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Empowerment or Iron Cage? Self-Managed Teams
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Empowerment or Iron Cage? Self-Managed Teams

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Steven Riley, Dena Rosko, Patty Sagert, Joan Stack, and Jeremy Steadman

Steven Riley, Dena Rosko, Patty Sagert, Joan Stack, and Jeremy Steadman

Gonzaga University
20 November 2009

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  • This presentation will examine control dynamics among self-managed teams as empowering or imprisoning team members. It will analyze case studies of self-managed teams at Xel and Stitchco (Conrad & Poole, 2005, pp. 130-133). The case study highlights challenges faced by two organizations that on the surface appear to be fundamentally different. Xel and Stitchco operate in different industries and are headquartered in geographically distant locations with different markets and national cultures. It is clear that each organization faced obstacles with group empowerment and control processes within the teams that impacted organizational communication and cohesiveness. A critical analysis of the intended versus the unintended consequences of self managed teams at Xel and Stitchco will serve as a baseline for this presentation on the critical importance of communication processes to the success or failure of self-managed team structures The presentation will examine the rationale underlying each organization’s decision to transition from traditional management structures to self managed work teams and the unintended organizational challenges that resulted from his decision. We will discuss the issues of empowerment and control that presented as each organization’s associates moved from traditional management structures to self managed teams and implications for other organizations that choose to implement self managed team structures. Utilizing the assumptions of Conrad and Poole regarding self managed team structures as a foundation, we will incorporate critical thinking from current research on the risks and rewards associated with self managed team structures within organizations, and the recommendations of this team based on scholarly evidence, collaborative analysis and individual experience. Specific communication and cooperative management strategies will be suggested to assist organizations in overcoming the challenges in the initiation and eventual success of self managed team structures.
  • This presentation explores self-managed teams via this format: Definitions and case study Key assumptions Goals and core values Theoretical frameworks and interdisciplinary perspectives Cause and effects, challenges, risks, and recommendations Industry perspectives The authors’ team reflections An analogy and golden rule Conclusion Discussion questions
  • Teams are formally established, and have eight characteristics that distinguish them from any group (Conrad & Poole, 205, pp. 118-119). For instance, a team has a clear focus, a results-driven structure, and a unified commitment. In the case of our team, we created focus by establishing a framework for our presentation and set up a results-driven structure by mutually agreeing to a project schedule and clarified roles by assigning tasks. We are a formal project team because we have a time-limited task and a unified commitment to an end goal. (p.118) Self-managed teams are “currently the pinnacle of relational strategies of organizing” (Conrad & Poole, 2005. p. 130). Ideally they motivate and empower participants to self-govern and participate in organizing, rather than receiving direction through a chain of command. One interviewee in a not-for profit organization observed that decentralizing organizations via self-managed teams can require greater attention to communication and relationship-oriented behaviors given the challenge to unify teams who now view themselves as autonomous. Successful self-managed team structures can work well to keep organizational communication open, dynamic, and adaptive in a rapidly changing world.
  • Case Studies on Xel and Stitchco (Conrad & Poole, 2005, pp. 130-133): Key Points Xel Communications: Xel Communications shifted towards a self managed team system under the assumption that “adaptive” and “innovative” self management principles would enable the organization to increase flexibility by the empowerment of peer groups within the company. The initial efforts of the trial group’s performance exceeded the expectations of the program. An inability to self manage decisively created an environment of self managed teams that refused to self manage. The self management shift became increasingly bureaucratic and ineffective as a result. Stitchco Textiles: Due to external market conditions, Stitchco also shifted towards self managed team systems with the assumption that in doing so, the organization would increase in speed and flexibility in its production capacity. Self managed teams were comprised of high, medium, and low performers based off of past performance records. Initial organizational efforts in regards to self managed systems was met with resistance due to associate fears of decreased compensation, but fears soon dissipated. Initial management strategies promoted a publically displayed performance monitoring system with the assumption being that employees would be compelled to improve. Various grievances, many of them tied to pay for performance concluded with an organization comprised of self managed teams that refused to self manage.
  • Conrad and Poole (2005) underscore the value of uncovering assumptions and the importance of critical thinking largely as they assume assumptions influence beliefs, which in turn influence behavior, which then impacts people and organizations (pp. 38-43). Self-managed teams assume ideals in the following organizing and communicating structures: Decentralized When compared to top-down management, Self-organized teams can help organizations succeed in fast-paced business climates requiring open and dynamic communication, adaptability and flexibility (Conrad & Poole, 2005, p. 81). This decentralized form of governance assumes that it is ethical and effective to allow persons and groups to manage themselves.    Democratic Self-organized teams control each other in ways that differ from top-down management namely self-managed teams assume a democratic mindset, while a top-down management model assumes hierarchy is the best way to get things done. Self-managed teams assume equal participation can lead to success.   Decision-Making The self-organized team model assumes interdependent and interactive decision-making and task-assignment, rather than sequential, linear, or segmented processes found in top-down structures.    Intrinsic Motivation Self-organized team models assume that ownership (vs. compliance) generates motivation and commitment.   Purpose "The end goal is a decision whose spirit is implemented and upheld team-wide" (Klinemeier, 2009, August 3)   Results Self-managed teams can link to organizational success by creating quality processes and products (Klinemeier, 2009, August 3) and engaged workforces.
  • The goal of self-managed teams is unified commitment and collaboration in decision-making. "The end goal is a decision whose spirit is implemented and upheld team-wide" (Klinemeier, 2009, August 3).
