support to the team and leader, reinforce the goals of the
team development program, provide continuity, and enable a successful
experience for team members without creating dependency. Four other
sessions were designed specifically for managers and team leaders:
a day on Systems Thinking and three half-days on the changing role
of managers/team leader in a team-based organization.
one major and two minor reorganizations during this time, the results
from Phase II are remarkable. Meetings have improved dramatically,
with increased focus and participation, and shorter time required
to reach consensus. People are taking more responsibility for the
well-being of the division and its business. Teams and individuals
are making proposals and taking initiative in ways that were unheard
of before the intervention. We have made significant progress on
the redefinition of the organizational culture, and there have been
some major unexpected personal transformations.
the same time, there has been a tremendous increase in employees'
expectations of managers and team leaders. Not everyone has accepted
the changes, and the level of mastery of team skills varies. Core
work teams just starting up are more likely to be successful at
working together collaboratively than teams that were already in
the midst of a project when they attended TSD training. Some of
the people who frequently cross the boundary between this division
and other organizations struggle with "currency exchange," and people
on the other side don't always embrace our way enthusiastically.
Still, we are pleased with the changes that have occurred.
III: What's Next
issues emerge when dramatic changes are made in the way work is
approached. The following issues will serve as the basis for Phase
III of the intervention.
the water level drops around the iceberg, exciting challenges
continue to emerge. Management/leadership development continues
to be a major concern. We have dramatically changed the role expectations
for our management staff, and they are floundering, unsure of
how to operationalize these new concepts. They know that they
can no longer dictate and control, but they are unsure of what
to do instead. Some have chosen to abdicate all authority to the
teams. When coupled with the team members' increased expectations
of the leadership, this causes disappointment and conflict.
individuals work more closely in teams, cultural, gender, and
functional diversity becomes more salient. Things that can be
easily ignored when polite contact is the norm must be dealt with
when people join a team and become interdependent. As we encourage
the expression of diversity and increased participation, we must
also create processes whereby diversity can be understood and
reward and recognition programs need to be realigned to better
reflect the team-based organizational model. The Reward and Goal
Alignment Team is exploring these issues but has quickly bumped
up against Corporate boundaries.
the division grows, it faces the problem of integrating new people
into the organization. Newcomers feel they have come to a foreign
land, with a foreign language, culture, and currency. A team has
been chartered to create an assimilation program that will assist
also face the ongoing challenge of creating a team-friendly organization
infrastructure that enables inter-team communication: processes
for proposals and approvals, decisions on when to create a team
and when to assign staff work to an individual, and the effective
use of teams to do core work. We need to make structural and behavioral
changes to support increased risk-taking.
for OD Practice and Practitioners
reason this intervention has been successful is the partnership
developed between the internal and external OD consultants and the
internal HR person. The inclusion of HR was critical as many of
the changes created in the culture needed to be reinforced by changes
in HR procedures. The role of the HR generalist underwent significant
change during the transition to a team-based organization and, consistent
with our theoretical model, it was advantageous for the HR person
to be involved in that evolution. The three of us became a high-performing
team ourselves, modeling this behavior for the organization.
two OD consultants provided what became known as "seamless service."
Although our personal styles are quite different, our core values
are consistent with the division's Operating Principles; they are
part of who we are, not just what we put on for a living. Our common
theoretical framework--a systems perspective--enabled us to build
a high level of mutual trust. This allowed us to work interchangeably
with teams which was essential to keeping the intervention on track
during continuous change.
believe that our success in doing this work in an Engineering organization
was based on what we now call the "Peace Corps Model of OD." Peace
Corps workers live with the indigenous population. They are required
to learn the language of that population, and they use only those
tools that the population can learn to use. They respect the accomplishments
of the natives. They are not chartered with changing the religious
truths of the population.
so it is with OD work in Engineering organizations. We had to become
experts in the language and culture of intuitive, analytical personality
types while also comprehending the fundamental differences between
manufacturing process and engineering work. We worked with intact,
cross-functional, and cross-organizational teams, acknowledging
the difficulty of this type of work. We were usually willing to
modify our processes when necessary without sacrificing our core
values or the division's Operating Principles. Remembering that
this group of people is known for their ability to find "bugs" and
flaws, it was essential that we, and the vice-president, "walk our
talk" at all times. We provided continuous support, coaching, and
reinforcement to the organization and were respectful of tight deadlines
and the stress of "scheduling invention."
contrast the Peace Corps model with that of Missionaries and Crusaders,
who scorn local beliefs, abrasively replace local customs, and feel
superior to the natives. The subtle but important distinction is
easily noticed by engineers. While retaining a healthy amount of
cynicism, they are willing to work with and respect the ideas of
the Peace Corps--but they are ever vigilant against Missionaries
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