Is Swat Teams

SWAT (Special Weapons And Tactics) teams are law enforcement teams that are highly trained to respond to special situations. The term SWAT has also been applied to expert teams in the IS world. Drawing upon the analogy of police SWAT teams, these IS teams came about to respond effectively to client/server projects; but this same idea could be applied to many other types of projects. The basic idea of an IS SWAT team is to assemble a small team of highly skilled developers who are experts in the latest technology. By pooling the knowledge, expertise, and talents of a select few individuals, the team can harness the creative power of the group and develop a solution that is much more effective than an individual could. Because everyone is a highly skilled technologist, IS SWAT teams give individual team members the opportunity to learn more from each other than they would on their own. In addition, working in groups allows the team members to hone their people skills because working in a group requires greater communication and the art of compromise. On the downside, people working on IS SWAT teams must be comfortable working in a very unstructured environment. Often, the beginning of the project is chaotic and the teams reflect the individual personalities of the individuals involved. In addition, IS SWAT teams involve high profile projects. While success can lead to career advancement for the team members, project failure can reflect badly on them.

SOURCE: Adapted from Linda Wilson, SWAT Teams, Computerworld, October 23, 1995, /0,11280,1946,00.html.

of teams. In refining the language of teams, they provide a distinction between work groups and several types of teams.

Work Groups The work group is based on the traditional approach where a single leader is in control, makes most of the decisions, delegates to subordinates, and monitors the progress of the assigned tasks. Therefore, the performance of a work group depends greatly on the leader.

A work group can also include members who interact to share information, best practices, or ideas. Although the members may be interested in each other's success, work groups do not necessarily share the same performance goals, do not necessarily provide joint work-products, and are not necessarily held mutually accountable. A study group is an example of a work group. You and several members of a class may find it mutually beneficial to study together for an exam, but each of you (hopefully!) will work on the exam individually. The grade you receive on the exam is not a direct result of the work produced by the study group, but rather of your individual performance on the exam. In an organizational context, managers may form work groups to share information and help decide direction or policy, but performance will ultimately be a reflection of each manager and not the group. Work groups or single leader groups are viable and useful in many situations.

Real Teams In cases where several individuals must produce a joint work product, teams are a better idea. More specifically, Katzenbach and Smith (1999) define a team as:

a small number of people with complimentary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. (45)

Moreover, calling a group of people a team does not make it one nor does working together make a group a team. Teamwork focuses on performance, not on becoming a team. Subsequently, there are several team basics that define a real team:

• A small number of people—Ideally, a project team must be between two and twelve people. Although a large number of people can become a team, a large team can become a problem in terms of logistics and communication. As a result, a large team should break into subteams rather than try to function as one large unit.

• Complementary skills—For achieving the team's goal, a team must have or develop the right mix of skills that are complementary. These skills include: Technical or functional expertise *

Problem-solving or decision-making skills Interpersonal skills—that is, people skills

• Commitment to a common purpose and performance goals—Katzenbach and Smith distinguish between activity goals (e.g., install a local area net work) and performance goals (e.g., ship all orders within twenty-four hours of when they are received). The concept of a performance goal is similar to the concept of the MOV and sets the tone and aspirations of the team while providing a foundation for creating a common team purpose. As a result, the team develops direction, momentum, and commitment to its work. Moreover, a common performance goal and purpose inspires pride because people understand how their joint work product will impact the organiza tion. A common goal also gives the team an identity that goes beyond the individuals involved.

• Commitment to a common approach—Although teams must have a com mon purpose and goal, they must also develop a common approach to how they will work together. Teams should spend as much time developing their approach as they do defining their goal and purpose. A common work approach should focus not only on economic and administrative issues and challenges, but also on the social issues and challenges that will shape how the team works together.

• Mutual accountability—A group can never become a team unless members hold themselves mutually accountable. The notion that "we hold ourselves accountable" is much more powerful than "the boss holds me accountable." Subsequently, no team can exist if everyone focuses on his or her individual accountability. Mutual accountability requires a sincere promise that each team member makes to herself or himself and to the other members of the team. This accountability requires both commitment and trust because it coun ters many cultures' emphasis on individualism. In short, it can be difficult for many people to put their careers and reputations in the hands of others. Unless a common approach and purpose has been forged as a team, individuals may have a difficult time holding themselves accountable as a team.

Based upon their in-depth study of several teams, Katzenbach and Smith provide several common sense findings:

• Teams tend to flourish on a demanding performance challenge. A clear per formance goal is more important to team success than team-building exer cises, special initiatives, or seeking team members with ideal profiles.

• The team basics are often overlooked. The weakest of all groups is the pseudo team, which is not focused on a common performance goal. If a team cannot shape a common purpose, it is doomed to achieving mediocre results. We cannot just tell a group of individuals to be a team.

• Most organizations prefer individual accountability to team accountability. Most job descriptions, compensation plans, and career paths emphasize individual accomplishments and, therefore, tend to make people uncomfortable trusting their careers to outcomes dependent on the performance of others.

Katzenbach and Smith provide some uncommon sense findings as well:

• Strong performance goals tend to spawn more real teams. A project team cannot become a real team just because we call them a team or require them to participate in team-building activities or exercises. However, their findings suggest that real teams tend to thrive as a result of clearly defined performance-based goals.

• High performance teams are rare. In their study of teams, Katzenbach and Smith identified high performance teams. These are real teams that outper form all other teams and even the expectations given. This special type of team requires an extremely high level of commitment to other team mem bers and cannot be managed.

• Real teams provide the basis of performance. Real teams combine the skills, experiences, and judgments of the team members to create a synergy that cannot be achieved through the summation of individual performance. Teams are also the best way to create a shared vision and sense of direction throughout the organization.

