Leading Motivated Teams to Achieve Greater Workplace Productivity:

Former US President Harry S. Truman once said, “It’s possible to achieve almost anything as long as you are not worried about who gets the credit.” This quote inspired by the former President could not be any more appropriate in this day and age of knowledge-based enterprises, where teams are the norm rather than the exception.
To be able to remain afloat in today’s highly competitive society, Kotelnikov said that a critical feature of these teams is that they should have a significant degree of empowerment or decision-making authority. There are many different kinds of teams, according to Kotelnikov, such as top management teams, focused task forces, self-directed teams, concurrent engineering teams, product/service development and/or launch teams, quality improvement teams, among others.
Building an effective team: Managing cross cultural differences

To be an effective leader, one should be able to build, manage and steer an integral unit of individuals towards a single goal, while becoming aware of cultural differences and similarities. Being aware of such things is an integral part of the process of building trust and establishing credibility with each other. Kotelnikov further said that building trust is a critical step in creation and development of such teams. As a manager of a multicultural team, one needs to recognize that building trust between different people is a complex process, since each culture has its own way of building trust and its own interpretation of what trust is.

Underscoring cultural factors in the workplace

Geert Hofstede, a Dutch cultural anthropologist, analyzed cultures along five dimensions: power, self, gender, predictability, and time. Group dynamics experts generally recommend taking the following issues on account when working with people from various cultures.

In analyzing power struggles among cultures, Hofstede coined the term power distance to describe the extent to which less powerful members expect and accept unequal power distribution. According to him, high PD cultures usually have centralized, top-down control. Low power distance implies greater equality and empowerment. Malaysia, Panama, and Guatemala rated the highest in this category.

Moreover, in analyzing the concept of the “self” among cultures, Hofsted contrasted individualism versus collectivism, and concluded that in an individual environment the individual person and their rights are more important than groups that they may belong to. In a collective environment, people are born into strong extended family or tribal communities, and these loyalties are paramount.

Further, Hofsted analyzed gender in terms of masculinity versus femininity, and focused on the degree to which “traditional” gender roles are assigned in a culture; i.e., men are considered aggressive and competitive, while women are expected to be more gentle and be concerned with home and family.

To analyze predictability among cultures, Hofsted came up with the term uncertainty avoidance to define the extent to which a culture values predictability. He said that cultures with high levels of uncertainty avoidance have strong traditions and rituals and tend toward formal, bureaucratic structures and rules.

Finally, Hofsted analyzed the time dimension in terms of long- versus short-term orientation, which he described as is the cultural trait that focuses on to what extent the group invests for the future, is persevering, and is patient in waiting for results.

On employee involvement and turnover

Vera, in his study in 2001, found a correlation between employee involvement and turnover. Vera defined employee involvement as taking the following forms: formal participative decision, quality circles, quality of work life, gainsharing, job redesign or job enrichment, self-directed work teams, employee ownership, representative participation, and managing by objectives, in addition to the combination of some of them. While Vera did not find specific data to determine the magnitude of the relationship between employee involvement and turnover, the results of his study significantly helped gauge the effectiveness of cultural changes geared toward increasing staff retention based on what is revealed.

Causes of turnover are numerous, according to Vera. Some among them include lack of recognition or reward, lack of motivation, lack of team-work or inability to get along with co-workers, incompatible management style, on-going conflicts, quality of life issues, lack of control, stress, politics, pay versus effort, poor communication, poor recruiting, lack of orientation, lack of training, ineffective supervision, lack of leadership, job inequities, lack of management understanding, boredom, lack of job security (employee perceptions of job security), general economic and labor market conditions, personal mobility or willingness of employees to relocate, no opportunities for advancement, not enough hours, lack of benefits, among many others.

The cost of turnover is hard to measure, however, using direct and indirect components, according to Vera. However, human resource practitioners are increasingly putting premium on employee retention to avoid indirect costs such as impacts on ongoing operations, as well as to be able to remain competitive in an age when the “war for talents” is a serious business endeavor.

