Posts Tagged work team

418 — Building Independence by Self-Shrinking a Large Group to a Working Team

The workplace is filled with opportunities to tap into the spirit of Independence, a powerful value that runs deep in every individual and throughout our nation. Engaging this spirit is highly motivating, as the following story shows.

I grew up in Australia, not knowing the meaning of the Fourth of July. Recently I moved to the small town of Larkspur just north of San Francisco where I regularly enjoyed our hometown Independence Day parade — a delightful expression of grass-roots America. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died just hours apart on July 4th, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration, a major life achievement for Adams and Jefferson, capped the long effort of the colony to break free from the oppressive, often authoritarian control of England.

History is filled with stories of oppressed people struggling for their independence. Modern corporations can tap into that same spirit we each share — to be independent adults, free-thinking, responsible, valued and creative.

An Opportunity for Employee Independence

In a California unionized facility of a national company, I worked with the managers to establish employee problem-solving teams. One particular issue — Forced Work at Weekends — was contentious and divisive. Some employees liked the overtime pay. Many hated the disruptions to their family life. Management invited volunteers to form an employee group to study the issue and develop alternatives.

Twenty-four people volunteered. Management decided to select twelve people as a workable group. I suggested they facilitate a problem-solving meeting with the volunteers with the subject, “Reduce the 24 volunteers to a working group of 12 people.” The management team was skeptical that the first-line employees could successfully reduce their group’s size. However they had already accepted the logic of the cultural Golden Rule: “If people are affected by a decision, they should be involved in it.” Because it was my suggestion, and because the meeting was potentially difficult, they asked me to facilitate the discussion.

Creating an Effective, Self-Determined Work Group, or “Look, We Shrank Ourselves!”

All 24 volunteers came and I outlined a process they could use to cut their numbers. “First, you decide on your selection criteria. Then you vote and rank order everyone against the criteria. You take the top 12 and see if they are OK. The results are in your hands.”

Everyone agreed and I could tell they were very excited by the sense of control they would have over this decision. The criteria they listed were fairly straightforward. The final group should represent:

    • Each department.
    • Different age groups.
    • People who want to work weekends and people who don’t.
    • People who are angry and outspoken and people who will speak up for others.

I passed out copies of a sheet of paper with everyone’s name on it and asked them to keep their selection criteria in mind while privately ranking their top 12 candidates. This took 10 minutes or so. I tallied the results and made a copy for each person. I asked them to look at their selection of top 12 vote getters and compare them against their selection criteria, “If we go with those top 12, do they represent the areas you said should be represented?” The response was a resounding “Absolutely!”

Everyone left the meeting surprised, impressed, proud, and pleased with what they had accomplished. Those who did not make the cut may have been disappointed, but because they were part of the decision, they were very satisfied with the result.

Management was more than pleased

The management team’s response to the 12 names was; “That is an exceptionally good group. We couldn’t have done better ourselves. If we had done the selection, there would have been a lot of opposition to our decision, particularly from those not chosen. I think we’ll use this process again.”

cc 418 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Topics and Issues — People

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327 — Selecting The Best Candidate for Promotion

When a group is involved in selecting its own leader, you get the best candidate and a motivated, committed team. This process also demonstrates desirable cultural values.

“My lead manager suddenly resigned and I am looking for a replacement.” In this top-down autocratic company my friend added that he didn’t know if the opening would be filled with somebody from his own team or from another division. I suggested that he could use this unexpected vacancy as an opportunity to engage the people most affected — his Department Managers — in the selection process. Done right, the process would reveal the best candidate and further develop the division’s culture. Here’s what we discussed.

Invite the Department Managers to a meeting, “To discuss the selection of your new leader“. In the meeting, outline this group decision process. With your leadership they will:

    • Develop and agree on the selection criteria for the new lead manager.
    • Rank-order their selection criteria.
    • Rate each other (everyone in the room) against the criteria.
    • Discuss the results.

