Friday, July 17, 2009

More Authority is a MUST For More Effective Teams

I cannot imagine maintaining a high level of motivation and commitment to a team or an organization where my tasks and contributions were limited and where I did not feel I had opportunities to fully contribute progress and grow over time.

Managers and organizations can increase long term organizational effectiveness by giving teams more authority to organize themselves and to try a variety of ways to effectively meet customer needs.

In the long-term this helps team members feel they are free to more fully contribute to team and organizational effectiveness while giving them more opportunities for individual growth and a higher recognition of their value to the team and organization. This approach can work even in teams where it may first appear to be limited opportunities to do so.

Richard Hackman, the author of Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances studied two different approaches to teamwork by airline crews of two separate airlines. The airlines' management of the teams can be viewed as a scale of the amount of authority or freedom the teams were given in order to meet their customers' needs while meeting strict safety federal boundaries. The airlines' approach to team work varied based on the amount of authority given to their teams to accomplish their flight goals.

The international airline company scripted each team member's role in order to meet safety standards and allowed little if any variation from these roles. This allowed teams (groups of individuals) to function effectively and safely, even when they only worked together for a few days before being organized into a new team (group of individuals).

These crews worked together over several days as they completed a series on international flights. After the few flights together, the individuals were not likely to work together again.

The domestic airline approach was to expand the amount of authority teams were given while still working within the same strict government safety boundaries. The same group of individuals always worked together.

They were able to organize their work responsibilities, schedules and were given the authority on how to complete their work. They were given training focusing in of all the company objectives and goals and were then free to organize their work and adapt in a way to best meet those goals, federal safety standards and customer needs.

Both company teams had excellent safety and efficiency records. In this sense both teams meet their customers' needs and their companies' objectives. However, the international airline's approach limited their teams' potential because "Even people who arrive for work rich with talent and ready to use it fully to help their teams and their organizations succeed..." as these flight crews were, they can "...eventually, come to experience the work as 'just a job'" (Hackman, 2002, p. 13).

Once individuals fall into this type of routine, "...they can find it difficult to generate the extra effort, the additional measure of ingenuity and improvisation, that can spell the difference between team performance that is competent and that which is, indeed, memorable" (p. 13).

Because the domestic airline was given much more authority and freedom to organize their work and meet their goal of serving customers within the government safety boundaries, and because they worked together over a long period of time, members became increasingly more effective at working together, discovering innovative and better ways to meet company goals and meet customer needs. This approach also provided a setting were each team member was able to find more "personal learning and fulfillment" (p. 23).

Organizations have the choice to allocate more or less authority to teams. Giving more authority can improve both individual and team motivation as individuals feel their talents and skills are better utilized and valued by the team and company and they recognize more opportunities for individual and team growth.

By James Gehrke

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