Posts Tagged organization

413 — Collaboration, Teamwork and Cooperation

People like to be valued and appreciated, and involved, in decisions that affect them. Involvement, teamwork and collaboration are basic human desires. To get them, invite them.

Here are two examples. The first is a manager, deep within the organization, who created a new collaborative setting with her peers. The second is how a top leadership team decided to change its collaboration message to those below.

Example I: Initiating Collaboration as A Mid-Manager

Jo-Ann, a second-tier manager in a major manufacturer, had a special assignment: to better coordinate the functions across R&D, marketing, sales, manufacturing, shipping and service. Jo-Ann and I carefully planned an approach that included “Interviewing” key people, together with carefully practiced group facilitation techniques (see Make Better Decisions).

At the first meeting, the managers, directors and VPs she invited, were suspicious. Some had wanted to send a subordinate in their place — she took this to mean that they were not on-board. It took Jo-Ann three, very carefully facilitated meetings, where she stood thoroughly neutral on all issues, before attendees trusted her enough to put their real concerns about collaboration on the table.

It was several more meetings before members allowed the group to make decisions that affected their functions. The group liked their experience and the positive results so much that they continued, expanding the topic to include other cross-functional issues. The Executive Committee applauded Jo-Ann’s success, rewarding her with a significant promotion.

The Lesson; You can invite collaboration from any level in the organization

Hidden behind much of people’s initial resistance to collaboration is the common human longing for teamwork and good relationships. If you have a project that affects others, talk with each one personally. Build a relationship. Take your time explaining how your project will affect them or their people. Stay open. Be clear that you don’t have the answer. Say something like, “I’d like to pull together everyone affected so we can all find a way to make it work for everyone. I’m planning on inviting . . . . . . . . . If I find a time that suits everyone, could you join us?” This way you can take the lead on collaboration.

If you persevere, most people will eventually join you. Don’t be fooled by people’s sometime gruff initial response. That usually just a defensive reaction to being burned in the past.

Example II: Upper Management Encourages Collaboration by Cutting the Criticism

This was the leadership group of a 5,000-person company located in the southwest. We met for several hours monthly, discussing how to build a more productive company culture. At one of these morning meetings, a manager complained that at lower levels of the company, divisions were not working well together.

In my role as their company culture consultant, I frequently reminded the group, “Nothing occurs in a vacuum. What you do as leaders sets the stage. People follow your example. What happens below is partly because of your actions here at the top. And in any case, to be practical, that is the part you can most easily change.”

This time I did not give them this full spiel, but I did ask, “What might you be doing that inadvertently supported this lack of cooperation? For example, in the last six months have any of you criticized another person in this room or another department or division?” Immediately a manger shot back with, “You mean since breakfast this morning don’t you?” Another manager chimed in, “You mean since the coffee break!” As the laughter subsided, I hardly needed to say it — but did anyway. “So here we are setting an example, by criticizing other people and divisions, and then wondering why they don’t feel like cooperating.”

This was one of those rare moments of insight for the group. At the next meeting they told stories of how they had stopped criticizing, and instead, were working together on visibly cooperative solutions. They also reported that people below had noticed the change and liked it.

The Lesson; To Understand Employee’s Behavior, Look at Leader’s Behavior

The cultural or system perspective says: “No event occurs in a vacuum. If you want to understand an event — in this case, why people aren’t collaborating — just look at the situation. It will tell you.” Ask yourself, “If people aren’t collaborating, how is our organization saying, ‘Don’t collaborate’?”

People don’t collaborate when leaders give the signal not to. This is rarely intentional. I have never found a leader who says he or she wants non-cooperation. However, I have seen many leaders whose personal actions do not demonstrate or invite collaboration. For example, they might be critical of people’s suggestions or actions, or they might make decisions without involving the people affected, or they might be generally distant. Whatever the reason, if leaders don’t show collaboration in their daily actions, people throughout the organization will follow their lead.

cc 413 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Topics and Issues — People

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332 — A Plant Turnaround, The Manager’s Story

By engaging employees, a manager improves productivity and avoids closing the plant. This is his story in his words.

“I was a Plant Manager at the California Plant of a multi-plant Fortune 50 company. There I worked with Meridian Group for a number of years, and with their help, became a student of the cultural approach to leadership. During all my years at the California plant, this operation was the number one or number two performer in a thirteen plant nationwide production system. My job was to get quality products on the dock, and I did that through people.”

“I was recognized for my management accomplishments with a promotion to Vice President of the company’s flagship plant in the Midwest. In my five years there, I applied the lessons I learned in California, to take this plant from the highest cost producer to among the company’s lowest cost producers.”

“While much of this was done through capital improvements, the attention to the plant culture allowed these improvements to come on stream with a minimum of plant disruption. I kept this question in front of my mind. ‘How do you get the hearts and minds and interest of the people?’

Getting Everyone On-Board

“At the first management meeting at the mid-western operation, the managers were ready to give me the production numbers. But I asked ‘How many people were laid off this week, and on what shifts?’ I also asked about accidents. Second I said ‘I want a measure of the quality of production. Then last I’ll want the numbers.’ The response was silence from my managers.”

“I said ‘Here is the direction, how can we get there?’ I got the message out in weekly meetings, and annual meetings. I repeatedly explained the overall goal, and opened the plans to the people affected. This really threw them off base. They were used to management keeping things close. I kept asking [myself and managers], ‘How can we ensure that the people will trust management?’”

“We had weekly meetings with supervisors. These were “No-Agenda” meetings. The topic was relationships. The Plant Manager was there week after week.”

