Say you're sold on all the current management buzz words: empowerment, partnership, self-directed teams. You flatten your organization by eliminating middle managers. You create teams with direct customer involvement. And you sit back, waiting for operations to improve at warp speed.
That's when you find out the truth about granting power to employees: a lot of them don't want it. "Some people like to come to work and be told what to do," says Tom Pechacek, general manager of Displaymasters, a designer and builder of trade-show exhibits. Inspired by the restructuring many of his large-company clients were going through and hoping to get closer to those customers, Pechacek put the finishing touches on a new team-oriented organization nearly a year ago.
Although the company, based in Minneapolis, aims to hit $10 million in revenues this year thanks to this change, many of its team members resisted their new roles. The biggest hurdle: getting them to be proactive about problems. Here's a simple exercise that Ann Marie Fasching, leader of Displaymasters' customerservice team, says helped her team members significantly.
First, Fasching had her team members fill out a questionnaire with three questions on it:
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1. Why are we a team? 2. What do you expect from your team leader? 3. What do you expect from your team members?
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Then the team discussed members' answers. Because all five members held similar jobs, it had made sense to managers to group them as a team, but they hadn't had a say in that decision. Responding to the first question allowed everyone to voice concerns and, essentially, buy into the new orientation.
Responses to the second and third questions enabled Fasching's team to begin establishing new patterns of behavior. For example, team members decided what they should do if they had a complaint about another employee in the company. Under the old framework, the complainer would deposit the problem in his or her boss's lap. In the new system, Fasching's group decided, each person would be responsible for dealing directly with his or her "problem" person. A team leader, such as Fasching, could be called on to mediate but not to rule on the issue.
The exercise was one of the most important elements in helping team members realize that they were responsible for solving their own problems. Since completing it, the team has gone on to tackle stiffer challenges -- for example, three of Fasching's team members who sometimes feel "trapped" by their jobs (including the person who answers calls from complaining customers) have embarked on a job-sharing schedule in which they rotate jobs every day.