  • Self-managing teams maintain the following core values (Klinemeier, 2009, August 3):   · Self-organizing: Inviting “owners” (versus participants) · Transparency: Open discussion and acknowledged ability to make decisions within the team (versus decision-making from a separate department or top-down) · Direction: Timebound and results' driven responsibility to stay on track · Review: Review processes are key to success · Collaboration: The desired end goal via the aforementioned core values (i.e. means) · Community: Everyone is part of the team
  • Theoretical Frameworks Defined: Eisenberg and Goodall (2004) remind us that inquiry (e.g. communication audits, and case studies, etc.) tells the story of an organization's communication. We therefore frame this presentation in scholastic narrative in order to focus research and findings. This narrative acts as a photograph frame, and the findings the photo (Eisenberg & Goodall, 2004). This presentation views self-managed teams from a framework that values empowerment as ownership, a systems perspective, and a transformational and visionary leadership theories. each of these theoretical frameworks relies heavily on relations-oriented leadership behaviors (Klinemeier, 2009, August 3; Yukl, 2006). These theoretical frameworks contribute to self-manage teams as follows: Empowerment as Ownership: Self-managed team models emerge from theories that respect each team members’ autonomy, or their capacity to take responsibility for their choices and contribution, to learn from their mistakes, to correct their course, and to come through for their team (Conrad & Poole, 2005, p. 130). Such theoretical frameworks value empowerment and desire organizations to be learning organizations (Yukl, 2006). Systems’ Perspective: A systems perspective (Conrad & Poole, 2005, pp. 29-33) links organizing systems and communicating with organizational success. Thus, self-managed team models value holism, or acknowledging and integrating a whole person's identity, into the team model, believing that this model empowers teams to succeed. This system's perspective emphasizes that relationships are complex and bear consequences for the team, necessitating that self-managed teams adapt and understand the ways in which their embedded group structure influences their performance. As such, self-managed team models must constantly learn and renew themselves (pp. 29-33). Communication as Complex: Given the systems perspective, self-managed teams avoid viewing leaders as individual heroes separate from everyone else, and require members and organizations to invest more time and relations-oriented behaviors. Ideally, self-managed teams can meet modern organizations’ need to utilize open and complex communication (p. 81) to adapt and thrive to changes and pressures of today’s complex environment (e.g. globalization). Transformational & Visionary Leadership: Visionary leadership influences organizational communication by aspiring to communicate nations for their team that are meaningful to each member. Self-manage team models rely on the process of visioning and framing teams as opportunities to encompass each members desires and contribution by envisioning pursuing realistic and credible goals (Conrad & Poole, p. 179). In other words, self-managed teen models rely on visioning processes and transformational leadership, which both assume that persons rise to the occasion when they feel a sense of ownership over their individual contribution and over their team identity (pp. 179-180).
  • Research on self-managed work teams dates from the 1970’s (Steiner, 1972 as cited in Liu, Pirola-Merlo, & Hugan, 2009, p. 44) when the concept was considered innovative. Since then, much research has been done on the design of self-managed work teams (Hackman, 1987), the efficacy of self-managed teams (Janz, Colquitt, & Noe, 1997), and resistance to employee empowerment strategies such as those promulgated in self-managed work team initiatives (Maynard, Mathieu, Marsh, & Ruddy, 2007). Much recent research focuses on the benefits of what has been termed “workforce agility” (Sumukadas & Sawhney, 2004) built through the use of employee involvement processes. Self-managed teams are one type of employee involvement initiative. They utilize many components of participatory work strategies which can be categorized as low-power practices (e.g. Quality Circles and employee surveys) or high-power practices (e.g. job-enrichment and enlargement, and self-managed work teams, Sumukadas and Sawhney, p. 1013).
  • Interdisciplinary studies suggest various reasons, problematic outcomes, and recommended solutions for conflict. For example, some social psychology theories suggests that a lack of attractive alternatives are more dependent on the group and so have less power of influence, while persons may also exert relational power over someone else, making them dependent on the social relationship, rather than their own volition (Emerson, 1962, 1964, cited in, Lovaglia, et al., 2005, p. 145; Thibaut & Kelley, 1959, cited in, Lovaglia, et al., 2005, p. 145). Political theorists speculate institutional mechanisms (i.e. rules and power to enforce decisions) can support some individual’s rights, but not others, resulting in a myriad of -isms (e.g. gender, racism) that can divide self-organizing teams. Self-organizing teams can acknowledge when such dynamics exist, and address them in kind. Managing conflict becomes a fundamental experience and behavior in society (Lovaglia, Mannix, Samuelson, Sell, & Wilson, 2005). The ideal is to view conflict as an opportunity to cooperate and thrive. Conflict arises for a variety of reasons (e.g. mixed-motives, preferences, choices, different status, and differing resources and expectations). For instance, self-organizing teams can experience conflict over a choice about whether to compete or cooperate with other group members (Lovaglia, et al., 2005). Interdisciplinary studies identify various reasons, problematic outcomes, and recommended solutions for conflict. For example, some social psychology theories suggests that a lack of attractive alternatives make members more dependent on the group and less likely to exert power or influence. Group members may also exert relational power over teammates, making them dependent on the social relationship, rather than acting on heir own volition (Emerson, 1962, 1964, cited in, Lovaglia, et al., 2005, p. 145; Thibaut & Kelley, 1959, cited in, Lovaglia, et al., 2005, p. 145). Political theorists speculate institutional mechanisms (i.e. rules and power to enforce decisions) can support some individual’s rights, but not others, resulting in a myriad of -isms (e.g. , racism, age-ism) that can divide self-managed teams. Successful teams can acknowledge when such dynamics exist, and address them through collaboration and review processes (Klinemeier, 2009, August 3).
