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Management Side

Beware of Teams

Last week in my column, we asked you "What is your experience with the results of ad hoc teams? (Note: on the honor system, do not answer if you were the leader of the team you are thinking about)"

66.7 percent responded "Below Average"

33.3 percent responded "Above Average"

We then asked, "Without revealing any identities, relate the biggest screwup you have seen from an ad hoc team."


> Failure to deliver results on time, as promised

> I joined a mill as manager that had a broken Dorr Oliver clarifier. There was a "muffin top" of dried stock 8 feet deep - but the water under that top was considered "sweet". A group of idiots had spent $150k to install a siphon pipe and pump to reclaim the "sweet" water and recycle it into the process. When I asked what was going to happen as the water level dropped and the muffin fell in the clarifier no one could give me an answer. True confession - I let them continue and wasted a few more dollars - by this time they had corporate folks involved in their scheme and there was no getting around the mess politically. They started the pump, sucked the water out and then the floating sludge before starving the pump and burning it up. Eventually, we rented a back hoe and dug the sludge off the top of the clarifier and hauled it away. We then fixed the clarifier, added proper polymer to aid settling, got the flow rates set correctly and returned it to use.

> Lack of up-front definition of purpose, goal, boundaries, and resources.

Additional comments:

> I have had a stellar experience with one ad hoc team that did not meet daily (in person or by phone). They met regularly around a defined set of objectives, delegated tasks to those who could do them, and disbanded once the deliverables had been handed over. The results are still be used successfully for the purposes for which they were intended. I'm not ready to throw in the towel on ad hoc teams quite yet.

> One of my favorite quotes is from H. Ross Perot - I've carried this one around since before he was a whacky presidential candidate - and that mess did lead me to stop giving him credit for it openly. "If it's a snake, kill it. Don't form a team to kill a snake." Too often I've seen teams used as a slimy hide-behind for some manager or leader to sell something to a senior manager or executive - "we formed a team and here's the team's solution" - thereby shielding themself from criticism if the idea wasn't well received or by getting funding because the senior manager was not spending the companies money as his own - and wanted to be seen as supporting the workforce. It's always good to get a group together for healthy challenge and discussion - but eventually work has to get done and we all need to agree on a direction and set of actions.

> Team organization should not start until the problem/opportunity has been clearly and concisely defined, expectations listed, timelines set, and resource availability considered. Then start defining what skill-sets the team will need to succeed. List potential candidates for the team. Select team members based on filling all needed skill-sets. Assign management sponsor/liason for the team. Appoint the leader (DO NOT LET TEAM SELECT THE LEADER) Recruit selected team members. This is only a simplified outline of ad hoc team development; there's more to it than this. It's a process that needs to be followed. Using 'teams' as a way to deflect problem-solving to underlings guarantees failure and alienation.

You may take this week's survey here.

Want to get a jump on the surveys? Follow me on twitter, where they are posted early. You can do this here. (note: all respondents are confidential; the software is programmed in such a way that neither we nor anyone else can determine who responded)



Want to be heard on other subjects? Be sure to watch for "Paperitalo Second Tuesday Surveys."


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