Enhancing Organizational Spirit

By Mark Samuel

When was the last time that you donated your time and energy to assist someone else? Maybe it was to help a child with their homework, or to help someone get to their destination when they were lost, or maybe you volunteered your time to assist the work of a non-profit organization. Do you remember how you felt? Last month, a gentleman sitting next to me on an airplane lent me $100 when he heard that I forgot my wallet. His unselfish act of kindness inspired me deeply and reaffirmed my faith in humanity.

Spirit is built when people participate together in an activity that helps other people. During the holiday season, many organizations conduct special campaigns to raise money or food for people less fortunate so they can enjoy a nice Christmas. Read more

Committing to Less and Accomplishing More

By David Rodgers

In many organizations, I see people being burned-out and defeated by the constant pressure to “do more with less.” If this feeling is pervasive in your department, it can pull you down with the others. When you see this happening, you need to change the game. You need to meet the challenge with confidence and clarity. I call it “Accomplishing More by Committing to Less.”

Groups become paralyzed when they can’t see how their day-to-day efforts contribute to the big picture. Clarifying priorities will help; however, priority lists don’t paint a big picture. Read more

Commitment and Clarity of Intention

By Richard Noble

If you ask what qualities people respect in employees and leaders you will likely hear a list that includes commitment. It’s common to see posters on office walls attempting to inspire commitment, along with other values such as excellence or teamwork. The question that comes to mind is, “to what are we being asked to commit?”

Certainly, in today’s downsized organizations, commitment to tasks and priorities is needed. Yet, that form of commitment is more like dedication to the requirements of the organization, which frequently leads to resentful compliance. Read more

Personal Vision

By Mark Samuel

While organizations and teams have been creating Vision statements to more or less clarify direction and purpose to their members, we have found creating a personal Vision is critical for individual fulfillment in our personal lives. Vision statements assist us in making important decisions, prioritizing our activities, and assisting us in corrective action when we do things that sabotage our long-term personal fulfillment.

A personal Vision is an intention rather than an expectation, and is therefore a process of unfolding that gets updated as we clarify our true desires and goals in life. There are three primary steps to creating your personal Vision: Read more

Personally Preparing for Change

by Mark Samuel

Whether we like it or not, change is all around us. The organization embarks on a new change effort, and just as our new processes are steady enough for us to come up for air, another change effort is announced.

Change efforts are inherently disruptive, and we must cope with disruption effectively for the change to succeed. We must avoid victim behaviors, like finger pointing, and be prepared to assume our role in the change effort, even when changes seem to come from outside our sphere of influence. Read more

Catalyst for Change: Transforming Middle Managers into Change Agents

By Mark Samuel

Driven by global competition and the pursuit of customer satisfaction, total quality programs have flourished during the past 20 years. In the 1970’s, quality circles initiated the quality movement. It was an elementary approach to quality which focused on analysis tools and processes, but it failed to provide the continuity which was necessary for creating a quality culture. In the 1980’s, the quality movement advanced by integrating total quality with the organization’s strategic business plan, assuring that total quality had a clear direction supported by top management who were committed to a philosophy of customer satisfaction and continuous improvement. Unfortunately, current total quality practices also have limitations. Read more

Organizing Change: Preparing Managers to Create a Culture of Accountability and Support

by Mark Samuel

This article looks at what changes need to be made to achieve a total quality environment in an organization, and the role and skills required by management to make those changes.

Although implementation of total quality has had varying degrees of success, it has maintained momentum as the process for involving employees at all levels in the improvement of customer service and quality. Leaders in industry have acknowledged the measurable improvements attained though total quality efforts as a major contributing factor in the success of their organizations. Yet in many organizations, total quality is still a separate program not to be confused with daily operations.

Two issues which contribute to this segregation are: Read more

What is Facilitation?

By Mark Samuel

Some define it as leading a meeting, while others define it as assisting others in resolving their own problem. There is even an improvement process that defines a facilitator as someone who observes a meeting and gives feedback to the leader in a coaching role.

Regardless of which definition is used, the word facilitation comes from the word “facile,” meaning “to make easy,” and this is the purpose of facilitation. In this case, it’s to make a process easy for those involved. Unfortunately, I have seen facilitators who create more problems and frustration by adding confusion to a group. Sometimes they create or amplify conflict by trying to be the perfect facilitator, one who is more concerned with getting good marks and being accommodating than assisting the group to their next level of excellence.

Facilitation can mean many things, and for most situations the traditional guidelines for being an effective facilitator applies. However, Accountability-Based facilitation is different; it is a strategy and technique used by change agents who are transforming an organization’s culture, a team’s environment, or an individual’s self-image and their work environment. This model of facilitation requires a different set of skills and guidelines to be successful.

The primary function of the Accountability-Based facilitator is to provide clarity, guidance, acceptance, and accountability choices. As an Accountability-Based Facilitator you will play many roles: organizer, devil’s advocate, advisor, cheerleader, recorder, clarifier, negotiator, problem solver, business strategist, and director. It follows that the main criteria for success include flexibility and the ability to assume several roles at once.

The Accountability-Based facilitator is one who challenges mediocrity or denial, and allows a group or person to experience the pain of their dysfunction as a means for resolving their dysfunctional patterns. This facilitator rarely saves a group or person, even though they will not be doing anything to add pain to anyone and will protect people when attacked by others. Finally, the Accountability-Based facilitator must focus on the practical, not the perfect or the ideal.

