Re. Self-directed work teams

Subject: Re. Self-directed work teams
From: Geoff Hart <geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
Date: Thu, 21 Sep 1995 13:06:12 LCL

Steve Jong wrote to question the value of managers
who don't manage, and instead let their staff
direct themselves. Admittedly, this is often a
management copout, but there are also times when
it's a reasonable solution. For example:

Our research director (RD) is responsible for
getting out the reports since publishing falls
under the research section, but for various
historical reasons, there was never really a
"communications manager" per se. Writers and
graphics folk just sort of interacted, with the
RD's role limited to approving reports (i.e.,
editing), performance appraisals and other
staffing issues. He became too busy with his real
work (directing our research program) to do the
editing, so he needed to add an editor to the

About 4 years ago, he hired someone from outside
the company to manage publishing. Until then,
everyone had worked independently, with no direct
supervision. Hiring an outsider and imposing
supervision on a bunch of free spirits turned into
the predictable disaster and the newcomer soon
departed. I came onboard a year later, and there
was little hope of getting a group manager, and
particularly not me (though the editor would have
been a logical choice): everyone had been burned
once before and didn't want a new boss, they had
at least 8 years of seniority, and, to be blunt, I
lack the requisite people skills to be a manager.
(That's not why they hired me.) It was clear that
we needed some managing because the work load was
unmanageable without better integration and the RD
simply couldn't help. Also, the RD wanted to dump
responsibility for staffing issues (e.g.,
appraisals). Thus, we were asked to function as a
self-directed team.

This isn't a panacea. We work better together than
we used to, but we still aren't a true "cross-
trained, mutually dependent" team after one year.
Too much jealousy over who owns which particular
kingdom, among other things (old habits die long
and hard). We're just coming up on our first
performance appraisal (November), which will be
handled within the team based on a formula that we
developed with management approval. We'll soon see
if this process actually works for us. If not,
we'll have to revert to the traditional
"supervisor/staff" approach. Watch this space!

--Geoff Hart @8^{)}
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

Disclaimer: If I didn't commit it in print in one
of our reports, it don't represent FERIC's

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