AND TRAINING THE
March 29, 1995
The University of Houston
College of Technology
paper was written by
Grady McAllister. It was completed as a research project
for a class in Occupational Technology at the University of
Houston. The ideas expressed do not represent the views of
the University of Houston or the College of Technology.
1995, 2007 by Grady McAllister. All Rights Reserved.
main "work to be done" is actually the movement of information.
The mere interrelating of people by selected information
is now the principal source of wealth in the electric age.
. . such speed-ups of information have ended the divisions
of delegated authority in favor of the "authority of knowledge."
Understanding Media, 1964
Pacing about on a speakers platform, voice booming, Tom Peters
tells his audience that he can boil his entire management
philosophy down to one sentence: "Crazy times call for crazy
The new marketplace in one word is "fashion." Every market
is becoming a fashion market. "That means: fickle, fleeting,
ephemeral, faddish, and unfair." Peters says you can thrive
in the marketplace if you'll:
Free the human imagination . . . Get close to and serve
the customer. . . Customize products and services . . .
Abandon everything; continuously reinvent yourself.. . Access
the brainware around you. . . Know the front line . . .
Demolish the monolith. . . Create teams that allow people
to express their personalities.
says a corporation today must be "curious." Don't expect the
personnel in the personnel department to hire curious people.
Peters says they operate by this unwritten rule:
shalt not hire a person who has an unexplained nanosecond
in their life past the age of three."
They want the person who maintained a 4.0 grade average through
graduate school and "has not had an interesting thought in
their entire life."
They don't want any people who drop out of college, spend
a year and a half in Europe, and offer no explanation. That,
says Peters, is just the kind of behavior to look for when
you're ready to hire curious people. He adds: "Hire a few
genuine off-the-wall types. Collect weirdoes."
Peters says he is totally serious about this: "This is coldly
logical stuff." Nobody disagrees that markets are weird, "but
how are you going to conquer weird markets with stuffed shirts?"
The pressure to conquer weird markets (and to re-conquer world
markets) has led to teams as a way to focus on quality, encourage
innovation, and empower the workforce.
According to Jack Gordon, editor of Training magazine, the
vogue for teams grew out of the quality circle idea, "the
lone Japanese import actually welcomed by American manufacturers."
Because of their related origin, total quality management
(TQM) and self-directed teams (SDT) are two strategies that
are often talked about in the same breath. Yet, they are very
different ideas. Lawrence Holpp, of Quality Partners, a Pittsburgh
consulting firm, writes: "It's one thing to replace capital
equipment, introduce a statistical process control system,
or train everyone in customer service. It's quite another
to empower workers to decide questions of cost, quality, vendor
relations, and administrative practices."
Holpp says that TQM is "a performance management system" based
upon a "Gold standard of Customer First." It means "continuous
improvement" throughout the organization. The organization
provides the vision and the values.
SDT's are relatively small, functionally focused units which
manage their own affairs. Typically, they manage work hours,
work inputs and outputs, quality, productivity, and costs.
Pure SDT's set budgets, pay, and bonuses. They hire and fire
Holpp says that one difference between SDT's and TQM is clear:
"You can not have SDT's without an obsession with quality,
but you can throw your resources into the quality ring without
swearing allegiance to SDT's."
The very popularity of "teams" means that a "team" can now
mean almost any kind of work group. These groups might have
little to do with total quality management or SDT's. Jack
days the word "team" might be referring to a group of production
workers in a radically restructured company. On the other
hand, the term has grown so fashionable that the speaker
just as easily could be talking about a department that
functions no differently than it did in 1962: "That's right,
J.B., our sales team really got out there this month and
find out what teams are really doing, Training surveyed organizations
with 100 or more employees.
Over 82% reported that they had at least some employees working
in a group identified as a team. Of those, 45% were classified
as permanent work teams, 30% as temporary project teams, and
18% as permanent or long-term cross-functional teams.