  • Communication is key to leading self-manage teams successfully (Conrad & Poole, 2005, p. 130). Discernment and awareness are key to communication given interpretation changes the message and the ways in which people communicate reify, or make real, the expressions behind the communication (pp. 9, 73).  Furthermore, communication creates organizations (p. 9). Additionally, team members with perceived self- and group-efficacy better perform (p. 130). Inquiry is key to self-organizing teams (Kouzes & Posner, 2007).  Dialogue and active listening humanize people (DeGraaf, Tilley, & Neal, 2004; Freire, 1993), acknowledging them as owners, rather than passive participants. Everyone can be a leader (Kouzes & Posner, 2003; Yukl, 2006), depending on how the team chooses to organize leadership tasks. Leadership involves relationships (Kouzes & Posner, 2003) and organizing behaviors that unify teams under a shared vision or goal (Kouzes & Posner, 2007). All members can contribute to a team identity and results.
  • Other studies considered the potential challenging consequences of self-managed work teams even when the participants are considered “empowered.” “Historically, resistance to change has been encountered when organizational initiatives are inconsistent with employees’ needs (Coch & French, 1948; Tichy, 1983, as cited in Maynard, Mathieu, Marsh, & Ruddy, 2007, p.).  Pearson (1992) warns that “the lack of transformational leadership shown by managers, a lack of union support ,and the presence of bureaucratic administrative practices” pose barriers to success (as cited in Parker, Wall & Cordery, 1993, p. 431). Even articles that focus on benefits of employee involvement and power-sharing strategies concede they “presuppose(s) a foundation of lower-order employee involvement practices, including training, salary-/skill-based pay, improvement incentives, and non-monetary incentives.” (Sumukadas & Sawhney, 2004, p. 1018).
  • Another body of work addresses way that organizational leaders can increase successful outcomes when transitioning to self-managed work teams. Team coaching is defined as “direct interaction with a team intended to help members in the coordinated and task-appropriate use of their collective resources in accomplishing the team’s work“ (Hackman & Wageman, 2005, as cited in Liu, Pirola-Merlo, et. al, 2009, p. 43) Their work found that coaching teams can increase effectiveness of some, but not all, team processes. Other studies show that flexible work designs and teams are increasingly appropriate in organizations seeking to compete in volatile global markets (Parker, Wall, & Cordery, 2001). This study noted the importance of “the organisation’s ‘readiness’ for work redesign" (e.g., the management style and culture), and the degree to which human resource and other systems align with the work design (e.g. payment, training, information systems, Parker, Wall, & Cordery, 2001, p. 431).
  • The greatest challenge for self-managed teams is to ensure each team member reaches his and her leadership potential.  Self-managed teams can struggle with groupthink, or the tendency to agree collectively and ignore constructive dissent (Conrad & Poole, 2005, p. 298). Self-managed teams can also struggle with egocentric influence, where one member can distort decision-making by trying to control or impose his or her agenda on the group and expect the group to comply with his or her decisions without dispute (pp. 298-299). In addition, some members will have aptitude in coordinating activities, others in production or quality control. The risk for an individual designated team lead is that other members may fall back on learned behaviors and fail to participate equally. For example, a designated leader may have an aptitude for organizing efforts and possess a strong personality, which in the end can produce products that reflect that one person, rather than the entire team (Conrad & Poole, 2005, p. 298). This dynamic occurs especially when other members do not hold up their end borer withdraw instead of dissenting. Furthermore, having a leader or several members with too much concern for control processes can cause a team to become more rigid and bureaucratic, preventing groups from creative or intuitive decision-making (299-300). Finally, self-managed teams' emphasis on collaboration and review (Klinemeier, 2009, August 3) can lead to a myth of understanding (Conrad & Poole, 2005, pp. 302-303), where people may confuse discussion with genuine awareness of their end decision. This dynamic occurs especially when people communicate to manage confusion and ambiguity, or care more about justifying their decisions then honestly assessing them (pp. 302-303). In other words, self-managed team members can become imprisoned in rigid or misleading decision-making dynamics, rather than empowered to reach his and her leadership potentials as the model presumes. Ultimately, these challenging dynamics for self-managed teams illustrate the irony of this model. Though this model's strength includes offsetting traditional leadership's compliance initiatives with collaboration, this model also maintains an ongoing need for balancing guidance with collaboration and decision-making with open inquiry and results.  In short, such a balancing act can result in tension, making self-managed teams a potentially messy endeavor (Klinemeier, 2009, August 3).
  • Self-organized teams risk becoming “iron cages” when the team becomes a political entity with control issues that gridlock team performance (Conrad & Poole, 2005, pp. 127-130). For instance, team members can punish members who produce too much, who dissent, or who dig in their heels as to the way they wish to do things. Self-managed teams can eventually become bureaucracies by establishing so many rules they lose their elasticity and become rigid and rule-centered (pp. 130-131). In different circumstances, self-managed teams also become iron cages when they refuse to self-manage, or acknowledging that each individual’s work directly impacts the team and organization's welfare. At Stitchco, for example, team members held grudges against each other, and refused to self-manage, preferring the comfort zone of the routine; they demonstrated failure to successfully form as a self-managed team and can flatline a potentially dynamic and personally satisfying approach to work (pp. 130-131).
  • Tension Self-managed teams can experience tension in adopting a self-managing model when they fail to balance the need to create collaborative communication channels and to ensure that these channels have clear direction once decisions have been made (Klinemeier, 2009, August 3). Self-managing teams can experience self-imposed time pressures and perceive a sense of urgency in their decision-making processes that may be exaggerated, especially in crises and uncertainty (Christensen & Kohls, 2003), further creating opportunity for conflict and reduced performance to occur. Many of the challenges can be mitigated by upfront communication guided by a review process (Klinemeier, 2009, August 3).
  • Additional challenges and recommended responses include (Klinemeier, 2009, August 3; February, 9):   1) No one signs on --> Inquire why 2) Everyone signs on --> Inquire why via a roundtable discussion 3) Lack of direction --> State upfront timebound responses and planned actions 4) Lack of collaborative consensus --> Avoid defaulting to individual decision by communicating it is okay to disagree and by acknowledging the limitations of time.  Engage in trust-building initiatives at the outset 5) Transparency --> ask your team what issues are important to them and when they want to be involved in the discussion to offset the perception that transparent efforts are unnecessary "noise" 6) Communication deterrents --> Give open access in every channel. For instance, copy and paste online or memo content into the e-mail when attaching a link or document.