The power of diversity and on working together

Diversity is a specialized term describing a workplace that includes people from various backgrounds and cultures, and/or diverse businesses, Kotelnikov cited. One can find a strategic competitive advantage in an organizational and cultural context by seeking to leverage, rather than diminish, opposite forces. “An important but widely overlooked principle of business success is that integrating opposites, as opposed to identifying them as inconsistencies and driving them out, unleashes power,” according to him.

Knowledge workers thrive on leadership, but they have an increasingly low tolerance for being managed. Kotelnikov advised new managers to have balance motivational leadership, coaching, and sound business management to keep all these independent thinkers pointed in the same direction and working towards the same goal. “The challenge facing leaders has never been more formidable: How do you create cohesion among a global community of educated people who are increasingly mobile and likely to be experts in their own right,” he said.
Getting past differences and getting the work done

Behfar, et.al (n.d.) of Northwestern University, in their study investigated how multicultural teams experience and resolve conflict. Results of interviews with 40 managers and members of multicultural teams suggest that these teams experience the most difficult conflicts around communication of ideas, sharing of opinions, reporting bad news, issues of timing and scheduling, differences in expectations around efficiency, and behaviors that communicate disrespect. Successful resolution strategies were categorized by either a strong intervention by an authority, the use of iterative and structured process management techniques, or team level efforts to gain perspective and refocus members on the task-including training, co-location, the use of more media rich communication, and creating deeper personal relationships in an informal setting.

Highlighting the importance of group processes and problem-based learning

Furthermore, a study on group dynamics in Samford University indicated that there is sufficient evidence in the literature that most people learn better when they are collaborating, providing and receiving information, supporting and encouraging, resolving conflicts and communicating with others. Group work, then, can enhance a members’ learning process, putting premium on individual knowledge and skills to work his/her way through the group process.

The criteria for successful group work, the Samford researchers concluded, requires the group activity to: allow a sense of interdependence among the group members; encourage individual student’s accountability to the other group members and the instructor; provide frequent face-to-face interaction for promotion of team goals; allow for the development of social skills needs for collaboration; and complete the cycle with critical analysis of the group process.
Promoting new ways of learning in the workplace

Lankard (1996) proposed implementing an action based learning system in the workplace wherein individuals learn by doing. Lankard said this based on the premise that learning requires action and action requires learning. It engages individuals in just-in-time learning by “providing opportunities for them to develop knowledge and understanding at the appropriate time based on immediate felt needs”. Learning itself is the desired outcome of action learning, not problem solving. It is the learning that occurs in the process of finding solutions to problems that constitutes action learning. It is a type of learning that helps individuals respond more effectively to change.

Lankard cited action learning as being adopted in the workplace as a viable approach to experiential management education and development and an important element of a training and development strategy. It involves the members of an organization in group situations with the goal of helping each group member learn through the process of finding solutions to their own problems. Through this process, learners increase their self-awareness and develop new knowledge, attitudes, behaviors, and skills for making changes and redefining their roles within new contexts. The properties of action learning clarify its relevance to workplace learning.

Works Cited:
Behfar, Kristin, et. al. “Cultural Differences and Conflict Resolution Strategies: How Team Members Get Past Their Differences to Get Work Done.” Northwestern University.

Hofstede, Geert. Cultures and Organisation: Software for the Mind. New York: Harper Collins, 1994.

Hofstede, Geert. Cultures Consequences: International Differences in Work-related Values. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1980.

Kotelnikov, Vadim. 1000ventures. 2005. “Team Building and Team Work: The Art, Science and Practice.” October 30, 2005. http://www.1000ventures.com/business_guide/crosscuttings/team_main.html

Lankard, Bettina. Eric Digests. 2005. “New Ways of Learning in the Workplace.” October 30, 2005. http://www.ericdigests.org/1996-2/work.html

Samford University.. 2005. “PBL Process: Group Process, Problem based Learning.” October 3-, 2005. http://www.samford.edu/pbl/process_group.html

Vera, Ricardo. May 2001. The Correlation of Employees Involvement (EI) and Turnover. October 30, 2005. http://www.uwstout.edu/lib/thesis/2001/2001verar.pdf

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