On the question of "self-directed" work teams, only 42% of
the organizations with teams claimed to have teams of that
type. The survey also found that the autonomy which a team
enjoys can range from setting work schedules (a full 69%)
to firings (only 21 % overall, 10% in companies with 10,000
or more employees).
Richard S. Wellins, co-author of Inside Teams (1994), says
a manager should do the following to create self-directed
1. Design the team "for success." Learn about the SDT's
and decide if teams "are right for your culture." Give employees
the organization's ideas on empowerment and teams. Enter
a "workplace redesign" process and "take a hard look at
the work and its systems." Launch the SDT's and keep track
of their progress.
2. Select the "team players." Identify people who are "most
likely to succeed" in the new system. Be sure the process
is fair, legal, and efficient.
3. Train the team to succeed. Besides their regular job
skills, training should include "team interaction skills"
and "skills for identifying and implementing improvements."
4. Initiate "leadership transitions". The team begins to
control and schedule work, appraise and discipline employees,
and even hire and fire. The manager coaches and trains the
team. The manager helps the team deal with suppliers and
work with the other parts of the organization.
5. Reward the team members after they (1) learn more about
a specific process , (2) learn another job on the team,
and (3) learn leadership skills.
\Typically, a team leader is someone who had been a supervisor.
This person forms the link between the team and the rest of
the organization. The leader may also be a facilitator, conducting
meetings and teaching group process skills to the team members.
How well leaders handle these roles depends on how well the
organization prepares them.
Team management consultant Harlan R. Jessup says that the
best arrangement may be "shared leadership." These leadership
assignments can include:
A "moderator" who conducts the meetings
A schedule coordinator
A recorder who keeps minutes, attendance records, and overtime
and vacations schedules
A goal-tracker who measures and posts performance
A training coordinator
A "cheerleader" who schedules celebrations and seeks recognition
who is responsible for the entire team? Houston Consultant
Neill Carson says, "You can obscure the issues around accountability,
but you can not avoid them."
Accountability, he says, tends to take on a different meaning
when applied to a team: "Have you even heard of a team being
fired for doing a poor job? Ever heard of a team being promoted
for doing an outstanding job?"
Sometimes a manager has to explain a team's poor performance,
but there is no one in particular to explain it to the manager.
Carson recommends these guidelines for managing teams: (1)
Don't let the team choose its own leader.(2) Help the leader
form the team and get the required resources.(3) Assign overall
responsibility to only one person in the team. (4) Conduct
reviews and make any needed adjustments in deadlines. (5)
If the work is unsatisfactory, counsel and redirect the leader.
Carson concludes: "The fear that individual leadership and
accountability will somehow suppress or destroy team effort
is groundless. In fact, the opposite is true. Ambiguous accountability
destroys morale and leads people to seek political solutions
to problems instead of business solutions."
people to work as a team they must exchange information, communicate,
and reach decisions. The person who manages this process is
Rebecca Sisco, a contributing editor for Training magazine,
says, "The group is only as good as its facilitator." By their
very nature, teams call for meetings lead by rank and file
employees. That, she says, is "part of what empowerment is
well the meetings go affects the team's decisions: "The leader
must ensure that the group dynamics present no barriers to
finding a good solution."
The facilitator lets the group make its own decisions but
keeps it away from disasters----such as violating a contract.
Sisco makes a case for splitting up the roles of team leader
and facilitator. The team leader can still conduct the meeting,
but the facilitator sees that group makes a systematic decision.
to a study at Cornell Medical College, the jobs with the greatest
stress are those which combine high demands with a low level
of autonomy. When organizations empower people to make their
own decisions autonomy is the result---one of the ingredients
for a self-directed work team.
Writing in Training & Development Journal , Clay Carr
points to what management can do to empower a work force.
He says: "Self-managed workers, especially in self-directed
work teams, are a lot like gyroscopes: The system empowers
them and sets their direction, and then they function on their
Carr says empowerment is not a one-dose event but a continuous
process. This process needs help from each of the managers
above the team in the organization. The manager supports.
guides, and coordinates the work teams. There is less focus
on the manager's power and more on the manager's influence.
