Myth Three Teams or Hierarchy An EitherOr Choice

Several questions and comments are frequently heard in organizations regarding the interaction between the hierarchical and the team-based organizations. These comments generally concern the respective roles of managers, team leaders, and team members.

Role of Managers Two questions are generally asked about the role of managers:

1. What are the managers going to be doing now that the teams are doing all of their work?

2. Does the manager still conduct performance reviews?

These questions result from the popular inference that self-directed teams eliminate, flatten, squash, and render obsolete the organizational hierarchy. The expectation that there will be fewer managers and fewer layers of hierarchy is not always realized. Some companies look to the team-based structure to assist them in adapting to significant downturns in their industry sector. Other companies are making the structural change because it is the right thing to do to remain competitive and progressive.

In either situation, the traditional hierarchy remains a core structure for the foreseeable future for most corporations. American business systems, education systems, community systems, government systems, and family systems are all largely based on hierarchial structures. When the relationships between members of both the hierarchy and teams are flexible and adaptable, team-based organizations maximize both systems.

Role of the Team Leader The hierarchy dilemma raises the related quandary regarding the team leader. One organization, for example, changed the title of this function from team leader to team facilitator to team representative, even though the essence of the role did not change. The title "leader" implies that the balance of the group assumes the role of followers. Yet the followers ask why they should follow the leader when the leader does not conduct their performance review and has nothing to do with their merit rewards or other forms of recognition.

The title "team leader" and the inferred role work against the good intentions and essence of the original function, which is the role of focus person, meeting moderator, synthesizer of group decisions or indecisions, and communicator of information between the team and the outside world of customers, management, other teams, and other organizations. This role can rotate throughout the team and should do so more frequently than quarterly. It is also important to allow the team to decide the process for the group leader or representative as well as the clarification of the role for this person.

The function of leadership needs to be accomplished by the team but not necessarily by a single individual or by the team representative. Sometimes the term self-directed in regard to the leader or team members carries more meaning and empowerment than is originally intended, which leads to the next myth.

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