“First I explained the numbers, and if we don’t go from here to there, all our jobs will go, and the plant will shut down. ‘Do you agree with my figures? My choice is to do it or shut it down.’ I put all the numbers out for everyone to see and understand.”

“We had many different unions on the production floor. Because of the increased production, it meant layoffs in one area but more work in another. I committed to no long-term layoffs. That meant a lot of retraining.”

Operating Results

“Over five years we shrank the workforce from 2,500 people to 1,700 people, all by attrition and retirements. On the way we had 1 million man-hours without a lost-time accident. And we did all this while keeping people on-board.”

“I had a coherent master plan — reduce cost by one million dollars a month. We aimed at sixty million over five years. We easily achieved that. The actual savings were almost double our goal over the five years.”

 “I used lessons I learned at a smaller plant, to change the largest plant in the system.”

cc 332 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Company Culture Leadership — Examples

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422 — Managing The Problem Employee

Nick, the managing partner in a professional services firm, was irritated. “We have a 15 year employee who at first communicated very well and was promoted to Office Manager. In the last few years he has begun to hold information too close to his chest. Now people see him as a roadblock. I am very uncomfortable with the situation I haven’t talked with him about it. What should I do?”

This office manager may be responding to something that happened outside of the office, but most likely he is responding to something that has changed in the office. It’s often difficult to see what has changed, because changes are typically slow and seem natural, almost invisible. Here are steps you can take to understand and change situations that lead to difficult behavior.

What Should I Do?

What people do depends largely on their situation. Most people respond reasonably to situations, from their point of view. If you want to understand why people do what they do, stand back and look at their situation — perhaps ask the person about it. If Nick can understand that his Office Manager is behaving appropriately, from that manager’s view, he will be well on the way to solving the problem.

The first step in problem solving is identifying who has the problem. Here the employee, the “problem manager”, doesn’t have a problem. Nick and other people who see this manager as a roadblock have the problem. Nick’s problem won’t go away until he finds a way to have the employee own it. One guide to a good culture is, “People like to be involved in decisions that affect them.” People who are affected by a problem should be involved in the solution to that problem. In this case the employee should be involved in developing the solution for at least three reasons:

1. So he will take ownership of the problem.
2. When he takes ownership, he will be motivated to correct it.
3. He probably knows already how to correct it but he hasn’t acted because he doesn’t see it as a problem.

Finally, all company situations, including “problems”, are opportunities to develop the work culture — to improve relationships, communication, trust, involvement, and teamwork. Nick can use this “problem” as an opportunity for positive cultural change.

What Causes Changed Behavior?

The Office Manager’s change over 15 years didn’t happen in a vacuum. Nick needs to know if something outside of work has affected the employee; a divorce, ill family member, or something else that might have caused withdrawal or depression. Assuming there is nothing at home, look to the office.

Begin With the Leadership

Perhaps Nick and the other partners in the company have inadvertently done something that set the stage for the manager’s new behavior. As you do this keep in mind that systems, such as companies, are highly coherent. A behavior pattern in one part is usually found in other parts. When there is an issue at a low level in an organization, you’ll almost certainly find it at the highest level as well. Nick should meet with his partners and ask, “What could we do as a group to make clear, by what we do every day, that we do not want to hold information close to our chest?”

These are difficult and usually uncomfortable questions for any group to discuss. Leadership groups often use a third-party to help facilitate such discussions. See 421.

Don’t Get Bogged Down With Analysis

Looking backward and trying to analyze the many and complex causes of human behavior can be a quagmire. Managers are sometimes tempted to treat people problems as they would treat a faulty engine. But people are not machines that you can disassemble to find the busted part. With people, rather than trying to do a “root cause analysis”, it is usually better and less painful to look at where to go and opportunities to get there.

A First Action Step

Nick might also arrange a small meeting including himself, the Office Manager, a few other people who have expressed a concern, and one or two other partners — their presence signals the importance of the issue. At that meeting, Nick can discuss the company’s need for improved communication. He can describe a few examples of problems and of successes, and also share what the partners are doing to improve their own communications.

Don’t Point Fingers and Blame

It is essential not to blame a person or point a finger. Employees should understand that managers see problems as a system issue and not a personal issue. Pointing fingers is like saying, “The hole is in your end of the boat, so I’m OK”. Blaming causes defensiveness, not a quality you want in your organization. Have the members discuss the issue, but don’t jump too quickly to action at this first meeting. Stay with step one of the 4-step decision process. Ask the members of the group to reflect during the next two weeks on how they experience communications in the firm and what they might like to do personally, or suggest that the partners might do, to improve things. Schedule another meeting in two weeks to discuss and understand the situation further, to hear people’s ideas for changes, and to agree on who will do what.

Follow Through Is Essential

Broad cultural or system issues, such as communications or relationship problems, are among the toughest issues managers face. Solving these deep seated problems requires steady attention from the leadership group. This means regular, visible and open meetings focused on moving forward, one small exploratory step at a time. Only when the leadership group shows serious commitment will everyone change from the way things are. As I’ve said often elsewhere, if a cultural problem is delegated to a low level for action, nothing will change.

All Paths Lead to Rome

Once top management is clear to itself and to others that a particular problem needs attention, there are many approaches. Here I’ve mentioned two. Because cultural problems are all closely related it may be just as effective to initiate a change in some other related area. If you can’t decide where to begin, just ask any employee for a suggestion and start there. Culture change is an evolutionary process, the next step depending on what happened when you took your last. Once you choose your destination, i.e. what qualities you want or what you want to change, if you remain open and responsive to what happens at each step, it hardly matters where you begin, or which path you take — you will arrive safely.

cc 422 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Topics and Issues — People

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