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Virtual Organization Inc.'s 21st Management Challenge Case Study

As with many companies, Virtual Organization Inc. is interested in using teams to solve problems and create new ideas. But as any number of companies can attest, teams don't always work. Research shows that top management plays a key role in a team's success. What must top management do to ensure teams succeed?

"How top management can help teams succeed"


Corporations are forming teams to approach any number of issues: product development, research and development, reducing cycle time and costs, reengineering, improving customer satisfaction, among others. Here's what management experts say helps teams succeed.


Teams mean more, not less, managing at the top. It's a mistake to assume that top management can simply permit teams to exist; it has a very demanding role in ensuring that they produce results. Top- management involvement is essential because teams run counter to conventional individualism and internal competition that work against cooperation and trust. Teams can be thwarted by the organization's systems for performance appraisal, promotion, compensation, and financial incentives. They simply don't fit into the usual hierarchical layers or functional divisions. Top management has to initiate and nurture team activity so teams won't be crushed out by the organization in its day-to-day practices.

Organizational Model -

Top managers have to inform team members how they relate to that organization; also, other members of the organization have to be told just where this team fits in, what's expected of it, and how it will benefit the total organization.

Top management has to communicate not only with the team but about the team. It alone can get others excited about the team's challenge and see how they can benefit from the team's attaining its goals. When top management deals directly with members of a team it may raise anxiety among line managers and departments that are affected by the team's work. It has to get the hierarchy to accept the importance of the team's role and to understand why a team is called for rather than using the existing structure.

Operations -

No effective team can exist in isolation. Top management must help the team members know its suppliers and customers so it can establish the proper linkages to achieve its purpose. F. H. Jackson, vice president, La-Z-Boy Chair Co., Monroe, Mich., reports: "I've learned forming a team is hard enough without team members having to figure out where the hand-offs come from or go to."

Top management has to give the team enough direction that it can understand its own purpose: what the team exists for, why the people were called together. This supplies a role beyond the individual's job description and a chance to contribute in a unique way. Therefore, a team chartered by top management has its own identity as well as ownership over a "piece of the business."

Successful teams are top-management-directed and purposeful, with performance goals rooted in the organization's strategies and priorities. Teams need to understand the corporate purpose and see how their effort relates to it.

The most effective tool for creating purpose-driven teams is the team charter. Most companies have job descriptions and systems for goal setting and performance review for individuals. The team charter is the comparable tool for teams. Good charters need be no more than a page or two and cover at least these points:

* The strategic or business context of the team's assignment
* The specific purpose and goals for the team
* The expected results or "deliverables" and a due date
* Ground rules or constraints the team must consider
* Team membership and roles

People/Culture -

The most responsible top managers don't see their role just to "lead" a team-based organization--they are part of it. They assume the responsibility to set the example for the development of cross- functional teaming by operating as a team at the top. Complex, dynamic, and dizzying marketplaces, as well as competition and economic and technological changes require top management to shorten data-gathering and decision-making time, and speed up implementation of new initiatives. As a result, purpose-driven teamwork at the top has become a competitive necessity as well as a way to convey its importance to the rest of the organization.


* GO TO Management Challenge, Message Section (1), to discuss.

* GO SEE: Don't Abdicate, IW, Nov. 6, 1995, issue.

* SUPPLEMENTARY MATERIAL: * Nothing Kills Teams Like Ill-Prepared Leaders, IW, October 2, 1995, TEAMLEAD.TXT in the Executive Issues Library 3. [To read, doubleclick here: Database 'Articles & Quotes', View 'All by Category', Document 'Article: IW on Teams and Leadership']

Short Quote:

"The most responsible top managers don't see their role just to 'lead' a team-based organization--they are part of it. They assume the responsibility to set the example for the development of cross- functional teaming by operating as a team at the top. " --IndustryWeek/Virtual Organization Inc.
© Copyright 1995, 2000, HP Management Decisions Ltd., All Rights Reserved.

Author:IW/Virtual Organization Inc.
Title:Case Study: "How top management can help teams succeed"
Place (City):
Publication Date:
Source Type:CompuServe
Quote Number:25
Categories:Case Studies, Teams