When we created our teams in the Star Tribune’s Circulation department field organization, we tailored our efforts to fit the union environment, and the culture of the organization. We reduced the number of supervisors and moved those who remained to a centralized office where they worked as a team. We changed all incentive plans to be team-based instead of individual and competitive. We created team roles. We began to shift work from the top of the organization down through the layers of management and staff and empowered district managers to make decisions about their work. Teams established work schedules. Teams assumed some budget management authority.
District Managers felt a great deal of ownership for the districts they alone were responsible for. They felt afraid to give up their districts and work solely as a team responsible for the larger area. We decided not to force this change—it would not work if we mandated the shift. The union would fight us, and the people would be angry and resistant. To be a true team, we felt we had to eliminate the individual districts that set up artificial competition for resources. Eliminating districts also seemed to be the most efficient way to utilize the time and talents of the staff. We let teams know that we would like a team to experiment and give up district boundaries. Team Seven came forward.
A couple of months later, the team leader, May Worker, came to me with a plan she and the team had devised to eliminate district boundaries. I rejected the plan and sent May back to change it. The plan did not fit my concept of how the work should be organized.
A few months later, I asked Steve Marine—May’s boss—how the plan was coming. He said fine. I told him to be sure that the team and May followed my instructions. I did not know that Steve had met with the team and heard their presentation on how they wanted to do the redesign. Their plan was different than what I had directed. They knew that I expected my instructions to be followed and would be angry that they weren’t; Steve was afraid to tell me. I was busy, and a couple of months passed.
One day, I asked Steve what was going on. He told me the truth. I got angry. I chewed him out—along with May Worker and Diane Olson. I told Steve to get a meeting scheduled with Team Seven. I would be the bad guy and tell them that they could not do the redesign the way they wanted.
We met at Team Seven’s office. All of the team leaders and union leaders were there. We listened to Team Seven for one and a half hours. They had written a mission/vision statement for the team. They explained their job redesign and how it would work. The team figured out how they would handle workload issues. They talked about how the redesign would affect the people who worked for them and how issues would be handled. Team 7 talked about their weekly team meeting and how they handled conflict.
One team member courageously told a story of how the team was upset with him and confronted him. The team members went to May for advice on how to talk to him. May volunteered to talk to the man for them. They said no, they wanted to handle the situation. They just wanted May’s advice on how to confront their teammate. The man spoke of what he learned from this experience.
I asked many questions and the team had good answers for all of them. Their pride in their work was evident in their voices. Their commitment was powerful. We were moved by what we saw and heard.
I said, “I have to eat some crow. I told you that you had this wrong. You defied me. That took courage. You did what you believed in and you were right.” I felt proud of the team, May, and Steve. I learned much that day about listening to those closest to the work.
Excerpted from my e-book: Value Driven Leadership: A Story of Personal & Organizational Transformation available at Amazon.com