  • Given potential conflict and other challenges of self-managed teams, it's important to anticipate and create shared understanding for group composition and functions to ensure self-organizing teams coalesce, and stay intact. There are many ways to compose a group within an organizational structure that support self-managed teams' core values for collaboration, transparency, ownership, direction, and review (Klinemeier, 2009, August 3).  Self-managed teams can offset the potential downward spiral to becoming “iron cages” by considering the following recommendations:   · Acknowledge team dynamics occur under over-arching dynamics such as power, status, and relationship (Lovaglia, Mannix, Samuelson, Sell, & Wilson, 2005). · Diffuse status conflicts (e.g. over gender or race) and disrupt the pecking order by allowing each team member to teach and lead the team with their specific expertise this recommendation helps if a team member perceives his or her voice to not be heard due to status characteristics, or if this dynamic is actually occurring (Lovaglia, et. al, 2005). · Allow for disagreement without penalizing members. Acknowledge dissent makes a team strong and can actually save the team from embarrassment or failure later on. This perspective is especially helpful for diverse teams and team members who perceive themselves to have less power or influence and who may fear speaking up (Distelhorst, 2007). · When possible keep teams small to cooperate and to encourage perceived self- and group-efficacy and to deliver results (e.g. Brooks, 1995, as cited in, Parr, 2009).
  • Self-managed teams can offset the potential downward spiral to becoming “iron cages” by considering the following further recommendations: · Acknowledge the impact uncertainty has on organizing (Handy, 1996) and organizational communication (Gallagher & Sias, 2009), especially in times of conflict or other crises (Christensen & Kohls, 2003). This recommendation is timely for teams anxious about economic concerns. Be sure to keep collaborative inquiry intact and emotional keel steady during such times. · Gain credibility by modeling these relations-oriented leadership behaviors before asking others to do the same (Kouzes & Posner, 2003). · Create communication processes, and support team-developed processes that allow the group to develop an identity and long-term cooperation. · Nurture a team identity by ensuring that team members are taking care of holistically (e.g. emotionally, physically) to increase productivity and perceived self-efficacy (Conrad & Poole, 2005, pp. 29-33). This holistic caring involves rapport building activities to create a team identity (Goleman, 1998). This team identity is especially important in Western cultures whose cultural value for individualism can challenge team members in a self-managed team environment where collective achievement via collaboration trumps personal achievement (Peterson, 2004).
  • Self-managed teams can offset the potential downward spiral to becoming “iron cages” by considering the following additional recommendations: · Clarify tasks, expectations, and structure upfront to increase transparency, cooperation, and perceived team-efficacy (Klinemeier, 2009, August 3). · Create an institutional structure that rewards cooperative behavior, but does not sanction or punish people for dissenting or for not participating. Genuine collaboration allows for autonomy, or the choice to opt-in or out. Allow team members to change institutional rules, recognizing that relationships are the primary resource to develop (Conrad & Poole, 2005, p. 132). · Evaluate performance formatively by integrating multiple stakeholders, tools, and processes to monitor progress (Nan Allen, 2003, December). · Create communication processes, and support team-developed processes that allow the group to develop an identity and long-term cooperation (Conrad & Poole, 2005, p. 132). · Utilize multiple methods of communicating (face to face, digital, etc., Thurlow, Lengel, & Tomic, 2004).
  • Self-managed teams can offset the potential downward spiral to becoming “iron cages” by considering the following final recommendations: · Balance assertive behavior with positive and team-oriented communication (Meeker & Weitzel-O'Neill, 1977, as cited in Lovaglia, et al., 2005, p. 169; Ridgeway, 1982, as cited in Lovaglia, et al., 2005, p. 169). · Invite feedback (Kouzes & Posner, 2003; 2007; Yukl, 2006).  · Ensure all team members learn and adopt decision-making processes that support collaboration, participation, encouragement, and appreciative inquiry (Kouzes & Posner, 2003a; Whitney, 1999).
  • These recommendations assume that clarity and decision-making, fairness and evaluation, intrinsic motivation, training and reward, and mediating via external influencers can help self-managed teams to self-govern and to empower themselves to achieve team management success rather than to gridlock each other, the team, and the organization. These recommendations also assume that teams and organizations succeed bust when they anticipate challenges, adopt a servant-leader mindset, and organize fair, clear, and salient communication systems to support team success when (not if) conflicts arise.
  • Phil Zulfer, Director of Surety Operations for Liberty Mutual Group, is a seasoned corporate manager who shared his insight on self-managing teams vs. manager-led teams, and where he thinks team structures are heading. Self-Managing Teams Group dynamics is most important Someone needs to step-up, take control, set ground rules and expectations The group needs to decide where the project is going, and how the team is going to get there; expectations, timelines, deliverables If someone with less experience takes control, feelings could get hurt causing lower moral Positives – More drive because of increased involvement and ownership Negatives – Poor group dynamics, moral, frustration, individuals comparing work hours or effort, as well as conflicting individual personalities might hurt the end result Manager-Led Teams Group dynamics is most important Manager sets expectations, timelines, and deliverables Is the manager capable of giving project vision? Is the manager respected, knowledgeable, and empowering? Do they respect their employees and not want to micromanage projects? Effective managers will assign tasks for professional growth of employees Manager-Led à Self-Managing à What’s next? Mr. Zulfer expects the next generation of teams to be a blend of manager-led and self-managing teams, a model in which a manager will oversee several teams, help set direction, timelines, and deliverables, but let the process and the team figure out the details. The manager would be kept apprised of the group project and for escalation purposes, however not be involved in the day-to-day activities. Manager-Led Teams “ With the right manager it can be advantageous, a bad manager, disastrous”. “ A good manager will give their employees projects and tasks for professional growth and betterment”. Self-Managed Teams “ Group dynamics is most important; however someone needs to step-up and take a leadership position”. “ To the determinant of self-managed teams, projects can take longer to get started with looser timelines and deliverables”.
