Human Resource Management Case analysis – Just trying to help

Team dynamics influence the functioning of a team and its ability to meet the expected performance. In the case study, Just Trying to Help, Kirby (2006) highlights various challenges that may arise where unhealthy competition exists among the employees. The author outlines these challenges using various characters whose antagonism leads to unproductive conflicts. Christiano Guy, the protagonist in the case, is left out of a new team formed to implement a project that is similar to a project he had carried out successfully with his prior employer. Ruth McViney, the chief marketing officer, CMO, appoints Charyl Urquhart to lead the team, an action that raises suspicion that Ruth is setting Charyl up for failure. Some of the employees perceive that Charyl could become a contender for Ruth’s position when Charyl’s boss heads the entity, as is widely expected. Ruth’s exclusion of individuals who have the relevant experience from the team thus suggests that she is setting Charyl up for failure.

After Gina, a member of Charyl’s team, seeks Guy’s opinion on the project, Guy prepares a comprehensive blueprint of the project they had implemented, which he perceives would help Charyl’s team meet its objectives, a feat he perceives the team has lost with its current direction. However, on calling Charyl and going through the blueprint, Charyl perceives Guy to be usurping her authority, and recognition that would arise with successful project completion. She feels threatened by Guy’s “intrusion” into her project, and thus dismisses his advice. Peggy Scopa, one of Guy’s mentors in Boston office, advices Guy to desist from doing “anyone else’s job”, since, by doing others’ job, he would, most probably, be failing to do his work (Kirby, 2006, p.38). Mark Sexton, Guy’s friend working at the New York office, also advises Guy to ‘mind his own business’. Through the case Kirby, the author, highlights how lack of credible team forming process, failure to manage team dynamics and ineffective communication processes can derail effectiveness of a team even in organizations that have created a structure supportive of teamwork.

Facts of the Case

Influence of various factors on Ralston’s ability to build effective teams is evident from the case. On the positive aspect, the entity’s development of a matrix organizational structure where members come from diverse divisions is evident. For instance, the green building team whose success the entity has celebrated had derived its members from various branches of the entity. Such an organizational structure fosters the realization of team efforts, which is for instance evident from Ruth’s ability to organize each year’s activities along a common organizational goal.

Effective leadership has also helped Ruth establish a team-based work environment, and manage to establish authority even with little power over the individuals she leads. With her control of competent individuals, allowing them to make team decisions and chart the direction of the team has been core to ensuring success. For instance, she has encouraged the culture of “peer recognition for employee initiatives” (Kirby, 2006, p. 35), an aspect that improves motivation of team members to commit to team goals (Cohen, 2004). Compared to Ruth’s leadership style, Charyl’s style is detrimental to the team goals. Charyl fails to realize the potential that Guy’s input, coming from an experience that Guy had with a similar project, bore for the team’s success. Rather than discuss with Guy how they can integrate the workable ideas into the team, Charyl puts off Guy thus impeding further assistance. Ruth’s approach in this instance is however not faultless. Her exclusion of experienced members from Charyl’s team raises suspicion that she is setting up Charyl for failure.

Problems facing the entity

A consistent theme in the case is the employee perception that meritocracy is not pursued. Firstly, such a perception arises from the non-inclusion of experienced members into the team irrespective of their relevant experience. Guy is excluded from a team for a project for which he has relevant experience to make valuable contribution. This creates a perception that Ruth feels threatened by her juniors, hence must design a means to retain authority and power. Secondly, the non-pursuit of meritocracy is evident in Mark’s opinion that Charyl can get Ruth’s job if her boss ascends to power, irrespective of Ruth’s praiseworthy performance. Such an organizational setup creates competition to “please the boss” rather than committing to organizational goals

A second problem Ralston is facing is poor team forming processes. Member skills seem not to have factored into the selection of Charyl’s team, which raises suspicion that Ruth is setting the team up for failure. Members also were not involved team formation since no processes to determine inclusion into the team and, or exclusion is highlighted. Such lack of self-determination ability compromises the team’s power, which, according to Cohen (2004), is necessary to motivate members to commit to team’s goals.

The entity also poorly handles team dynamics. Means through which authority in the team is established are not evident in Charyl’s team. For instance, it is not clear how Charyl was settled upon as the team leader, despite the presence of people such as Guy who hand experience in such projects at their prior work engagements. The team also has poor communication channels. For instance, it has not established guidelines on engaging experts external to the team. Although Gina sought Guy’s opinion, the team does not discuss the opinion to identify aspects that would boost their success. Instead, Charyl feels threatened by Guy’s involvement, which could not have been the case, if the team members had the opportunity to debate the suggestions offered by Guy during consultative meetings. The existence of opposing camps in the entity also evidences the failure of the entity to create an environment where the team members remain committed to the organization’s goals. For instance, Mark and Peggy feel that Guy is engaging in other people’s business. This is irrespective of the potential benefits that the team’s project portends to the entire entity.

Solutions

Have transparent team forming processes. Inclusive teams with which organizational members identify enhance cohesion hence performance of the team. These can only be achieved through a transparent process, where members own the process, including decisions on who becomes integrated into the team and who is excluded from it (Cohen, 2004). Team membership facilitates conformity to expected team behaviors and commitment to team goals. Commitment and conformity does not arise where (Armstrong, 2006, p. 296):

  • Personal goals differ from those of the team – Charyl case, wants to receive credit at any expense, hence does not consider Guy’s advice prudent.
  • Members do not have a sense of pride in the team => prevailing perspective is that Ruth has set up the team for failure; why identify with it; “… you don’t want to be associated with it. Keep your distance”, advises Mark (Kirby, 2006, p. 39).
  • Price of commitment to the team is very high. Guy’s helping the team would be “firing on own troops”, so advises Peggy (Kirby, 2006, p. 39). In this case, success of the in-group to which one belongs is valued more than the success of the entire entity.

A second solution would be to align team’s goals to the goals of the entity, in the absence of which, an independent but dysfunctional team arises. By modeling teams as ways to achieve organizational goals, members would be receptive to diverse opinions, to ensure that the team’s success translates to the entity’s success. Charyl’s team evidences various characteristics of dysfunctional teams as outlined by Armstrong (2006, p. 297):

  • “People don’t listen to one another” – Charyl team approaches Guy for his opinion but Charyl feels threatened when Guy gives the opinion.
  • “…evidence of open personal attacks or hidden personal animosities.” “You’ve really got the whole program mapped out., don’t you?”
  • No reasoned discussions of alternative points of view. – Charyl does not give any credence to any issue raised by guy; concentrates on personality, i.e, Guy’s audacity to “meddle” into her project.
  • No clear understanding of what is to be done or standards to be met – Gina’s, a member of Charyl’s team, conversation with Guy indicates her naivety as to what the program ought to do.

A third solution would be to adopt a team-based communication process and establish clear communication channels. This can arise where opinions from external members are received in team settings. For instance, inviting such members to give opinions during consultative team meetings, avoids a situation where one member (Charyl) dismisses plausible solutions to the team’s challenges. This also avoids the consulting member (Guy) prescribing his ways to the team as the panacea for the team’s challenges, since members get the chance to question the advice provided. Additionally, the team should delineate who should receive team communications – Ruth or the director and not seem to subvert Ruth’s authority. Charyl’s team need to give her credit for the idea she has developed thus alleviate perceptions of foul play.

References

Armstrong, M. (2006). A handbook of human resource management practice (10th ed.). London: Kogan Page.

Cohen, A. R. (2004). Building a company of leaders. Leader to Leader, pp. 16-20

Kirby, J. (2006). Just trying to help. Harvard Business Review, June, 35-39.

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