Self Managed Teams Case Study

Obtaining Executive Permission & Full-Time Facilitation Resourcing

After Event #2, the business unit leadership and I talked about what would be required to bring the desired future state to reality. We concluded that my full-time assistance would be required in order to keep the business running while also enacting the transformation. We prepared a presentation outlining the benefits and drawbacks of the existing model, the proposed future state including associated benefits and risks and the transformation resourcing required. We presented and discussed this with the Executive responsible for the business unit and received her blessing to proceed. That Executive and I then met with my Executive department head and he agreed to assign me full-time to this initiative until the transformation was complete. With permissions and resourcing obtained, the business unit leadership team and I began planning for the Headquarters roll-out.

Headquarters Roll-Out – August 2009

Though we had communicated the results of the two events and our plans to all within the company, we knew that we had an uphill battle to get more than the event team onboard with the desired future state. So we planned a two day event to roll-out the changes to the headquarters personnel. We felt it was important to first educate and provide everyone with a base level of understanding which would then enable them to fully grasp and appreciate the new organizational model.

The business unit leaders opened  the event by presenting why we needed to change and what they could expect from the next two days. I then provided the base level of understanding by taking them through shortened versions of the training material on management innovation and Lean. On the second day, the business unit leaders presented the new organizational structure and plans. A key thing that jumped out at us was that people were nodding in agreement with all of the field changes as that was 'for the field'. However, when we got to the office changes it was a different story. Though some people were excited, some didn't believe any of it was going to happen and this was just ‘a flavor of the month initiative’, others believed management and not the event team developed this concept so it was not to be trusted and a few were really upset as these changes truly scared them. Another key lesson was that people had a hard time focusing on the educational piece in day one as all they wanted to know was the answer to the question - "What are the changes?"

We also wanted to give people the ability to choose what job/position they would like to have in the new organization. Our inspiration for this came from the medical field where medical professionals at the end of their residencies could submit their top three choices for final postings/assignments and receive one of those. So the leaders announced all jobs were going to be opened up and people could apply for their top three choices regardless of their current positions. The leaders would endeavor to ensure people got one of their choices and preferably their top choice. To assist people in this process, job descriptions and related baseline qualifications would be provided for each position. Upon hearing this announcement, quite a few didn't believe they would truly get a choice and the job posting process was all a farce as decisions had already been made behind closed doors. Others worried that they would get a position they didn’t want or was not as good as the one they already had.

Upon hearing all of these beliefs and worries, the business unit leaders decided to organize meetings in which they and the H.R. Manager would meet with each person. They met and discussed each person’s concerns, thoughts, feelings, questions, possible top job choices and future aspirations. This proved to be a defining moment and effective response to help people through this transition. People began to see and believe that they really did have a voice, they mattered and the leadership team was serious about this transformation. One problem encountered was the job descriptions took longer to develop and get approved by the Corporate H.R. department than anticipated. So the job posting process was delayed a bit which cause some dissatisfaction. This was an early lesson in the importance of communicating that not all in this endeavor will go according to plan and to remain flexible. Ultimately, everyone received one of their top three choices with the majority of people receiving their top choice. Individual meetings were held with each person to tell them which position they had received and to discuss any questions or concerns if they had not received their top choice.

The next challenge was going through the team lead election process. The elected team leads would serve a term of a year and be paid a stipend as the position would require additional work. We didn't define how the teams were to go about selecting a leader as we wanted them to be able to determine this on their own. We did however set some baseline experience requirements as we knew that team leads needed some minimum levels.

Some teams didn't want to elect a leader as they just wanted management to choose for them, others got a bit political and yet others proceeded through this process smoothly and amicably. Through it all the leadership team kept the lines of communication open which helped each team successfully navigate the process. An interesting situation which arose was one team wanted to elect two leaders to share leadership. In the spirit of experimentation and providing autonomy the leadership team said "if this is what you want and you think it will be most effective, we support you."  This proved to be another defining moment when people further realized they indeed had control over their own fate.

We also need to develop other new supporting management processes beyond the job opt-in posting process and team lead election process. So we began to engage each of the office teams in this endeavor and first asked them to create their own team standard operating procedures which would include their team values, management processes and work processes. We didn’t give them a prescribed format, but gave them a general idea of what should be included and why. Having this type of freedom proved difficult and frustrating for most as they were so used to receiving direction and just executing. The leadership team met often with them and served as sounding board, but tried hard not to tell them exactly what to do. Eventually the teams began to gain confidence and traction as they shared what they were doing with each other and improved by merging best ideas and practices. Their team standard operating procedures also continued to evolve as they gained experience and encountered difficulties that they needed to address.

We also wanted to rearrange the office to create an open, collaborative environment. So we asked for volunteers to work on creating a plan for a new office layout. The team was given some general guidelines and parameters and turned loose. The first plan was rejected as it didn’t take into account the need for room to grow. However, their second plan hit the mark and was approved by the business unit leaders. It included open collaborative spaces and tearing down existing cube farms. The team oversaw the redesign from planning through execution and the end product was outstanding. The change in the physical space further aided in the cultural transformation from functional silos to accountable and collaborative teams.