Carr describes five roles for the manager of an empowered
1. The manager assures that the goals of the workers line
up with those of the organization.
2. The manager coordinates the teams so that their efforts
support each other.
3. The manager helps teams learn decision-making processes
and guides the decisions to fit the goals of the organization.
4. The manager provides an environment of "continuous learning"
and acts as a "learning agent."
5. The manager creates and maintains an atmosphere of trust.
Empowerment, says Carr, "exists only where there is trust."
Writing for the Training and Development "Training 101" series,
Don Kirkpatrick asks, "How much empowerment is too much or
He offers these factors to consider: (1) the culture of the
organization; (2) the need for assistance; (3) the amount
of risk involved; (4) the qualifications of the employees;
(5) training and decision making--how well the employees have
been trained to make their own decisions; (6) the urgency
of the decisions.
Writing for the same "Training 101" column, Frederick Betof
and Frederick Harwood suggest these principles for empowerment:
(1) People are part of the management and can improve the
(2) Good ideas they have will be implemented.
(3) Suggestions they make will be appreciated and rewarded
even if they are not accepted.
(4) People can be trusted with responsibility.
(5) They are respected for their ideas and judgment.
variety of management and human resource material which might
be taught to teams is virtually endless. It can range from
traditional topics like time management and meeting skills
to such politically charged areas as training. Most
team training can apply to any work group, not just the self-directed
variety. The following example applies only to work groups
which are switching to SDT's.
THE TEAM ON SDT's
one has been hurt by new technology, when the private person
or corporate body finds its entire identity endangered by
physical or psychic change, it lashes back in a fury of
War and Peace in the Global Village, 1968
When an organization converts to SDT's, its employees often
resist the idea must be sold on the idea of a team job structure.
Video: A Team Leader's Day . Description and summary:
Meet Jackie Ewer. Jackie works at a Tylenol factory in Ft.
Her supervisor job evaporated when the facility switched to
self-directed work teams. Jackie now acts as team leader and
facilitator for a group which packs Tylenol in blister packs.
At first, Jackie found the change threatening. Team members
received responsibilities that had once been hers. But now
she is pleased with her new role. Her role now is to empower
the Blister Team to "think and act for themselves."
We see the team performing tasks once performed only by supervisors
and staff specialists. We see the former supervisor Jackie
leading meetings once considered the exclusive right of upper
management. We see her meeting with outside venders, engineering
and purchasing people, and other production teams. She manages
"the boundaries and future of the operation" while the team
handles the day-to-day events.
Early in the day, the team votes to shut down the line when
an oil leak develops. Fifteen minutes later the team has an
opportunity for "continuous learning" when they resolve a
type of problem they had never seen before.
Later, we see a disagreement between team members and venders.
Jackie reinforces the team's decision to go against the venders'
As the end of the shift approaches, Jackie focuses on a long-time
problem with the second shift. If she was still a supervisor,
Jackie might have brought the complaint directly to the supervisor
of the other shift. Acting in the role of team leader, she
coaches the team on how they can all confront the people on
the second shift.
The video ends with this observation: "Rather than fragmenting
people at the bottom, the people at the bottom are responsible
for the job as a whole."
is nothing new about participative management or the idea
of allowing decisions at the lowest possible level. What is
new is the emphasis on work teams as such.
But teams may not be right for every situation. Brian Dumaine
writes in Fortune : "You don't use teams with insurance salesmen
and long-haul truckers." Even when they are appropriate, he
says, they are often launched in isolation without proper
support or training. If that happens, the team can "turn around
and bite you."
In the final analysis, any work group is just a collection
of individuals, and -- for a work group to really work ---
it must allow each person to contribute as an individual.
Vasthead is the professional web site of
Grady McAllister of Houston, Texas.
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