Magazine article Training & Development

Teams: It's All in the Planning

Magazine article Training & Development

Teams: It's All in the Planning

Article excerpt

Why do many companies form teams, only to dissolve them at the first sign of trouble? Maybe because they didn't plan properly. Here are 10 questions to help determine whether creating a team is worth it.

Many people are still paying homage to teams, teamwork, empowerment, and self-management, but others have become disillusioned.

In the last year, dozens of firms have halted team-development efforts because they were too costly, didn't provide quick enough results, or were poorly understood by line management.

Here are some examples of real organizations that dropped the teamwork ball.

* A major aerospace manufacturer developed a five-day training program for managers of team leaders. It was designed to help managers understand the dynamics of the high-performance work groups that were forming spontaneously in the ranks.

After two pilot sessions, a training program, and a train-the-trainer course, the training was blessed by management but never delivered. Boxes of books and tapes now sit in a warehouse. At another location, the same company trained team facilitators to guide teams, then failed to provide them with any internal guidance or structure to work with the teams.

* A national home-improvement retailer built a massive 500,000-square-foot facility with the latest technology at its new distribution center. The retailer wanted to hire the best people and make sure they could work well together. After a selection procedure, a leadership program for management and team leaders, and a team-training program for all new employees, it abandoned the effort when technical systems crashed.

* A major North Carolina insurance company, fascinated by the concept of employee empowerment, had made headway in team development. Until, that is, its market share began declining. Now, talk of teams is dead, and employees already working in teams wonder where the support went.

"Management never commits the time and effort it takes. And everybody is already overworked," says Terry Mueller, HR manager for Terex Worldwide Parts Distribution Center, Southhaven, Mississippi. "Management waves its wand and expects teams to form. It sees only the work and doesn't realize that teams can pay dividends in the long run."

Mueller, a veteran of several abandoned team programs, acknowledges that management has good intentions but poor follow-through due to pressures from upper management to produce quick results.

Why do successful companies like those get started with teams and then drop the effort at the first sign of inconvenience? Many of the reasons involve a lack of planning. In working with organizations that have experimented with teams, some successfully and some not, we found that if they had asked and answered a few questions beforehand, they could have increased their chances for success.

Jim Stevens, director of human resources for Alberta Pacific Forest Products says, "We spent one year planning how our teams would be organized, before we put them in place. We thought about where they would be located, who would be on them, how much technical and team training they would get, and when they would get it."

But many companies don't have the luxury of planning for a year before start-up. For companies contemplating teams, teamwork, or an empowerment strategy, here are a few questions to ask before hand. Answering, or even just discussing these questions, will give you a feel for the planning required.

What are teams? It's a simple enough question, but one that's seldom asked. We all think we know intuitively what teams are. Guess again. Here are some questions to help define team configurations.

* Are the teams going to be natural work groups or project- and task-oriented?

* Will they be self-managed or self-directed?

* Will they exist temporarily or last for years?

* How many people will be on the teams; who's in charge? …

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