Members of high-performing teams hold themselves collectively accountable. Pinpointing individual responsibility is crucial to a well-coordinated effort, but effective teams “nd ways to hold the collective accountable: “Teams enjoying a common purpose and approach inevitably hold themselves responsible, both as individuals and as a team, for the team’s performance” (p. 116). Recall the members of SEAL Team Six Red Squadron when President Obama asked who “red the shot that killed bin Laden: “We all did!”
In an in!uential article, Brian Dumaine (1994) highlights a common error in creating teams: “Teams often get launched in a vacuum, with little or no training or support, no changes in the design of their work, and no new systems like e-mail to help communication between teams. Frustrations mount, and people wind up in endless meetings trying to “gure out why they are a team and what they are expected to do.”A focused, cohesive structure is a fundamental underpinning for high-performing teams. Even highly skilled people zealously pursuing a shared mission will falter and fail if group structure constantly generates inequity, confusion, and frustration.
SELF-MANAGING TEAMS: STRUCTURE OF THE FUTURE? The sports team analogy discussed earlier assumed some role for a manager or coach. But what about teams that manage themselves organically from the bottom up? Self-managing
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work teams are groups of employees with the following characteristics (Wellins et al., 1990, cited in Kirkman and Shapiro, 1997):
• They manage themselves (plan, organize, control, staff, and monitor).
• They assign jobs to members (decide who works on what, where, and when).
• They plan and schedule work (control start-up and ending times, the pace of work, and goal setting).
• They make production- or service-related decisions (take responsibility for inventory, quality control decisions, and work stoppage).
• They take action to remedy problems (address quality issues, customer service needs, and member discipline and rewards).
Self-directed teams typically produce better results and higher morale than groups operating under more traditional top-down control (Cohen and Ledford, 1994; Emery and Fredendall, 2002). However, getting such teams started and giving them the resources they need to be effective is a complex undertaking. Many well-known “rms—such as Microsoft, Boeing, Google, W. L. Gore, Southwest Airlines, Harley-Davidson, and Goldman Sachs—have found ways to reap the bene”ts of self-directed teams without being overwhelmed by logistical snafus or reverting to the traditional command-and- control structure.
Saturn General Motors’s launch of Saturn in 1983 was one of the most ambitious experiments ever in the creation of self-managed teams. The goal was to create a different kind of company to build a different kind of car. Companywide, Saturn employees had authority to make team decisions within a few !exible guidelines. Restrictive rules and ironclad top-down work procedures were left behind as the company moved away from what employees called the “old world” of General Motors.
Saturn teams designated their own working relationships. Prior to a shift, teammembers conferred in a team center for 5 to 10 minutes. They determined the day’s rotations. A team of ten would have ten jobs to do and typically rotated through them, except rotation was more frequent for jobs involving heavy lifting or stress. Every week the plant shut down to let teams review quality standards, budget, safety and the ergonomics of assembly. Not only did the team have dominion over its own operation, any member had the authority to stop the entire assembly line if some irregularity was spotted.
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The team concept was a major factor in what made Saturn tick and a widely publicized feature of its initial success. The hoopla overlooked the fact that self-managing teams were not invented by Saturn. Other companies, such as Whole Foods, had been perfecting the idea for a long time.
Whole Foods Whole Foods Markets offer more than a typical shopping trip. They are also a culinary and gourmet experience. Fruit and vegetables are artistically displayed with neatly arranged stems and leaves pointing in the same direction. Fresh meat and seafood are attractively arrayed. Table-ready prepared items look homemade and hard to resist. Health-conscious customers know that, as much as possible, the produce is organic, the meat is free of hormones and chemicals, and the seafood is from sustainable sources. Whole Foods’s focus on a mission of helping people eat well and improving the quality of their lives has made it the largest natural and organic food company in the United States—and still growing.
Whole Foods began in 1980 with a merger between two small natural foods stores in Austin, Texas. By 2016, the company had grown to more than 450 stores in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, producing $15 billion in sales.
Whole Foods’s team structure plays an essential role in the company’s success. From top to bottom, everyone at Whole Foods is a team member.
Teams and team members—not positions, stores or regions—are central to the operational core of Whole Foods and the building blocks of the organization. Each Whole Foods location is built around eight to 10 teams, grouped from departments like produce, meat, prepared foods and checkout. The teams have a remarkable degree of autonomy, helping to decide what to order, how to price items and how to run promotions. Even outside the store, a team focus continues up the chain of command all the way to the top. Store leaders in the region are considered a team. Even the regional presidents form a team (Burkus, 2016).
At the top, Whole Foods’s founder, John Mackey, and his co-CEO are part of the “ve- person “E Team” which has been together for years and makes decisions by consensus (Gaar, 2010).
Teams at the operating level have signi”cant decision making authority. They control what is stocked, how merchandise is displayed, pricing, and labor expenditures. The attention to detail, customer service, and candor in team meetings is noteworthy, as an example from a store in Massachusetts illustrates (Fishman, 1996a):
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The meeting of the bakery team is convened at 9:15 PM after the store closed. Aimee Morgida, the store manager, chairs the meeting because the “rst item on the agenda is the introduction of Debbie Singer, the new team leader. She’s the fourth new leader in four years. Morgida admits the team has been through a lot, but adds that she’s convinced that the right person is now in place. Singer says that she loves bakery, merchandising, and fast-pace retail but “this is your meeting, I want to hear from you. The ensuing conversation suggests that team members are concerned more about service issues than the new leader:
Louise speaks “rst. “A lot of customers want a breakdown on the calories in the muf”ns and the scones”—something the bakery has been promising for a while. “A lot of people have voiced concern that everything has sugar. A few more nonfat items would de”nitely be welcomed.”
Carmen speaks next. She worries that the bakery’s ordering has become sloppy, that the team is requesting too much product, paying full price for perishables that it marks down at the end of night or donates to charity. “Are we losing too much merchandise?” she asks. “Just putting it at ‘a dollar off’ and bagging it?” There is general agreement (Fishman, 1996a).
Morgida, the store manager, used the second half of the meeting to emphasize customer service and boost team spirits. Usually at Whole Foods a team deals with such issues on its own, but Morgida knows that the leadership changes may have taken a toll and she wants to give Singer a running start. She also knows that the holidays are approaching, a time when everyone in the retail business needs a boost:
“Has everybody tried the pastries? You need to try them because people will ask, what do you recommend? What do you think? If you don’t like something, you can tell them, but you need to tell them why. Try everything.
“Around most holidays, customers are really tense. Just let it roll off; do whatever it takes to make people happy. If something’s wrong, the question to ask is, ‘What can I do to make it right?’ Because customers always have something in their minds that would make it right” (Fishman, 1996a).