Team procedures and evaluations?

Subject: Team procedures and evaluations?
From: Geoffrey Hart <Geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
Date: Wed, 10 Mar 1999 14:59:50 -0500

Danny Young reported that <<...we are a fledgling writing
group. The group has has expanded from one person to six in
a little over a year. In the last two months we have moved
from 2 writers to 6 writers... With two people the
communication was not a problem, with double that amount
of people I am worried about losing that cohesiveness.>>

It's certainly a valid worry, particularly since you have't
mentioned anything about management. I assume you're a
self-directed team? The biggest problem in such situations is
that no one person has the authority to impose solutions when
you reach an impasse. Do you have a coach or manager
willing to do this until you folks learn to function as a real
team? If not, you're probably headed for trouble.

<<How do you manage the workload on a project?>>

I like the "job jar" approach. When you're done your current
project, you place it at the bottom of the review pile and pick
up the job from the top of the pile to review. (Unless it's
yours, of course.) When you're done with the peer review,
you return the manuscript to the author, discuss anything that
needs discussing, then grab the next new job off the top of
the pile and begin the cycle again. (Substitute wordpro file or
help file or Web page or whatever for "manuscript" if
necessary.) You'll need some way of estimating whether
people are pulling their weight, and some way to prevent
people from picking the plum jobs, but even self-directed
teams need coordinators, and that's a good job for the
coordinator. Your coordinator also has the crucial roles of
keeping a finger on the pulse of life outside the team, serving
as main contact person for clients, and acting as your liason
with management.

<<How do you evaluate the progress of a project? (How
often)>>

Analyze the work requirements (i.e., don't just count topics,
figure out which ones are tough and which ones are easy) and
set milestones; leave more time for the tough ones, and less
time for the easy ones. Build in fudge factors; 50% is not
unusual, but you'll have to guess how good your company
and your colleagues are at meeting deadlines. Check
frequently; at least once as you approach each milestone, and
preferably a few times before that so you can spot--and solve--
problems before they grow unmanageable.

<<How do you evaluate a writer? (How often)>>

We do three evaluations per year, roughly corresponding to
the boundaries between our four planning quarters. We
evaluate people based on how well they're pulling their
weight, how little supervision and rework of jobs they
require, how well they get along with everyone else, and what
they add to the team. If you make sure that everyone reviews
everyone elses's work at some point during each quarter, then
you can each get a feel for all your other colleagues.

<<How often does the whole team meet?>>

We meet at least monthly in formal meetings to report on
what everyone is doing, to brainstorm, to reveal new tricks or
tools, to share gossip (e.g., "Fred the SME won't give you
any info. unless you ask him how his baseball team is doing")
and to figure out if there are any problems developing that
need to be headed off now. We also have ad hoc meetings as
required by surprise happenings, and try to talk to each other
at least every couple of days.

<<I guess what I am asking in a prolonged way is for some of
you guys to describe how a successful Publications Team
interacts with each other and the other teams in the
company.>>

Team dynamics are always tricky. Everyone has to have the
attitude that you're stronger together than apart, and that your
goal is to help each other get better. So you have to learn to
give--and accept--constructive criticism. Once you learn you
can rely on each other, this becomes a lot easier. The problem
is that not everyone thrives in this kind of challenging
environment, and you may have to nurture some people more
than others... and apply strong peer pressure to those who
don't want to fit in. It never works perfectly, and sometimes
works very badly (because there's no one person with the
power to dictate a solution), but most times you can reach an
arrangement everyone can live with.


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

"Patience comes to those who wait."--Anon.


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