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The Discipline of Teams: A Mindbook-Workbook for Delivering Small Group Performance J. R. Katzenbach, D. K. Smith. Reissue edition (John Wiley & Sons, 2001)

The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization J. R. Katzenbach, D. K. Smith. Reissue edition (Harperbusiness, March 1994)

Make Success Measurable: A Mindbook-Workbook for Managing Performance D. K. Smith (John Wiley & Sons, 1999)

Fumbling the Future: How Xerox Invented, Then Ignored, the First Personal Computer D. K. Smith, R. C. Alexander (iUniverse.com, 1999)

Taking Charge of Change: 10 Principles for Managing People and Performance. D. K. Smith (Perseus, 1997)

Better Than Plan: Managing Beyond the Budget D. K. Smith. Leader to Leader, Winter 2000.

The New P&L (Performance and Learning) D. K. Smith. LiNE Zine, Summer 2000.

 

 


You’re on the road, checking your voice mail. Message 17 is from your boss, the head of marketing. “We’ve just won the Dorset order! I need you to contact engineering, finance, and sales and pull together a team fast—a group who can work with the Dorset people and their main systems supplier. I’ve left you a longer email on this. But, listen, could you call me at home tonight after you get into Des Moines?”

We’ve come a long, long way from 9 to 5.

Welcome to the 24/7/365 world of work—a world where winners are fast and connected and everyone works everywhere and all the time and, as often as not, in teams. With blinding speed, teaming is now done “virtually” by and through a variety of technology that I call “groupware.” Groupware includes both very old technology (phone, fax, videoconferencing) and very new (email, threaded discussions, shared documents, project management, databases about people, chat rooms, bulletin boards, and more). In addition, it is accessed and delivered in all the ways now possible: mobile phones, TVs, computers, pagers, Palm Pilots, etc.

Face it. If you work for any company of any size in any industry anywhere on the planet, you are connected. You are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and every day of the year. It is highly likely that you’ll find yourself using groupware to collaborate with other people across functional and silo boundaries within your company as well as, increasingly, across company lines with suppliers, customers, joint venture partners, and others. Even if you and your team work on the same floor in the same office building, you use groupware.

“Virtual” teaming is far more about the technology than about your physical location or job title or company name. Moreover, virtual teaming is 24by7 teaming—it confronts you with the profound challenge of where and when to draw the line. Perhaps more than any other work/life challenge, virtual teaming splits you in two: the you who wants to be there for your team must figure out how to co-exist with the you who wants to be there for your family and friends.

In our new book, The Discipline of Teams: A Mindbook/Workbook For Delivering Small Group Performance Jon Katzenbach and I stress that teams using groupware must discuss openly and candidly just how and when—and when not—to use technology to succeed. The Discipline of Teams is both sequel and companion to our earlier book, The Wisdom of Teams. In that book, our challenge was to persuade people that teams were more than fads and more than a warm and fuzzy feeling of togetherness. We emphasized a six-part performance discipline of effective teaming: This involves a small number of people with complementary skills who hold themselves mutually accountable for a common purpose, common goals, and commonly agreed upon ways of working together.

Small groups need two disciplines for success: the classic and well practiced “single leader” discipline where one person is boss, makes all the decisions and stays in control; and, the six-part team discipline. In The Discipline of Teams we provide dozens of exercises as well as detailed explanations about how to use the goals facing your small group in order to choose when to use one of these, and when the other.

One thing is certain: when your group chooses to use the team discipline, you must make the in’s and out’s of groupware an explicit topic of discussion and choice. A key aspect of the team discipline is a commonly agreed upon working approach. By that, we mean how the tasks of the team get divided up and reintegrated (Who will do what?), the approach to team administration and logistics (vacations, T&E, etc.), and the behavioral norms of the team (e.g., Will facts be friendly? Will people be expected to show up on time for meetings? Does everyone do real work?)

But, in addition, it means open discussion and decision about when and why team members are available for work—and when not. It means discussing and choosing how the team wants to handle the behavioral norm of having a life.

When the team discipline clicks, people on the team feel a tremendous sense of mutual accountability to one another and to the shared goals they set. The rewards are uniquely satisfying. If you have ever been part of a real team who accomplished something few or none of you thought possible, you know the deep sense of satisfaction in making a difference—together.