  • Finally, a few studies look toward the next generation of self-managed work teams, including the contributions being made by complexity sciences to business management innovation. One such article focuses on Spain’s Irizar S. Coop. “A first step toward liberating the incredible potential of people within companies comes with destructuring current models and installing new ways of working that will facilitate new patterns of interaction within organizations (Ugarte, Agirre & Juaristi, 2009, p. 13).  This award-winning enterprise utilizes self-managed teams and places ultimate importance on trusting relationships and communication as the foundation of their “horizontal, participative system, with participative leadership and strategic management based on a shared vision” (Ugarte, et. al, 2009, p. 17).
  • Teams can be found in various organizations. Personally, my greatest team experience was when I was in Paramedic School at Central Washington University.   It was a big decision going to paramedic school, years of pre-planning, getting appropriate experience, required pre-requisites, support system and mentors set up, and the drive to finish. There was a great risk involved as well. Could I complete the paramedic training, pass the test? I would also have to quit my high paying job for a full year to take on this journey.   Fortunately, I was not alone. Our class of 24 was in the same boat. The class age range was from 21-45, but we all shared very similar stories and struggles.   For most of us, the journey began in June with Anatomy and Physiology, not an easy class, but fortunately, we as paramedic students where there to support each other. As official class began, we met the remaining students, and that is where our 'team' formed.   It was not a journey I went on alone. If one person in the class struggled, the rest of the class pitched in to help. We all shared in each other’s struggles and successes. It was a great, trying year, but as we reached the end, we were all excited for our future, and the future of our classmates. We keep in touch today, three years later, and still view ourselves as a team, graduating together from the Purser Paramedic Program - 2006.
  • Favorite Team Experience My favorite team experience thus far was when I worked as a bridge in an integrating team for a volunteer organization as an undergraduate. In this faith-based organization, I was one of five officers who coordinated and planned special events and activities with departments at the University and with the volunteer group. I networked as a bridge because I worked in the reservations and event services Department for the University and volunteered for the organization; thus, I was a member of each team, both of which have a formal purpose to communicate with each other. Sometimes our teams were self-managed as the students would plan activities based on their own ideas; usually, all other team activities were directed by a central person(s).   Communication Impact Participating with an integrating team impacted the depth with which we communicated. For instance, I enjoyed richness in content and mutuality with students and staff because I felt less restricted to communicate my vision and values than when I worked in formal workgroups. I enjoyed multiplex friendships, where we were connected with multiple relationships in the teams, and that sense of support and connectivity encouraged me. These friendships opened further opportunities to participate with more organizations, such as attending the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast with the Washington Student Leaders Association. Also, as part of my teamwork came via volunteering, I had intrinsic motivation, or felt I had power to communicate in these groups based on my own volition. Each team often shared fun or service activities outside of the scheduled meetings such as eating out to dim sum with the reservation department, and going to Compton, Los Angeles with the volunteer team to work with a local church who provided vacation Bible school during spring break to give kids a place to go during spring break so that they did not have to hang out on the streets or stay home alone.   Control & Empowerment Sometimes control issues influenced communication. For example, occasionally political dynamics arose given differences in each organization's philosophy and goals. These few conflicts required diplomatic communication skills. From these experiences I learn I prefer to participate with integrating teams who value creativity and connectivity, who share a common vision or goal, and with whom I can communicate to bridge of understanding. I continue to enjoy deepening friendships and coalitions with many of these team members who have become dear friends. Thus, I feel empowered from this team experience.
  • As a campus director for Rasmussen College I feel blessed and honored to have the opportunity to impact the lives of students each and every day. Our campus has people from very diverse backgrounds that work together to impact and serve our students. I have never worked at an organization that was as committed to the mission statement. The mission of Rasmussen college is alive each and every day on our campuses we serve our communities and our students. We are experiencing explosive growth at our college. We have over 17 campuses across the US. We will open between 2-3 a year. We struggle with keeping our communication lines open. We are a matrix managed organization. This creates challenges when it comes to communication as we have reporting lines off our campuses at central services offices. We strive to communicate in a very transparent and open way. Even though it isn’t stated overtly, our organization fosters and develops servant-leaders. From the top down it is all about serving our students day-in and day-out. Within our college we have autonomy and flexibility within our jobs to make decisions. We look for team members that: value education, are successful, independent, entrepreneurial, smart and analytical, flexible, and competitive. Our hiring process is extensive. We do our best to find candidates that fit our culture. Successful employees at Rasmussen have confidence and are empowered to make a difference. We truly encourage and support a self-managed work environment.
  • My best experience with a team was working as part of a group charged with "integrating" the new Americas region of a global professional services firm. I was responsible for bringing HR in 28 countries (in Latin America, the Caribbean and Israel) into alignment with the US and Canada (although I had to "quietly" align Canada too because even though the prevailing wisdom from top executives was that Canada was already aligned, the reality was very different!) We brought together HR professionals from all of the countries, had to deal with cultural and language differences as well as geographic dispersion and even though we started the project after the other new regions (e.g., Far East, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Oceania, etc.) we finished first and I think to this day we accomplished more than the other groups. I believe it was because we kept our values (mutual respect, the competitive advantage of diverse teams) on a par with our business goal/mission (achieving an integrated operation across the Americas.) It was such a powerfully satisfying and emotional experience that I believe 40 people whose paths might never have crossed otherwise created friendships that will last all of our lives. I always valued working in teams before this but... afterward, I knew I never wanted to be in an organization that does not value teaming behaviors again.