• Teams naturally integrate performance and learning. Performance goals and common purposes translate into team members developing the skills needed to achieve those goals. As a result of open communication and trust, the members of a team are more apt to share their ideas and skills so that they may learn from one another. Moreover, successful teams have more fun, and their experiences are more memorable for both what the team accomplished and in terms of what each member learned as a result of the team process.

Project Teams and Knowledge Management

The primary challenge of real teams is to develop shared performance goals and a common purpose. For project teams following the IT project methodology, this challenge requires defining and getting agreement on the project's MOV. It also requires that the team members learn from each other and from other project teams' experiences.

In The Radical Team Handbook, John Redding (2000) describes a fundamentally new and different form of teamwork based on learning. Based on a study of twenty teams, Redding suggests that traditional teams tend to:

• Accept background information at face value. In short, most teams accept the project challenge as it is first defined and do not challenge precon ceived notions about the problem or opportunity and what they must do.

• Approach projects in a linear fashion. Projects have a beginning and end, and the project plan outlines all of the steps needed to complete the project on time and within budget. Traditional teams tend to focus on the project's schedule and, therefore, base project success on completing the project on time and within budget.

• Provide run-of-the-mill solutions. Since the team focuses on the challenge as it was handed to them (i.e., the way the challenge was originally framed), they never really understand the challenge and subsequently provide a solution that has minimal impact on the organization. In other words, the team may focus on a symptom and, therefore, never focus on the real problem or opportunity since the solutions remain within the original frame or how the challenge was originally presented to them.

In contrast, Redding describes a radical team as a team that is able to get to the root or fundamental issue or challenge. In general, radical teams do not accept the original performance challenge at its face value. The core objective of a radical team is to question and challenge the original framing of the problem or challenge at hand.

The way the problem or challenge is defined may very well be the problem. Too often a team is handed a performance challenge that is framed by a senior manager. For example, the team may be told by a senior manager that the company is losing money and, therefore, the team should focus on cutting costs. If the team accepts this framing of the challenge, they will develop a solution aimed at saving money. If, however, a team challenges this original frame, they may find out that the real reason why the organization is losing money is because customers are leaving due to poor service. Unless the project team understands the real problem in this case, its solution to cut costs will have little impact on the organization and the organization will continue to lose money.

Learning Cycles and Lessons Learned

Learning cycle theory was originally proposed by John Dewey in 1938 and used to describe how people learn (Kolb 1984). More recently, the concept of learning cycles has been applied to project teams and knowledge management. More specifically, learning cycles provide a way to resolve ambiguous situations through the repeated pattern of thinking through a problem (Dewey 1938). Figure 4.6 illustrates a team learning cycle.

Redding (2000) suggests that a team learning cycle has four phases:

1. Understand and frame the problem—It is important that a project team not accept the issues and challenges presented to them at face value. Assumptions must be surfaced and tested because a the problem or issue as it is originally framed may ■ not be the real problem after all. Thus, the project " team must get to the root of the problem. At the beginning of a project, the team member's understanding may be quite general, or they may feel that they really do not understand the challenge assigned to them. Unfortunately, few people are willing to admit that they do not have all the answers or that their understanding of the team's challenge is

Figure 4.6 A Learning Cycle

Source: The Radical Team Handbook, John Redding, Jossey-Bass 2000. Reprinted by permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Figure 4.6 A Learning Cycle

Source: The Radical Team Handbook, John Redding, Jossey-Bass 2000. Reprinted by permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

limited. On the other hand, other members of the team may approach the project with a high degree of certainty—that is, they may act as though they know what the solution is and, therefore, the team just needs to work out the details of how to go about implementing the solution. Opinions are often accepted without question and can result in erroneous assumptions that lead the project team in the wrong direction or keep the team from getting at the real problem. Moreover, there is often pressure for the team to take immediate action so that the project can be completed on time and within budget. In either case, the team runs the risk of not getting to the root of the problem and may propose solutions that have minimal impact on the organization.

Therefore, the project team must come to understand two things: Preconceived solutions are likely to produce run-of-the-mill results, and teams should encourage open humility. In other words, it is all right for team members to recognize and admit that they do not have all the answers, especially at the beginning of a project. As a result, team members may feel more comfortable admitting they have more questions than answers and the potential for preconceived ideas leading to mediocre solutions is reduced.

2. Plan—To help teams understand and reframe the problem, teams should create a shared understanding of the problem or opportunity. This understanding includes defining what the team is trying to accomplish and how they are going to go about it. Figure 4.7 provides a template to guide a team through the exercise of separating facts from assumptions.

Using the team learning record as shown in Figure 4.7, the team can brainstorm "what they know" (the facts), "what they think they know" (assumptions), and "what they don't know" (questions to be answered). Early in the project, a team may have more questions and assumptions than facts. That is to be expected because the team may not understand the problem or challenge fully. Assumptions are ideas, issues, or concepts that must be tested (e.g., "the users will never agree to this" or "senior management will never spend the money"). Often, a person can make an assumption sound like a fact, especially if she or he says it with enough authority. Therefore, it is every team member's job to separate the facts (proof, evidence, or reality) from assumptions (theories, opinions, or guesses). On the other hand, if the team identifies things it does not know, these can be classified as questions to be answered. Once the project team identifies what it knows, what it thinks it knows, and what it doesn't know, it can create a plan of action. Each team member can volunteer or be assigned to specific tasks that require him or her to test assumptions or to learn answers to questions that were identified in the team learning record (Figure 4.7). As a

What We Know (Facts)

What We Think We Know (Assumptions)

What We Don't Know (Questions to be Answered)

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