Your success went well beyond achieving the goal. You and others made a difference as a “we,” not just a series of “I’s.” You experienced and connected to a feeling that dates back thousands of years—a human sensibility that taps into the essence of being human. We are social animals. We take and get deep gratification in bonding together to accomplish something that matters to us. Yes, we also thoroughly enjoy individual accomplishment and the ego satisfactions that go with it. But, as you know from personal experience, there is nothing quite like a team effort that succeeds.

For all these reasons (in addition, of course, to the fact that teaming at work is part of your job description!), you want to be there for your team. And with groupware—Wow!—can you be there. 24/7/365! You can be there when you’re at your eight-year old son’s baseball game, he’s just about to come to bat and he’s looking straight into your eyes for love and compassion and confidence—and your cell phone rings. You can be there when, instead of doing the dishes with your spouse after each of you have had a long tiresome day, you say, “Honey, I’ve got to go check my email for the project”—a project that, frankly, your honey doesn’t give a damn about and suspects is an excuse for ducking the dirty work. You can be there when it’s 7 p.m. and your friends have been over for an hour to enjoy an evening’s barbecue, but you haven’t yet joined them because the proposal the team is crafting for the next day’s customer session is not quite right yet.

You can be there. And if you and your teammates are there for one another, you’ll touch something deeply human and satisfying. You’ll also risk—or at least miss out on—other profoundly human times in your life. This, then, is the dark side of groupware. It can take what is already a great opportunity—real teaming—and make it even better. But at a steep, steep price.

On the other hand, let’s be clear about a not-often-commented on aspect of groupware: it keeps you physically (if not always psychologically) at home. In each of the troubling situations mentioned above you are near your family or friends when, even just a half a decade ago, you might have been in some crummy hotel, on an airplane, or at dinner with a customer or supplier or client. 24/7/365 work is also work anywhere. And, work anywhere can and increasingly does mean work at home. Tens of millions of people are now “free agents,” and they and millions of others take advantage of the work anywhere possibilities inherent within groupware.

So, as usual, the glass is half full, half empty. How do you and your team keep the empty parts less empty and the full part fuller?

Here are some critical pointers:

   Explicitly discuss and choose which features of groupware the team will use and which not. Choose only a few to begin with—not the whole suite of features and technologies.

   Don’t assume that everyone on the team is familiar with all the features of groupware—or that every team member can learn on his or her own. Instead, make sure that the features selected are practiced together early and often to be sure everyone is sufficiently adept and comfortable.

   Make explicit choices about basic netiquette. Who will be copied on what and how? Do people have to respond? To all issues, or just some? Are there time limits for responses? Will you place limits on language (e.g., is flaming acceptable?) If you will be making decisions through groupware as opposed to face-to-face meetings, who gets a say or a vote? Must all participate?

   Make explicit choices about work/life balance. Do NOT assume away this issue. Yes, it is key that people on the team build a true sense of mutual accountability for the shared goals. But, part of that mutual accountability is strengthened by candid and open discussions regarding when—and when not—people are available for the work of the team. The objective ought to be getting the issue out on the table and making it a legitimate team concern. Don’t make the mistake of trying to over legislate or specify endless details about the when’s and when not’s. Instead, get a basic policy together.

   Set a goal. That’s right. Make the work/life balance an explicit goal to be achieved by the team. In doing this, however, focus hard on explicitly linking this goal to the other goals of the team. If you cannot tell yourselves a “story” that makes sense about how all of your team goals fit and work together, then you haven’t yet made sense of your challenge. If your work/life goal is not an inherent and critical aspect of your team “story,” it will quickly drop away as only a nice-to-have.

Once your team has established a policy and a goal, be sure to ask, “How are we doing?” Make the work/life balance one of the regular issues you return to in team sessions. The objective here is to be sure the whole team is comfortable discussing the inherent tension in 24by7 teaming… and to build a mutual self confidence that all of you can, alone and together, get the balance right while still delivering the kind of team performance that, when achieved, offers the best that we can get from our contributions at work. If you set and achieve a handful of aggressive team goals that include—logically and not just in a list-y fashion—a goal about work/life balance, then you and your team will have truly enriched your lives.

Douglas K. Smith is a consultant and author who focuses on organization performance, innovation, and change. He has worked with businesses and organizations across the spectrum and his work has been featured in leading publications around the world. You can reach him directly at dekaysmith@aol.com.

 

 

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