In the following individual analysis, this blog will firstly discuss the potential leadership problem surrounding a leading company in New Zealand, in this analysis, they will be known as [Company A]. Focusing directly on the disempowerment of teams from mid-management and how this affects performance and well-being. This analysis will provide a break down of the problem (what and who), will discuss possible causes and evaluate the effects seen and potential long-term outputs using scholarly data. Secondly, this analysis will engage in a potential solution using an objective lens. The second part of the analysis will provide steps, that based on scholarly evidence will mitigate the problem, a detailed analysis as to why this will help and how it can be implemented with least disruption to current working practice. My hope that this analysis may prove valuable to other companies. Company A, although not fictional, is not a company I have worked with recently and since this analysis was complete, they have engaged in reflection to mitigate. and I have come across numerous similar companies since.
[Company A] is a government agency that has an ICT department. The ICT department has a multi-level hierarchy in which numerous individuals with a range of skills are hired to develop applications for frontline workers. People management is under four mid-management individuals, specialising in their discipline (project management, testing, development and business analysis), who report to the Head of ICT. The individuals are part of two mixed discipline teams, split by project and are located sitting by their respective disciplines. It has been found that the process and framework was the result of a previous program retrospective, however, upon evaluation of the documentation, it was found that the results were the decisions of the mid-management individuals and not the teams.
The team members lacked accountability, depending on task allocation from delegated leaders, forming an autocratic leadership (Vroom & Jago, 1988), while maintaining a pseudo-Laissez-Faire environment (Lin et al, 2017). Task allocation to members has created a mentality of groupthink, based on self-interest, self-censorship and creating an illusion of unanimity (Macleod, 2011); this increases the risk of social loafing and reduces performance (VVEINHARDT & BANIKONYTĖ, 2017). Team members likely have been disempowered by management (Lin et al, 2017) in the process of creating the initial team; upon inspection, management created teams based on Taylorism methods, by selecting agents based on specialist skills for the up and coming project, instead of empowering the team members to self-organize and collaborate (Chen et al, 2014). Although autocratic leadership can work in the short term (Angus-Leppan et al, 2010), a team in the forming stage, yet made up of experts, will have better performance when they concern themselves with delivering value rather than looking for guidance (Contu & Pecis, 2017). Teams that are not allowed to develop, suffer from reduced performance, role ambiguity and are restricted from continuous improvement (Contu & Pecis, 2017). Further, teams unable to self-organise; management has created dominate thought oriented teams (Belbin, 2010), with monitor and specialist skill sets with the presumption based on Taylorism style of management for increased output. This validates the role of the Manager by performing an action and people-oriented role, ensuring idol like characteristics from the team (Kark et al, 2013) and creates further opportunity for control over the team.
It can be observed that Teams at [Company A] lack cohesion, this may be due to the forming teams still seeking outside leadership. However, it is observable that team members have a sense of ambiguity as to which team they are a part of due to informal teams appearing among their disciplines. These conflicting dependencies can be compounded as their extrinsic rewards (Deci & Ryan, 2002), comes from their discipline management, team members sit cohabitated within their disciplines, and learning and motivation is provided at a discipline level. It has been shown teams can create unity through communication, leading to better productivity through collocation (Cohen & Thias, 2009). Locating discipline teams together may be positive for management, creating a sense of inclusion within the discipline but has adverse effects on the performance output (Cohen & Thias, 2009) of the team. Frequent face to face interactions allow customers and teams to avoid issues and complacency early on (Inayat et al, 2015)
Some team members have shown minimal interest in the outputs of the delivery team in favour of their speciality tasks, disregarding calls to perform like a cross-functional team from other members of the delivery team, which has shown to reduce challenges (Bjarnason et al, 2011a). Extrinsic motivation is used by leadership by associating KPIs with specialist outputs, rather than focusing on delivery team value, this increases alienation from the product (Roberts, 2017) and is further heightened by management controlling the labour process (Braverman, 1974), resulting in fragmentation and performance issues (O’Doherty & Vachhani, 2017). Lack of autonomy of decision making leads to the questionable nature of if the delivery team is a team at all, or merely a workgroup pushing for individual needs (Contu & Pecis, 2017).
Teams have a wide variation in motivation for the task, however, on average seem to be directional instead of meaning-making, awaiting tasks to be assigned to them and not actively involved in the customer output, shown to be an update best practice (Stephen, 2015) and to enable teams for best performance (Eberlain & Julio Cesar, 2002). Management saw no benefit in linking tasks to higher meanings to showcase the benefits of each task, instead of relying on Taylorism style management to merely pay more external contractors to complete the piece of work given to them. This process becomes hit and miss due to the wide variety of needs of team members that may or may not fit into the goals of [Company A] as per Levinson’s ego driven motivational theory (O’Doherty & Vachhani, 2017). Without a link between the benefit to the customer, feedback from the customer and the specific task a team member is completing; there is less motivation (Hertzberg, 2003) in completing or organising tasks for visibility. Lack of visibility and motivation are critical drivers of social loafing (George, 1992) and reduced performance (Gardner, 2012).
Reflection practices are not taken seriously, with team members not wanting to complete the meetings and that they are a “Waste of time”. The teams were led to believe they would have a say in the process and will use reflection to improve continuously. Reflection on the process allows better performance, improved teamwork, higher motivation and mitigating errors (Bassot, 2016). [Company A] teams were found to have reflection meetings. However, the management teams used the outputs of reflections to make decisions on behalf of the teams with the reasoning that, they owned the process and the time outputs were more of a concern to them. Strengths of this process include short-term delivery (Angus-Leppan et al, 2010) performance based on the presumption of external contractors; however, in this case, the performance would decline over time due to known coercion and cause [Company A] increased expenses in higher turnover of team members (Van Vugt et al, 2004). This Taylor version of management does not allow feedback from the experts to help reshape future outputs and creates an authority-compliance management balance by disregarding concern for people; this clear manipulation causes low performance (Lin et al, 2017).
