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TEAMING: Traditional vs. Innovative Managers (Guestblogger: Robert Gilbert)

Guestblogger: Robert Gilbert was a plant manager at Rohm and Haas Bayport, Inc. in the early days of “participative management” or what we would now call team-oriented management. Gilbert worked at Rohm and Haas for over 34 years  and 10 years as their plant manager. Gilbert now enjoys retirement and discussing the need for American businesses to recommit to team-building philosophies. New Directions has invited Robert to share his vast experience and insight on teaming with our subscribers. Robert Gilbert’s survey and data are from his prior studies and experience.

In her book The Team-Building Tool Kit, Deborah Mackin said, “a change project in an organization focused on creating a team culture would test the support of top management many times during the project. Therefore, it was important that top management provide that support.” There is no question that in my experiences that was always the case.

It is also true that the selection of a leader for that change project is equally important. I believe that no organizational culture change can be successful if the leader does not have the attributes that will positively affect the organizational change.

This issue came to light for me a number of years ago when I attended a management conference. One of the presentations was on the subject of leadership. The presentation asserted that a good supervisor in a traditional organization would be just as good if that supervisor were in a team-based organization. I thought that conclusion was incorrect and I decided to find out what was true: could a traditional supervisory be as effective in a team-based organization?

There are many differences between traditional and team-based organizations. First and foremost is that traditional organizations are top-down directed, whereas team-based organizations utilize input from all levels. In addition, traditional organizations have many levels of management while team-based organizations have few levels. Hierarchy and bureaucracy are minimized in team-based organizations.

At that time, I had been a Plant Manager of a self-directed team-based organization for about 7 years. I also was the co-facilitator of four Manager’s Networks based at Texas Tech University that were focused on team-based organizational structures. These networks held meetings at members’ sites throughout the USA and Canada so members could review the sites’ experiences within their structures.

Working with Dr. Blair McDonald, a consultant, we put together a survey of questions that we thought were indicative of potential differences between traditional and team-based managers. We sent this survey to a number of network members as well as a number of managers of traditional plants that we knew.

We learned from the survey of questions that traditional managers were not very aware of the attributes that were important to team-based managers. The answers team-based managers gave were extremely different from traditional managers’ responses in varying degrees depending on the subject. One example of this difference was that team-based managers were much more concerned with job knowledge than with job titles.

We then prepared a set of ten questions that had the most differences between the two sets of managers and set up a scoring system.

It is difficult to say that a manager of a traditional organization cannot adapt to being a manager of a team-based organization. However there is no doubt in my experience that the manager must change if the organization has to change.

We challenge you to take 5 minutes and fill out the Traditional vs. Innovative (team-based) survey at this link. After you’ve completed the questionnaire we will personally send you your results which will let you know on a continuum of traditional vs. innovative (team-based) manager where you are. Not to worry, if you find that you’re more traditionally-based and are interested in moving to an innovative and team-based style of management we have a couple of suggestions at the end of the survey for you. *Your personal responses will be confidential and will not be shared with a third-party.

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