Regional Manager Roll-Out – November 2009

Once the changes were well underway in the office, we turned our focus towards the next phase of the roll-out which entailed further developing the field structure and related management processes. We knew we needed and wanted the regional managers’ help in this development and overall roll-out slated for February 2010. So we brought them in for a 5 day kick-off meeting and took them through the educational training and presented the new organizational structure and plans. It was here that it became crystal clear that we definitely needed to reverse the order of this roll-out by explaining the changes first and then providing the background education. As one regional manager so aptly put it - "I want the ice cream first and then you can tell me how you made it and what the ingredients are". 

One of the first paradigms we had to overcome was their belief that field personnel would not get anything done without strict command and control oversight. So we focused on why they held this belief and it turned out that each of them had been burned at some point by what we deemed a three-percenter. (i.e., people deemed to be within the bottom the three percent performance-wise and who seemed to always be doing something that wasn’t appropriate.) We then discussed how we should not design an organization suited to control the bottom three percent of people. Instead we need to build one that engaged the other ninety-seven percent and helped put the bottom three percent on a get-well plan. This discussion helped them overcome this paradigm and we began to engage them over the next several months in the field organization and supporting management processes development. In December we collectively determined that based on the workload in front of us, we needed to delay the field roll-out from February to April 2010. This delay did not go over well in the organization, but it was the right decision and eventually most would come to appreciate that fact when they experienced the roll-out in April.

Amongst many other things, the regional managers and business unit leadership team worked tirelessly on developing geographic regions for the district teams, identifying people to comprise each team, regional team standard operating procedures, a recognition process which would support and encourage the desired culture and a T.E.A.M. (Talent, Engagement, Accountability & Motivation) development plan and process which included on-boarding, 360s, and self-directed personal and business development plans. Meanwhile, other teams within the company were working on developing a new budgeting process which would provide teams with their own budgets and financials, a scheduling process which would enable teams to efficiently schedule themselves and analytics reporting and processes for use by both internal teams and external customers.

We brought in the regional managers approximately 5 times to work on developing various facets of the new organization. As could be expected with a transformation of this size and nature, there were clashes and disagreements on many fronts. However, to see the change in them from the first November meeting to the final April 2010 meeting was an amazing gift. They had become huge proponents for the change as they truly believed in the new management model and culture. 

Field Roll-Out - April 2010

By April we were finally ready to present the changes to the field.  Since August, over 20 new management processes had been created including a business forum process which brought the entire company together virtually every quarter and voice of the customer surveys for both internal teams and external customers which enabled the business unit to measure and improve engagement and satisfaction levels.

We organized a weeklong event dubbed the National Service Meeting. We brought the entire organization together from all over the U.S. and Canada. This was the first time most of the people had met each other in person as the last time the organization had been brought together was 8 years prior. We had developed and been conducting various surveys throughout this entire process.  Based on the commentary received in these surveys we knew that the field was more open to these changes than the office had been. In addition, the regional managers had been holding regular meetings with people in their regions to keep them informed and solicit feedback.  

The National Service Meeting began with an evening welcome reception and the next morning kicked into full swing with an introduction outlining why we needed to change, a presentation from the business unit’s largest customer and the presentation of all organizational changes. Breakout sessions which entailed people meeting with their new teams, electing a team lead, receiving educational background material and working on developing their T.E.A.M. development plans and team standard operating procedures also took place during the week long event.

Again, the election process proved to be the most challenging. However, we were more prepared having now run through it with the office and the regional managers who also elected team leads. The regional managers and leadership team were able to successfully work through the field team conflicts and disappointments of some who were not elected.

Similar to what occurred in the office roll-out, there were some who didn't believe that these changes would really take place. However, by the end of the week it was more than clear to them that this was not the case and we felt the tide begin to turn. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life as I saw peoples' excitement beginning to rise. I had people coming up to me saying "I have waited to work for an organization like this my entire life. Thank you for the changes and for your involvement in this endeavor."  After this roll-out, the transformation was now fully underway throughout the entire organization.

This study examines how gender as a socio-cultural construction factors in the currently occurring change from a bureaucratic work organization to more interactive and team-based structures. Informed by Joan Ackerâ s theory of gendered organization, I identify processes that produce and reproduce gendered relationships of domination and subordination in self-managing teams, despite the premise that self-managing teams foster more egalitarian workplace relations. In a multiple case study, using in-depth interviews and participant observation, I examine four currently functioning, mixed-sex, self-managing teams in two service sector organizations and one manufacturing plant. The objective of the study is to uncover how and in what ways gender is present in teamwork and shapes various routine work processes.

The so-called â gendered processesâ I found to occur in the four case-study teams include a gender division of team tasks that required women to perform clerical work even when teams were supposed to implement cross-functional task sharing. Gendered processes also took place through interaction and team metaphors of â familyâ and â football teamâ . I illustrate how the construction of emotions in teamwork marginalized womenâ s contributions and how women and men consciously employed strategies to fit into expectations of gender-appropriate behavior. Despite these gender divisions, I suggest that one possible way for teams to improve organizational gender equality is that they emphasize non-hierarchical spatial arrangements. Finally, although I found gendered processes in all four teams, the ways in which gender shaped teamwork varied according to the organizational status position of a team. Also self-management proved the most comprehensive in teams that functioned at the higher organizational levels.

I thank the Finnish Work Environment Fund, The Foundation for Economic Education, and Ella and Georg Ehrnroothâ s Foundation, all of Helsinki, Finland, for their financial support towards the completion of this dissertation. This study was also supported by dissertation grants from Eemil Aaltonenâ s Foundation of Tampere, Finland and Oskar à flundâ s Foundation of Espoo, Finland, for which I am grateful.


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