Posted by: gotrain | December 29, 2008

Case study on team development

Earlier this year I had conducted team development training in an organization and was now doing some follow-up sessions. The purpose of these sessions were to see what improvements management and employees had made towards better teamwork.

This is an interesting case because I have worked on and off with this organization over the last 8 years and watched them grow from a 20 employee company to now more than 100. I wrote an article titled Are You the Go-To Person in Your Organization? about them in my newsletter earlier this year and the Montreal Gazette newspaper picked up on it and interviewed me for an article on the topic .

This blog post and case study in part continues the story of Stefan, the person who was so against working with me on people development eight years ago and is now director of operation and the go-to person in the organization. He is the one who the owner is relying upon to drive more efficiency and teamwork.

After being promoted to his new position late last year, I met Stefan again and he admitted to the challenges he was facing in having people work together well and cooperate. The company builds highly sophisticated testing machinery that incorporates multiple technologies that must all fit and work together. To complicate matters each machine is highly customized to the customers needs and because of rapidly changing and advancing technologies the customers usually wants the latest advancements designed into their product.

I conducted workshops over several weeks with almost all employees except those who were traveling abroad on projects. It was easiest working with the employees and most difficult with the managers and supervisors. The reason was because the roles and authority of managers were not well defined and thus they seemed more apprehensive about what they would actually be able to apply.

The owner of the company seems to be the root cause of this because it seems he feels more in control of people when they need to have their decisions validated. In reality this causes slower and poor decision-making, which ends up in production delays and multiple design problems.

I think this is strongly linked to the motivation and tendencies of the owners’ type which in our learning program we call the Inspirator. You can read some articles about this by Fritz Glaus, my partner at Three Brain Synergy on my Optimus Performance website in the tips’n tools section under training.

What is strange is that even though the owner has preferred ambiguous role definitions and authority levels he has gradually removed himself from the day to day operations and this has opened up an opportunity for Stefan to institute new management approaches. However, the influence of the owner is still quite apparent and thus I was my concerned about how much of the teamwork learning would be applied. Also the participation in the workshops by the managers was less enthusiastic than with the groups of employees.

To my surprise the feedback from the employees six months after the training was quite positive. Everyone attested to some change for the better in the climate of the organization. The main reason they felt was because they now knew each other better due to the simplicity of the types of people approach that was integrated in the teamwork program . They also said that the communication skills such as active listening proved to be essential tools in working together and solving some major technical problems with past projects.

This is good news for this company as the owner who is the main driver and procurer of new business has sold some major contracts and has made large capital investments to expand the facilities and production capabilities in order to deliver the projects on time.

The biggest challenge I see is that too much is still riding on the shoulders of the go-to person , Stefan. He needs to delegate more authority and decision making to the managers or teams as some departments do not have defined managers and Stefan is actually acting as the manager. This can work if he allows them and expects them to make decisions without him. To do this he needs to make sure they have the right information and the proper resources including knowledgeable and skilled people. The greatest danger here is that Stefan becomes more overloaded and may become unable to keep things on track because too much is dependant in him driving things and making the decisions.

There is a great deal to learn from this case study and I expect to return there in the spring to conduct more teamwork sessions with new employees that have been hired over the last six months.

Stephen Goldberg

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