  • The team activity that strikes me as being the most impactful experience of my work life was volunteering with my fellow managers and associates to perform a building makeover for a battered women’s shelter in Daytona Beach, Fl during my time with Bank of America. The volunteer team consisted of my primary work group in my banking center consisting of my subordinate staff of tellers and my assistant manager along with integrating teams of mid and senior level management within my market. I acted in an informal capacity as a liaison between entry level and less seasoned management within the company to coordinate a landscaping and painting project which we capped off with a lunch for newly admitted women into the shelter as it was now open for new occupants due to our efforts. While coordination from upper levels of management was provided as in order to motivate and explain the day’s objectives to the work groups, the majority of the projects were conducted through the coordination of self managed teams . After the completion of the project, I noticed that many of my subordinates and management peers alike began to exhibit a new level of closeness and cohesiveness that I had not felt before the volunteer project. Many of the barriers of prestige that had existed before the project had in a way either disappeared or greatly reduced among the participants of the project. Rather than sticking to readily defined cliques that has previously existed within my banking center, associates began to rely more on their new paradigms of their contemporaries and managers alike which slowly over time created a special bond that would help carry all of us through our most difficult and stressful tasks together. The true value in this external boundary-spanning activity was that it allowed all participants to show their leadership abilities apart from their set roles within the organization and to transcend the traditional organizational structure that we came to know each other by if only for a day.
  • Word analogies give visual pictures that help explain concepts and memorable ways (L. Chouinard, personal communication, April 14, 2009).   If self-organizing teams were to drive a car, the picture may look something like this:   Transparency , the effort to be honest, can be as thrilling and daring as driving a convertible in Seattle. Sometimes you get rained on, but the summer drives are worth it.   Direction requires each person to agree on the road trip destination and take turns driving.  Don't fight over who drives or gets shot-gun. Either take turns, or let each person contribute his and her own way. No need to ruin a fun vacation with fighting over position! Remember, you can't steer a parked car, and every journey needs a navigator or someone to pitch in for gas.    Review the map so you don't get lost.   Stop and inquire for help when you do.   Collaboration runs at the center of self-managed teams much as an axel, a wheel's center, turns the wheel that moves the car. Better yet, collaboration is as the engine that propels the car to its destination with everyone intact and together, and ideally, having a good time in the process.   Lastly, stop to take pictures so you can share what you learn when you get home.  
  • The Golden Rule of self-managed teams: “Err on the side of transparency” as the road to collaboration (Klinemeier, 2009, August 3).
  • Overall, the case study of Xel and Stitchco serve as a cautionary tale for organizations that create flattened hierarchical structures hoping to better meet the needs of their respective markets without adequately preparing the organization and staff for the new way of working.  As a result, they exposed the organizations to numerous unintended obstacles and setbacks due to abrupt changes that put peers in unfamiliar positions of authority over one another that eventually led to an inability to manage even simple day to day tasks. This case study gives a profound glimpse into the complexity of organizational change, and the critical importance of the human element and relations-oriented leadership behaviors in self-manage team models. 

Empowerment or Iron Cage? Self-Managed Teams Empowerment or Iron Cage? Self-Managed Teams Presentation Transcript

  • Empowerment or Iron Cage? Steven Riley, Dena Rosko, Patty Sagert, Joan Stack, and Jeremy Steadman Gonzaga University 20 November 2009
  • Introduction
    • This presentation examines two case studies with control dynamics in self-managed teams (Conrad & Poole, 2005, pp. 130-133) to inquire if self-managed teams empower or imprison their members. Specifically:
    • Self-managed teams examined: Exel & Stitchco
    • Different industries, geographies, markets and national cultures
    • Similar obstacles with empowerment and control processes
    • Intended versus unintended consequences of self-managed team structures
  • Presentation Format
    • This presentation explores self-managed teams via this format:
    • Definitions and case study
    • Key assumptions
    • Goals and core values
    • Theoretical frameworks and interdisciplinary perspectives
    • Cause and effects, challenges, risks, and recommendations
    • Industry perspectives
    • The authors’ team reflections
    • An analogy and golden rule
    • Conclusion
    • Discussion questions
  • Defining Self-Managed Teams
      • Clear focus
      • Results-driven structure
      • Unified commitment
      • Pinnacle of relational strategies of organizations
      • Motivate and empower
      • Self-governed and participative
    Self-managed teams have the following characteristics (Conrad & Poole, 205, pp. 118-119):
  • Case Study
    • Xel Communications: Self-managed teams initially succeeded, but became bureaucratic and refused to self manage ( Conrad & Poole, 2005, pp. 130-133) .
    • Stitchco: Implemented self-managed teams amidst fear-based resistance in order to improve productivity, but the teams refused to self manage due to pay grievances (pp. 130-133) .