Upon identifying management decisions that dictate team structure, team locations, disregarding lessons learnt and autocratic leadership over their discipline. This analysis shows how management has a benefit to protect their positions (Barling et al, 2008) and leverage micro-politics to exploit transformation behaviours (Christie et al, 2011); this allows them to manage a team instead of employing super leadership techniques (Manz & Sims, 1991). Understanding this point of view, the evidence shows why motivation is reduced (Angus-Leppan et al, 2010) (Barling et al, 2008) (Bass & Riggio, 2006), how teams will fail to adapt and grow (Kark et al, 2013), how performance is reduced (Christie et al, 2011) (Hertzberg, 2003) (Inayat et al, 2015) and how employee satisfaction would be low (Bass & Riggio, 2006)
This second part of the analysis will provide steps, that based on scholarly evidence will mitigate the problems, a detailed analysis as to why this will help and how it can be implemented with least disruption to current working practice.
Although autocratic leadership can be said to help drive a solution away from selfish behaviour’s (Angus-Leppan et al, 2010), this is not a need for the [Company A], as team members are already looking to achieve what is required, it is, however, the ambiguity in what they are meant to deliver, that is the concern. Problems with the lack of accountability can be driven from not being empowered to make decisions, teams that take on more responsibility, will step up and be accountable for their tasks as long as the team believes management is authentic (Lin et al, 2017). Transforming teams for empowerment will mean enabling their decisions; this means allowing teams to look at how they deliver work and self-organise into the team’s best suited to complete that work (Van Vugt et al, 2004). Teams that are highly motivated and are the experts in their tasks may work in a Laissez-Faire environment productively (Zoethout et al, 2007), however, at the forming stage of the team, it is best to ensure management are leading the teams to independence, instead of being hands off. Therefore, a team democracy, with management in the democratic decision-making seat, maybe the best initial step in transferring the forming teams with no accountability into self-organising accountable teams. To remove any form of ambiguity, a social contract between management and teams would allow them to feel secure, a supported work climate can help teams feel autonomous and thus satisfy their ability for empowerment (Gagne´ & Deci, 2005).
Cohesion within a team allows for connections among the team. Teams that work together in collocation with their customers have the highest chance for performance (Inayat, et al, 2015) (Eberlain & Julio Cesar, 2002). Teams collocated together have better communication and collaboration (Highsmith & Fowler, 2001), regular communication ensures better team cohesion (Levi, 2013). After enabling teams to self-organise, it can be part of the next phase to see if they wish to be collocated together as well, surrounded by their specific and valuable work. To strengthen further team cohesion, management can focus on a sense of unity (Hayes , 1997), outside group activities or charity events, to take team members outside of the work environment and build social cohesion (Levi, 2013).
Each team should feel as if their work has meaning and is of value, the value they perform on a task should have traceability back to a broader customer goal, with customer feedback; this leads to increased motivation internally rather than from management (Stewart et al, 2012). The correct work suited to the self-organising teams can be negotiated with the team about a preferred delivery time based on other work priorities from the customer. When teams are self-organised and are located comfortably, the customer-focused task can be allocated to the teams with links back to how they are fixing a specific benefit of the customer. Teams who can visualise the benefit to the customer will increase in team motivation, and it will also help build intrinsic motivation through team cohesion as the team can see the impact of their work (Levi, 2013). Care must be monitored through continuous improvement to seek how much autonomy [Company A] professionals have, as reduced performance may be seen if team members do not cross-collaborate and stay specialists (Zoethout et al, 2007).
By enabling the teams to be autonomous for a period, reflection should become more “believable” to the teams (Bassot, 2016). Empowering the teams as Superleaders, management can focus on the teams continuously improving their processes for best performance and well-being. Recommendation after each piece of value produced and SuperLeaders should ensure that at this time, collaboration with other teams allows for cross-pollination of ideas for improving team motivation and performance, without the need for managers (Raelin, 2016).
Concerns for teams not wanting to participate in learning a variety of skills should dissipate after ownership of the process is moved to the team (Edmondson & Nembhard, 2009). However, the team should be continuously motivated to seek out new ways of doing the tasks assigned to them as a diversity of viewpoints allows for a successful output (Levi, 2013) and if management actively propose the idea of cross-functional training, this may mitigate any hierarchical push back and promote benefits like scope creak mitigation (Bjarnason et al,). Further cross-functional teamwork will allow the team to focus on delivering value, thus moving the team through to a performing team with mastery and autonomy, from forming and relying on management.
As part of this individual analysis, four key problems within the [Company A] behaviour were identified: lack of accountability, team cohesion, no interest in cross collaboration and lack of motivation. These four problems have been analysed and have been linked back to potential causes delivered from mid-management with the fictitious understanding that this would create higher productivity, something that scholarly data has confirmed is not true. This analysis has shown how these problems can cause long-term future problems for [Company A] and most other companies with a higher turnover of staff and low performance. However, this analysis has shown from objective evidence that these problems can be mitigated with the enablement of the team to think for itself, locating the teams in delivery benefit, not specialist silos, create end to end value traceability with views of how the customer benefits and promote cross-functional training to promote how much value each individual team member can give. However, with so much vested interest in protectionism of management roles, these solutions may not be believed by team members and embraced by mid-management without visibility of behavioural traits being shown to [Company A] senior leadership and beyond.
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