The standing joke at the company was that nobody was on time for meetings. One of several cross-functional teams charged with a major project had a particularly poor track record of results and missed deadlines. Making decisions was time consuming and usually ended with a hasty majority vote as members left meetings to move on to other tasks. During MTM assessment meetings, team members placed the blame for recent project failures on constantly changing assignments and hiring restrictions that left the team and the department short-handed. During interviews with individual team members, MTM identified perceived conflicts between the department and company priorities, creating confusing allegiance shifts. In addition, technical responsibilities and team assignments seemed unbalanced and arbitrary, often requiring members to juggle workloads.
The team’s lack of effectiveness and continuity in obtaining and evaluating key data resulted in poor team decisions. Because the team’s actions had a wide impact affecting the planning and implementation of global procedures, even small mistakes, reactions, or inaction, complicated situations, and affected fiscal investments.
Our first assignment was to engage members to develop a consistent process. The teams identified and assigned timely data gathering and fact checking tasks. They then determined how the existing culture norms as well as individual and team actions affected the “big picture.”
A commitment to change was needed from all levels by accepting the individual roles and responsibilities of all team members and others who supported the team. The team was challenged to find opportunities for open discussion of new options that would ensure the team’s continued growth and success.
Mapping tasks and individual commitment guided the team to acknowledge roles and responsibilities, creating a streamlined process for effective decision-making and problem solving. The team listed major impediments to group unity as poor communications, lack of recognition and never enough time to do everything well. They acknowledged the need for individual as well as team behavioral changes. Underlying issues identified were the need for mutual respect and collaboration.
MTM guided the group to develop three action steps:
- Identify new approaches to meet division project standards.
- Conduct interventions and a group workshop to address continuing personnel conflicts.
- Update action plans assigning responsibility to implement new approved processes.
In addition, members of the management and project teams were coached individually as well as part of a team.
Team meetings became more structured and progressed according to a set timeframe, allowing for an open exchange of ideas, resulting in more productive meetings. The first project assigned to the team was a success, which we celebrated. Continued enthusiasm and commitment to their team set a new standard within the division and the group became a role model for team effectiveness. As the general attitude recognized the successes, individuals were recognized, and teams celebrated their achievements. Other teams began to emulate some of the practices used by this team. Upper level leaders noted the changed attitudes, commenting how other teams emulated their actions. Scheduled meetings gained new commitment and respect and were more rewarding with livelier discussions
Avoid complacency by maintaining accountability. Every discussion holds value. Setting parameters for a consistent process allows members to work on the “what” we must accomplish rather than repeatedly recreating “how” we will accomplish the task. Teams that embrace social as well as personal empathy, that can permit personal vulnerability and inspire concepts beyond the norm, are prepared to encourage greater diversity and inclusion in its members. These changes result in an improved team outcome. A culture that strives for high productivity requires respect for basic communication and negotiation practices, the acceptance of different opinions, and commitment to remain on task.