  • Key Assumptions
    • Decentralized
    • Democratic
    • Decision-making
    • Intrinsic motivation
    • Purpose-driven
    • Results-driven
    Self-managed teams assume ideals in the following organizing and communicating structures (Conrad & Poole, 2005, pp. 118-134; Klinemeier, 2009, August 3):
  • Goal of Self-Managed Teams
    • Collaborative decision-making
    • Team unity
    • "The end goal is a decision whose spirit is implemented and upheld team-wide" (Klinemeier, 2009, August 3)
  • Core Values
    • Ownership mentality
    • Open communication
    • Co-directed results
    • Review processes
    • Collaboration
    • Community
    Self-managed teams maintain the following core values (Klinemeier, 2009, August 3):
  • Theoretical Frameworks
    • Empowerment as ownership
    • Systems perspective links organizing systems and communication with organizational success
    • Communication as complex
    • Transformational & Visionary leadership
    Self-managed team models stem from these theoretical frameworks (Conrad & Poole, 2005, pp. 29-33; 130):
  • Literature Reviews
    • Research dates from the 1970’s (Steiner, 1972, as cited in Liu, Pirola-Merlo, & Hugan, 2009, p. 44)
    • Team “workforce agility” (Sumukadas & Sawhney, 2004), efficacy (Janz, Colquitt, & Noe, 1997), and resistance (Maynard, Mathieu, Marsh, & Ruddy, 2007)
    • One type of employee involvement initiative (Sumukadas & Sawhney, 2004)
    A variety of literature informs self-managed team dynamics:
  • More Interdisciplinary Perspectives
    • Interdisciplinary literature illuminates small group models from a conflict, status, and power perspective (Lovaglia, Mannix, Samuelson, Sell, & Wilson, 2005)
    • Managing conflict is fundamental (Lovaglia, Mannix, Samuelson, Sell, & Wilson, 2005)
    • Address conflict through collaboration and review processes (Klinemeier, 2009, August 3)
  • More Interdisciplinary Perspectives Continued
    • Communication is key (Conrad & Poole, 2005, pp. 9, 73)
    • Inquiry is key to leadership (DeGraaf, Tilley, & Neal, 2004; Freire, 1993; Kouzes & Posner, 2003)
    • Everyone can be a leader (Kouzes & Posner, 2003; Yukl, 2006)
    • Self-managed teams can unify under a shared vision or goal (Kouzes & Posner, 2007)
  • Self-Managed Team Challenges
    • Resistance to change when inconsistent with employees’ needs (Coch & French, 1948; Tichy, 1983, as cited in Maynard, Mathieu, Marsh, & Ruddy, 2007, p. 3)
    • Barriers to success when transformational leadership or union support is lacking, and when bureaucratic administrative practices in place (Pearson, 1992, as cited in Parker, Wall & Cordery, 1993, p. 431)
  • Implementing Successful Self-Managed Teams
    • A team coaching approach (Hackman & Wageman, 2005, as cited in Liu, Pirola-Merlo, et. al, 2009, p. 43).
    • Flexible work designs (Parker, Wall, & Cordery, 2001).
    • Organizational readiness (Parker, Wall, & Cordery, 2001).
    Self-managed teams can succeed by implementing
  • Self-Managed Teams’ Irony: Who Does the Managing?
    • Members may fail to dissent to egocentric influences or groupthink (Conrad & Poole, 2005, pp. 298-300)
    • Rigid and bureaucratic decision-making (pp. 299-300)
    • Confusing collaboration with understanding (pp. 302-303)
    Self-managed teams ironically challenge balancing empowerment collectively and individually in the following ways:
  • Risk: Iron Cage or Empowerment?
    • iron cages when teams become political entities (Conrad & Poole, 2005, pp. 127-130).
    • bureaucracies by establishing too many rules (pp. 131-132).
    • passive when team members refuse to self-manage (pp. 131-132).
    Self-managed teams can become
  • Common Challenges to Self-Managed Teams
    • Tension to balance collaboration with clear decision-making processes (Klinemeier, 2009, August 3)
    • Perceived sense of urgency in crises generates conflict and reduces performance (Christensen & Kohls, 2003)
  • Responding to Common Challenges
    • No one signs on  Inquire why
    • Everyone signs on  Inquire why
    • Lack of direction  Set expectations and actions
    • Lack of consensus  Engage in trust-building activities
    • Transparency  Find out what is important to the team
    • Communication deterrents  Give access in every channel
    Klinemeier (2009, August 3; February 9) recommends these responses to offset challenges in self-managed teams:
  • Further Recommendations
    • Anticipate conflict (Lovaglia, et. al, 2005).
    • Acknowledge power dynamics exist (Lovaglia, et. al, 2005).
    • Honor diversity by inviting disagreement (Distelhorst, 2007).
    • Keep teams small (Brooks, 1995, as cited in, Parr, 2009).
  • Recommendations Continued
    • Acknowledge uncertainty influences organizing and communicating (Gallagher & Sias, 2009; Handy, 1996).
    • Model team leadership behavior (Kouzes & Posner, 2003b).
    • Nurture a team identity with team-building activities (Goleman, 1998).
  • Recommendations Continued
    • Clarify tasks, expectations, and structure (Klinemeier, 2009, August 3).
    • Evaluate performance formatively (Nan Allen, 2003, December).
    • Reward cooperative behavior (Conrad & Poole, 2005, p. 132).
    • Utilize multiple communication channels (Thurlow, Lengel, & Tomic, 2004).
  • Recommendations Continued
    • Collaborate via appreciative inquiry and encouragement (Kouzes & Posner, 2003a; Whitney, 1999).
    • Balance assertive behavior with positive communication (Meeker & Weitzel-O'Neill, 1977, as cited in Lovaglia, et al., 2005, p. 169; Ridgeway, 1982, as cited in Lovaglia, et al., 2005, p. 169).
    • Invite feedback (Kouzes & Posner, 2003b; 2007; Yukl, 2006)
  • Recommendation Assumptions
    • Collaborative decision-making
    • Clear and open communication
    • Formative performance evaluations
    • Anticipating challenges
    • Motivation by ownership
    • Servant leader mindset
    These recommendations assume self-managed teams succeed via the following:
  • An Industry Professional’s Perspective Phil Zulfer, director of Surety Operations for Liberty Mutual Group, explained the difference between manager-led and self-managed teams (personal communication, November 16, 2009):
    • Manager-led: “With the right manager it can be advantageous, a bad manager, disastrous,” and, “A good manager will give their employees projects and tasks for professional growth and betterment.”
    • Self-managed: “Group dynamics is most important; however someone needs to step-up and take a leadership position,” and, “… projects can take longer to get started with looser timelines and deliverables.”
  • On the Horizon
    • Contributions by complexity sciences to business management innovation (Ugarte, Agirre & Juaristi, 2009, p. 13).
