Teaming up for autonomy
It is a hard pill to swallow, but the only thing we know for sure is we are living with the unknown, especially in today’s dire economic climate. You might lose your job, or you might be a layoff survivor. And we all know what that means; you might have to learn some new skills or work in teams. You might even have to work in what one author calls “self-directed teams.”
In his book, Healing the Wounds, David Noer talks about how survivors of restructuring have to learn a new way to deal with their place in the company. There is a new paradigm shift in today’s restructured organizations, a change from a fidelity-based, paternalistic atmosphere to one in which self-directed work teams work as part of “an empowered family, cross-functional, or nonhierarchical teams.”
“Self-directed work teams are important in the new employment contract because they require managers to take a helping, facilitating, and coaching role while the empowered teams bond around good work, uninhibited by unnecessary old-paradigm controls,” Noer said.
In the new paradigm, employers and employees now find themselves in an interesting place, he said. “Modern power holders and employers are unable to maintain their end of the bargain. Their ‘armies’ are merging, and many of their loyal workers are being laid off. History seems to have evolved to the point where the employers are discovering their codependence with an ineffective and artificial system,” he said. But the exciting and even liberating part of this new paradigm, he said, is “all employees can have the opportunity to develop the skills and perspective to take care of themselves, increase their self-esteem, and break the limitation of inappropriate and outdated codependent relationships.”
Organizations can play an important role in this new independence by encouraging employees to plan their own careers—applying the principles of “tough love.” As part of this autonomy, management can reward employees for networking, team working, and participating and producing good task outcomes. “Task and accomplishment is the name of the game,” Noer said. “The time has come to bury trait-rating systems … and implement compensations systems that may have seemed radical, illegal, or administratively difficult in the old paradigm. Examples include empowering self-directed work teams to set compensation policy for team members, moving away from monthly and weekly pay increments and toward task-specific payments, and implementing group performance appraisals and rewards.”
In his book, Breaking Out of the Change Trap, Ron Rosenberg describes how a team-based reward system would work. “Instead of using [the evaluation process] to set individual goals and measure individual performance,” use it to establish team goals and measure team performance, he said. This shifts the focus from individual to team. When this happened in one particular instance the author remembered, “team members started supporting each other. When one person was having problems completing his assignment, other members of the team would rally to help, instead of complaining to the manager.”
Autonomy in teams
Gerald Cockrell defined a team as a group of people working towards a common goal in his book, Learning to Manage the Professional. “Good teams are characterized by their ability to work together as one cohesive unit. They exhibit the ability to cooperate as a group to meet the aims of the team,” he said. A good team exhibits cooperation, flexibility, group orientation, open communication, collegiality, and focus on the goals and the customer.
One of the most important team qualities, though, is empowerment. “When all work and task group assignments for the team are complete, the team can go to work, and the project manager shifts from team building to monitoring and controlling the team’s work. It is important for the project manager to stay in touch with the progress of the team and with each team member through continual communication. Have regularly scheduled meetings or informal conversation with team members, he said. But the project manager should be careful to avoid micromanaging. “Once a task has been delegated to a team member, that member should be empowered (allowed and responsible) to see the task to its completion,” he said. Empowering team members gives them the freedom to make decisions without management interference. Conversely, lack of communication, or the wrong kind, erodes team efforts. It gives members the feeling they are kept out of the communication loop, so they may feel anxiety, lack of confidence, and separate from the team.
Fostering open communication can make all the difference, he said. Some ways to do this are formal and casual team meetings, open-door policies, e-mail discussions, site visits, lunch meetings, and even accomplishment parties.
Ellen Fussell Policastro writes and edits Workforce Development.
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