Government Employees Learn to Work in Sync

Article excerpt

Teamwork doesn't just happen by decree. It takes a carefully designed process in which members can learn to visualize their goals, prioritize issues, define roles and develop communication skills. Follow the five steps outlined here by two consultants who led team-building training for a government agency.

When you think about large bureaucracies, you usually don't think about teams and the personal issues they experience. Yet, in 1995, we as Boulder, Coloradobased organizational consultants were hired to develop a team cycle within one of the agencies of the federal government.

Most of the five team members previously had worked together in one capacity or another. But as team members, they were unclear about their roles and how their team should operate. They needed to develop a common vision, goals and objectives, as well as communication systems and role definitions.

To complicate matters, two of the team members-Jan and Sue-shared a negative history. They didn't trust each other, and they ascribed the worst possible motives to each other whenever something went wrong. Because of their conflict, the entire team's productivity was impeded. In addition, because of the two individuals' different backgrounds, there was more likelihood of harboring misperceptions and stereotypes. Therefore, we were asked to come in and work with the team for a one-month period.

First, we established our goals: * Assess the team

* Help the team define its mission, vision, values and roles

* Provide training on communication and conflict management

* Perform intervention on a ripe conflict within the team

* Provide Myers-Briggs team training.

We began our work with the team by interviewing the management-designated team leader, Terry. Terry gave us some background about the team and its formation. This team was organized along functional lines, and members of the team had worked together informally for a relatively short amount of time (two years or less). Terry was overwhelmed with the team's workload, the relative inexperience of the other team members, the intense personal conflict within the team, a perceived lack of support from upper management, and the strong pressure to have the work group act like a team. After this preliminary interview, we were invited to the team's first official team meeting to provide facilitation and guidance for the team's formation.

Meeting #1: Visualizing the ideal team. The meeting started with an icebreaker, a discussion of logistics and the setting of ground rules. Then the team established its major goal for the meeting-to define critical areas so the team could develop into a self-directed work team. We used the Blake-Mouton meeting facilitation model to enhance creative thought. This model asks participants to: Look at the ideal situation; discuss how the situation is now; and discuss ways to bring the now closer to the ideal. Using this model, the team brainstormed a list of attributes of the ideal team, which we recorded on flip charts. We prompted the team with questions to trigger their thoughts, such as:

* How would the ideal team allocate duties?

* How would the ideal team provide backup for each other?

* What is optimum communication within the ideal team?

* How can each team member grow and develop to his or her potential?

* How would decisions be made by the ideal team?

* How would conflicts be handled by the ideal team?

The team had a wonderful time creating a list comprising dozens of attributes of an ideal team and lumping these attributes into categories. Not surprisingly, the optimum characteristics identified by the team follow those set out by theorists: effective communication; clearly defined roles; an efficient decision-making model; enticing responsibilities; talented members and constructive interpersonal relations.

The team then discussed the current situation, comparing the ideal list to the present situation. …