Monday, August 30, 2010

Harnessing the Power of Self-Directed Teams

Installment 1: Team Composition

To help reduce expenses in a challenging economy, your organization just got flatter. The ratio of employees to managers and supervisors, which used to be 6 or 7:1, has soared to 18 or 20:1 and higher. Weekly one-on-ones are rushed (if they aren’t simply history). Annual performance appraisals, which once included comprehensive evaluations and discussions and interactive goal-setting, now are reduced to naked letter ratings and quickie chats. Managers feel overwhelmed, and employees feel like numbered take-a-tickets in a Brooklyn bagel bakery. What’s an organization to do?

One proven path to a flatter organization and a powerful alternative to the traditional tiered organization structure in any economy, but especially in a tough one, is an integrated system of self-directed teams.

A few years ago at one of world’s largest defense and electronics companies, a policies and procedures department adopted the self-directed team structure to deal with a newly flattened organization whose management ratio became 23:1 nearly overnight. Empowering employees and giving them control over their work processes, the self-directed teams focused laser sharp on customer requirements and eliminated non–value-added activities. Employees on the teams made better decisions, became more motivated and productive, delivered higher quality products and services, lowered operating costs, and reduced stress—not only for the team members but for management, too.

The same basic self-directed team structure delivers equally successful results for departments as diverse as corporate communications, marketing and sales, research and development, and many more. What factors are key to success, given the unconventional arrangement? Specific work situations, management styles, and team maturity dictate the ingredients and their proportions for creating successful self-directed teams; however, eight factors demonstrate their worth repeatedly as essential raw materials:

1. Team composition
2. Customer focus
3. Goals and performance metrics
4. Management and team communication
5. Leadership
6. Professional development
7. Facilities
8. Recognition.

In this first installment, let’s look at team composition. Subsequent blogs will address the other seven critical factors for successful self-directed teams.

1. Team composition

Start with listing all the major department functions or responsibilities. For example, for corporate communications, listed functions might be

• Public affairs, mass media, and community outreach
• Marketing communications
• Internal communications
• Organizational change management
• Web content

Establish one team for each major function.

Or team constitution might be according to job category. For example, for a research and development department, job categories might include

• Designers
• Technicians
• Quality assurance specialists
• Compliance specialists
• First-article developers
• Technical writers

Establish one team for each job category.

A couple of other examples of team constitution are geographic proximity and industries served (such as defense, transportation, and education). I’m sure you can come up with many more, including one or more team constitutions that would work for your organization.

The unbreakable rule for all successful structures: Everyone in the organization participates in at least one team—no exclusions. If an employee doesn’t contribute to the power and success of the organization, they don’t belong in the organization!

Featured Blogger Dr. Adrienne Escoe is President and Senior Consultant at Escoe Bliss Professional Resources whose varied background ranges from classroom teacher at all levels, including kindergarten through graduate school, to corporate multi-department manager, R&D laboratory senior editor, widely published author.

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