Using Mentors to Help Plateaued Work Groups

by Carolyn B. Thompson

Carolyn B. Thompson
Training Systems, Inc.
221 Vermont Road
Frankfort, IL 60423

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Using Mentors to Help Plateaued Work Groups
by: Carolyn B. Thompson & Jim Pall

You implemented teams several years ago and they're doing okay, but still not showing quite the self-directedness or the productivity gains you'd hoped for. You discover that many of the tools they used so well immediately after their initial training and start up have taken a back seat to the old methods of problem solving, communication and in short, way of doing things. Was Peter Drucker right when he recently said that teams are just a fad - they aren't the magic we thought?

A multi-function chemical manufacturing company organized and implemented Work Groups throughout the company several years ago. Since many of their employees had recently received Quality training, the Work Groups were a great place to use the quality tools and principles that they were exposed to in the training. And they made what some would call instant progress - at least in some areas. People were getting together and discussing important issues and problems, and solving some of them. But they soon realized that this team environment was very different than the old way of doing business, and for a number of people, a very uncomfortable way of operating. Yes, you guessed it, their Team Leaders needed some more training. And so they provided that in the form of a brief Work Group Leader training course. It included meeting mechanics, communication skills, a review of quality tools, interpersonal skills, etc. And that helped quite a bit. For those that were uncomfortable with the team and meeting environment, they now had some specific "how to's" to help them. And again, following these training sessions, some progress was made.

Eventually, a group of their managers realized that they needed something additional - some "hands-on" help for the work groups. And so they started what they called a Mentoring Program. They defined Mentoring as proactively aiding, coaching, and assisting Work Groups to become effective empowered operational units. What does Mentoring really mean? In some cases, they had volunteer mentors go to Work Group meetings to help or assist the group in a brainstorming or problem solving session. In other cases, Mentoring meant getting a team the technical help they needed to resolve an issue. And in still other instances, they had managers coach Work Group leaders to get through difficult issues, either technical or interpersonal. And at one location, it meant getting Work Group leaders together to discuss common problems and how to resolve them in a team environment.

Through all of this, there were a few key, critical observations:

1. Work Groups must have effective leaders. You either need to start with effective leaders, or coach and train them until they are effective.

2. Work Groups need goals that are linked to the goals of the organization. The company developed and published company goals so that all employees knew just what they were. That way, they know just how their work fits into the whole picture.

3. People need the time and resources, including training, to work in a team environment. Sometimes it takes time to learn, but the results were well worth it.

4. Teams need to evaluate themselves (their teamwork) in an environment that will help them to recognize their strengths and deficiencies, and they need to be willing and able to learn and improve. If you can do all of this, this chemical manufacturing company thinks your teams will improve as theirs have. And their progress has shown that this is not a fad. This is the only way to go!

Working together to meet the needs of customers and the company without many layers of management is a fact of today's world. Teams work. They do however, need ongoing maintenance, just like all the other valuable assets of your organization. Provide "maintenance" to your work groups with Mentors!

Carolyn B. Thompson is the President of Training Systems, Inc., a customized training and HR consulting company that helps small and medium sized organizations enhance their ability to recruit, inspire and retain quality employees and improve performance through training. Training Systems, Inc. also provides training design and delivery services to training companies and the training departments of large companies, and professional and trade associations. Carolyn B. Thompson is an experienced trainer and consultant knowledgeable in the challenging area of employee recruitment, inspiration and retention. She is an exciting, inspirational trainer who leads people to learn. She has written articles for prominent magazines, has been interviewed for Chicago's TV Channel 26, the "You're Hired" radio show, Safety & Health, Small Business Computing, Business Week, Working Woman, Redbook and Inc. magazines, been the subject of articles in the Daily Southtown and Star newspapers, as well as written chapters in several books. Most recently, Carolyn produced a two-tape audio cassette set entitled "Straight Talk for Employers" , has written a book entitled "Creating Highly Interactive Training Quickly and Effectively" and is writing a book about on-the-job training for Crisp Publications.

Jim Pall is the Director of Quality for Stepan Company, a chemical manufacturer with multiple plants.

Training Systems, Inc. 1999

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