    • New patterns of strategizing and participating based on a shared vision (p. 17).
    Future self-managed teams may include
  • Organizational Reflections
  • Steve Riley – Paramedic School
    • Students with a similar passion
    • Community and team work
    • Connectivity
    “ We keep in touch today, three years later, and still view ourselves as a team…”
  • Dena Rosko – Networking Bridge
    • Networking bridge for an integrating team for a volunteer faith-based organization and the University of Washington
    “ I continue to enjoy deepening friendships and coalitions with many of these team members who have become dear friends.”
  • Patty Sagert – Rasmussen College
    • Matrix managed organization
    • Community focused
    • Servant-leadership
    • Transparency
    “ I feel blessed and honored to have the opportunity to impact the lives of students each and every day.”
  • Joan Stack – Global Professional Service Firm
    • HR professionals brought together from 28 countries
    • Mutual respect in diverse teams
    • Dealt with cultural and language differences
    “ I knew I never wanted to be in an organization that does not value teaming behaviors again.”
  • Jeremy Steadman – Bank of America
    • Impactful volunteering
    • Closeness
    • Cohesiveness
    “ I noticed that many of my subordinates and management peers alike began to exhibit a new level of closeness and cohesiveness…”
  • Self-Organizing Teams’ Analogy
    • Self-Organizing Teams as a car
      • Transparency to see ahead
      • Choose a direction
      • Review the map to stay on course
      • Collaborate
      • Ask for directions when lost
      • Take photos to share the experience
      • Enjoy the ride!
  • Golden Rule “ Err on the side of transparency” is the road to collaboration (Klinemeier, 2009, August 3).
  • Conclusion Overall, the case study of Xel and Stitchco serve as a cautionary tale for organizations that create flattened hierarchical structures hoping to better meet the needs of their respective markets without adequately preparing the organization and staff for the new way of working.  As a result, they exposed the organizations to numerous unintended obstacles and setbacks due to abrupt changes that put peers in unfamiliar positions of authority over one another that eventually led to an inability to manage even simple day to day tasks. This case study gives a profound glimpse into the complexity of organizational change, and the critical importance of the human element and relations-oriented leadership behaviors in self-manage team models. 
  • Discussion Questions 1. What forms of control are characteristic of relational strategies of organizing? 2. How do these forms differ from traditional strategies? 3. Is it true this case study that self-manage teams provided a better quality of worklife for employees while improving results at the same time? 4. What interpersonal factors are involved in the success of relational strategies in teams?
  • Discussion Questions Continued 5. What other characteristics do you think comprise a team? 6. Do you think it's possible for self-managed teams to avoid becoming iron cages? How? 7. What team dynamics have you experienced in your organization? What organizing, relations, or communicating skills benefited or hindered your team?
  • References BBC News. (2009). Bank of America logo [Image]. Retrieved November 20, 2009, from http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/images/40868000/jpg/_40868941_bank_story_ap.jpg Christensen, S.L., & Kohls, J. (2003). Ethical decision-making in times of organizational crisis: A framework for analysis. Business & Society, 42 (3), 328-358. Conrad, C., & Poole, M.S. (2005). Strategic organizational communication in a global economy (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.   DeGraaf, D., Tilley, C., & Neal, L. (2004). Servant-leadership characteristics in organizational life. In L. Spears & M. Lawrence (Eds.), Servant-leadership: Succeeding through trust, forgiveness, and bravery .
  • References Distelhorst, D. (2007). An interculturalist's tool kit: twenty years of accumulated material about the knowledge, skills, and awareness needed to be an effective transcultural leader . Course handbook. Spokane, WA: Gonzaga University.   Eisenberg, E.M. and Goodall, H.L. Jr.. (2004). A field guide to studying organizational communication. Appendix in Organizational communication: Balancing, creativity and constraint (4th Ed.) (pp. 365-374). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s. Freire, P. (1993). Pedagogy of the oppressed . New York: Continuum. Gallagher, E.B., & Sias, P.M. (2009). The new employee as a source of uncertainty: veteran employee information seeking about new hires. Western Journal of Communication, 73 (1), 23-46. Goleman, D. (1998). Working with emotional intelligence . New York: Bantam.
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  • References Kouzes, J.M., & Posner, B.Z. (2003b). Credibility: How leaders gain and lose it, why people demand it . San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Kouzes, J.M., & Posner, B.Z. (2007). The leadership challenge (4th ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Liu, C-Y., Pirola-Merlo, A., Yang, C-A., & Hugan, C. (2009). Disseminating the functions of team coaching regarding research and development team effectiveness: evidence from high-tech industries in Taiwan.  Social Behavior and Personality 37 (1), 41-58. Lovaglia, M., Mannix, E.A., Samuelson, C.D., Sell, J., & Wilson, R.K. (2005). Conflict, power, and its status in groups. In, M.S. Poole & A.B. Hollingshead (Eds.), Theories of small groups: Interdisciplinary perspectives (pp. 139-184). Maynard, M.T., Mathieu, J.E., Marsh, W.J., & Ruddy, T.M. (2007). A multilevel investigation of the influences of employees’ resistance to empowerment.  Human Performance, 20 (2), 147-171.
  • References Merchantcircle.com. (2009). Liberty mutual logo [Image]. Retrieved November 20, 2009, from http://media.merchantcircle.com/9075582/LibertyMutual_full.jpeg Nan Allen, S. (2003, December). Formative evaluation . Retrieved November 20, 2009, from http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/formative_evaluation/ Parker, S.K., Wall, T.D., & Cordery, J.L. (2001). Future work design research and practice: towards an elaborated model of work design.  Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 74 , 413-440. Parr, T. (2009). The mythical man month. Retrieved November 20, 2009, from http://www.cs.usfca.edu/~parrt/course/601/lectures/man.month.html
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