Are You Creating Horizontal or Vertical Teams?

by Mark Samuel

“A team is a team is a team.”

I don’t actually remember anyone saying this, but I see many people implement teams as if this statement were true. Of course, nothing is further from the truth. Whereas many organizations emphasize skill building to develop teams, a system that addresses team functioning can make the difference between success and failure.

A Brief History

In the beginning, prior to the use of teams as an organizational norm, most employees were autonomous and performed their function independently from the rest of the organization. This way of functioning resulted in wasted resources, duplication of effort, and poor coordination. Teams were thus formed to resolve the common breakdowns of working autonomously. Except for project and task force teams, most were formed as Vertical Teams.

Vertical Teams

A Vertical Team is one where the leader of the team (usually the manager) is responsible for setting the direction, priorities and the goals for the team (see figure #1). The team may create a Vision and set of Success Factors based on the primary goals for the team, but once the team has to operationalize those goals, it is up to the leader to establish priorities and to resolve conflicting agendas between the team players and their functions. The team, in turn, is responsible for sharing information, coordinating their activities, and supporting the other team members and their functions. This is what sets them apart from an autonomous group that doesn’t share information or actively support one another. In a Vertical Team, if a team member is not doing their part to accomplish their goals, it is up to the team leader to intervene and resolve the performance problem. When changes occur and the leader has to change one’s priorities they inform the involved team member. The team leader is placed in a position of ultimate controller for the team.

Due to constantly changing demands and limited resources, members of a Vertical Team experience confusion about their roles and priorities. They communicate and coordinate their activities on a regular basis, but they seem to run into one another or feel excluded in decisions or changes that affect them. This results in crisis, duplication of effort, and false starts on changes that individual team members are trying to make. No longer is a high level of communication and coordination enough to prevent the conflicts and breakdowns that cripple high performance. Members of Vertical Teams feel they are working harder to get ahead, only to find themselves consistently overwhelmed by endless activity.

Ultimately, Vertical Teams break down due to never-ending changes and the overwhelming demands they make on both the team leader and team members. Usually, the manager is blamed for not coordinating all of the changing priorities affecting the team. Generally, it is expected by the team leader that team members will coordinate changes with each other. However, team members tend to view this as too complex and time-consuming. Because the leader alone coordinates the priorities and changes that affect each member, only the leader will know who is affected and how; therefore, it is impossible for members of a Vertical Team to keep each other adequately informed. Unfortunately, the task of informing all of the team members affected by the change is too time-consuming and cumbersome, so leaders typically fall short. Vertical Teams are not effective in organizations that are dealing with numerous or fast-paced changes.

Horizontal Teams

On a Horizontal Team, the team leader is still responsible for setting the direction of the team; however, the entire team is involved in translating the direction into an agreed- upon set of priorities (see figure #2). The team identifies the most important priorities that it is accountable for, based on the direction of the organization, the specific needs of their primary customers, and the specific goals directed by upper levels of management. The team, as a group, is also involved in strategizing a process for accomplishing those priorities, and in evaluating the specific roles, relationships and functions needed to achieve their goals This ensures alignment between the different functions represented on the team and an agreement on the priorities which override individual (functional) priorities.

Based on these individual priorities, each team member identifies the degree of impact on, or involvement for, their teammates and their functions. This enables team members to plan their involvement with each other, and to provide each other with an under- standing of their roles and responsibilities, in order to support each other’s priorities. Then, when it is time to coordinate their activities, each person has a complete picture of the various changes that are going to take place, who is the specific lead for managing those changes and which team member is specifically involved in the changes. This process provides the context necessary for adapting to change and quickly clarifies changing expectations without dependence on the manager. Thus, each member of a Horizontal Team has greater accountability for setting their priorities, supporting other team members and responding appropriately to change.

The team leader’s role is to ensure that the team is making progress on each of the priorities that have been identified. They assist the team in monitoring progress and ensuring that each functional area is maintaining their accountability to one another and to the team as a whole. Also, the leader must be the primary link to upper management for responding to new requests, preventing problems, and for coordinating within the team the changes that come from upper management. Finally, the manager is responsible for representing the needs and accomplishments of the team to upper management.

The concern of Horizontal Teams is that the team members don’t have time to plan or be involved in each other’s priorities. However, this is a misinterpretation of the process. Each person is still responsible for planning the strategy to complete their own priorities; the difference is that they create their own processes for change and share it with the other team members for general buy-in and support. This ensures that each team member knows when they will be needed and that a functional area won’t be left out, which could later lead to breakdown.

The transition to Horizontal Teams enables team leaders to focus more on global and strategic issues affecting the team, enabling them to anticipate and avoid crisis and to prepare their team to respond to change. Ultimately, Horizontal Teams demonstrate excellence in customer service and improvement in team relationships.

When Relationships Break Down

By Mark Samuel

As change continues to be on the rise, it becomes harder to maintain healthy relationships between people–regardless of level or function in the organization. People are more stressed, in fear and often times confused, and take out their frustrations on others creating a breakdown in teamwork. These problems include an increase in conflict, a lack of trust between co-workers and management and breakdowns in communication and information sharing.

Unfortunately, many organizations are still resorting to classes in communication skills, dealing with conflict, or forms of team building to remedy this growing problem. Otherwise, they are trying to “empower” the employees to solve relationship breakdowns on their own. Read more