The Coming Teams Crisis: Five Stumbling Blocks or Stepping Stones to Success

By Clemmer, Jim | CMA - the Management Accounting Magazine, May 1993 | Go to article overview

The Coming Teams Crisis: Five Stumbling Blocks or Stepping Stones to Success


Clemmer, Jim, CMA - the Management Accounting Magazine


The management revolution sweeping through much of the western world is now moving into its teams phase. But it's a new classic good news/bad news story; team-based organizations and improvement activities have produced eye-popping results. However, many team efforts have failed or are floundering.

We are in the early stages of a teams implementation crisis. Like the (TQM) total quality management or (CQI) continuous quality improvement crisis now engulfing North America (studies show that two-thirds of most TQM/CQI programs are dying or dead), the teams crisis has almost identical organizational roots. It looks like the quality circle wave that swept so unsuccessfully across North America in the early 'eighties.

There are five organizational elements that are either stepping stones or stumbling blocks to team effectiveness:

Vision and Strategic Focus -- too many teams are formed with vague goals of increasing "feel good" teamwork, job satisfaction, employee involvement, or empowerment. These are means, not ends. Effective teams don't exist just for the sake of teamwork. They need a broader context and focus to infuse their work with meaning, purpose, and direction.

Effective teams are focused on the key processes, bottlenecks, issues, or local improvements that will provide the highest leverage to the organization's critical success factors.

Values and Culture -- teams can only thrive in an organization that values and models teamwork. But that common sense notion is rarely common practice in the rush to install teams. As with quality circles, teams are being implemented following the deadly "microwave model" -- buy or develop a training program, plug it into the organization, select the desired setting, and press start.

The point of highest leverage in building a team-based organization is the teamwork shown by senior management. Passionate lip service to teams and teamwork isn't enough. Most teams will eventually model the behavior of the senior executive team.

Skills -- helping team leaders and members develop new behaviors and use new tools requires heavy amounts of skill building. But not all education, training, and team-building activities that are called skill building, build skills. They may inspire teamwork, make a group of people "feel teamy," help participants understand group dynamics, or develop theoretical insights into team types and effectiveness.

Effective skill building changes behavior. Research into the most effective training approach to change behavior consistently shows that we act our way into new ways of thinking far more effectively than we can think our way into new ways of acting. …

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