Be clear that the results of their discussion will not necessarily be the final decision. But at minimum what they say will be an important part of the selection decision process. Ask for their agreement before using this process. It involves peer feedback. People will be apprehensive. You might hand out copies of this paper so they better understand the process before agreeing to it. Emphasize that what is discussed in the meeting is confidential—it must “stay in the room”. Get their commitment to this.

Develop the Selection Criteria

    • Ask everybody to think about the qualities they would like in their new leader.
      “Think about a leader you had when you felt motivated and productive- who make your work easier. With that situation in mind, what qualities would you like in your new leader?” Allow plenty of time for discussion. Then allow five or ten minutes for everyone to separately write down his or her thoughts.
    • Go around the group asking each person for one criterion. Record what they say on a flip chart. Continue until there are no more criteria. For more on this technique see Making Better Decisions.
    • Ask the group to consolidate the criteria into 6 to 10 numbered items.
    • Ask each person to individually rank order the numbered items on a separate piece of paper.
    • Collect their rankings, tally the results, and write it on the flip chart
    • Now ask the group to weight each ranked item so the total is 100. This can be done individually and the results tallied, or it can be done through general group discussion.

You can stop the process at this point with some valuable information to the group, or you can continue and rank the candidates.

Rank Order the Candidates

    • On an 8 1/2 x 11 inch piece of paper turned horizontally (landscape mode), draw a rectangular grid/matrix with the criteria written on the left as horizontal rows, and each candidate (everyone in the room) as a vertical column with their initials on the top. Make one copy for everybody. This might be done during a coffee break.
    • Have each person privately rank order everyone (except him or herself) against each criterion. 1 as highest. No ties. Explain that the consolidated results will be information for them as a group and individually.
    • After each person has completed his or her scoring you collect them all and privately tally the results. Make a copy of the tally sheet for each person in the room. Destroy the individual ranking pages.

 

Discuss the Results

Each manager now knows how the group rates each person against the criteria they all developed. Some will rank high, others low. Sometimes one person stands out as the group’s clear favorite. Leave plenty of time for discussion. It may move in surprising and productive directions. For example an experienced team might decide that those scoring high in one area might coach those scoring low. Be open to developments.

Do a “Plus/Delta” on the meeting. Thank everyone for participating. Remind them of their agreement on confidentiality.

Caution

My friend the director was quite apprehensive about using this process with his managers. It is not for all groups. In a competitive or mistrusting group, the results might be used outside of the meeting as ammunition. This is dangerous and unfair. Because of the potential for misuse, discuss the process in detail with the group ahead of time. Get full understanding and honest agreement before using it.

In the right setting this process is exciting and informative. It identifies the person who can lead the team to new heights.

This process:

    • Involves the people most affected—in this case the Department Managers.
    • Demonstrates a new level of openness and involvement in a very sensitive area.
    • By opening the selection process to scrutiny, it reduces accusations of favoritism.
    • Shows the managers they are valued in new ways and encourages them to do something similar in their own departments.
    • Produces a clear set of selection criteria — what is important about the job to those most affected.
    • If the top ranked candidate is finally chosen, it almost guarantees his or her on-the-job success because he or she will have the support of the group.
    • Informs and simplifies the selection process for the Division Director.
    • Gives managers feedback from their peers on areas they should work on.

 

So what happened?

We worked through the process just as described. The managers were pleased and amazed at what they did and what it meant to them. Their rank ordering had no surprises, but doing it themselves built a powerful understanding and teamwork. It turned out that the corporation transferred in a new manager from outside the division. But that didn’t diminish the team’s work or the value and learning they gained from it.

More on Creative Uses for Group Decisions:

A very similar process is described in the paper Promotions and Transfers. You can use this process to pick the best candidate, satisfy everyone involved, and develop the culture. Here a volunteer group used a similar decision process to shrink itself to a workable size.

cc 327 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Company Culture Leadership -- Specific Tools

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