NLPES Question of the Month

May 2000

What interesting approach (or approaches) has your office used to improve teamwork and collegiality among staff? 

 From: Kate Wade, Wisconsin

There are two distinct efforts we've undertaken at the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau that have focused on teamwork and collegiality.

"The Elaborators" are a group of Program Evaluation staff whose self-described purpose is to help new staff become acclimated to working at LAB, and to assist with professional development as requested. The methods of this group are apparent in their name: Easing into the LAB Over Refreshments And Talk, Etc. The Elaborators plan events based on activities in the office and the number of new staff with whom they are working. These activities might include group outings for lunch at one of the restaurants near the capitol square, or linking-up with a new staff person to attend an informal, in-house "brown bag" being offered on a recently completed evaluation.

At the present time, the eight Elaborators anticipate smaller lunch and lunch-hour-type outings with the five new staff that are starting at LAB between May 1 and August 24. To facilitate conversation and ease the process of getting to know colleagues, two or three elaborators will be arranging activities with each new staff person.

The other recent effort we've undertaken to enhance our teamwork was a day of training, entitled, "Team Building and Improving Team Effectiveness." One day is a significant investment: all staff for one full day requires considerable scheduling on the part of team leaders, support from senior management, and development time for the training event. What made the day especially interesting was the combination of a hired consultant's presentation in the morning with a short series of group exercises and discussions led by our own staff in the afternoon.

The pacing of our one-day training was exceptional. The consultant led us through the "DiSC Personal Profile System" in order to help us understand our communication styles. In addition to forming discussion groups, based on the four basic communications styles, we considered the varying styles of the individuals on our current team and the effects of those styles on team interactions. Lunch was a team effort: a staff member organized pizza delivery and we enjoyed the view of one of Madison's lakes as we ate. LAB staff led afternoon discussions and group exercises on team development and dynamics, assessing a team's effectiveness, and constructive conflict management. These afternoon sessions drew from recent workshops and training events attended by the staff, who were able to tie their workshop experiences to the day-to-day work of the Bureau. 

 From: Byron Brown, Florida

We have done a number of things in Florida to improve teamwork and staff collegiality. I have included several items that are more "morale-booster" items than "teamwork" items, but we find that happier employees work together more effectively.

A general flattening of the organizational structure with less emphasis on hierarchy and more on collegiality. This has been accomplished through general elimination of a formal team leader position (auditor- or analyst-in-charge). A process has been established to allow analysts to express their preferences before project assignments are made. We frequently use employee-led committees and task forces that allow staff to work together on various issues. These have included an intranet-site development team, a space committee, and an evaluation task force. Another key ingredient of this flattened organizational structure is the creation of a stewards committee through which employee concerns are communicated directly with the deputy director.

A staff survey helped us better understand the things that were affecting employee morale, like workload and turnover. We shared the results of that survey with staff. The team of staff managers then went away for a one-day retreat to discuss and act upon the issues raised in the survey.

A user-friendly comp-time policy gives employees a way to get some time off in recognition of working long hours to meet deadlines. We also have developed flex-time, telecommuting, and work-at-home policies.

An office picnic during lunch at a local park, providing subs for staff. We played some interactive group games and had some contests such as best joke and best sneakers. These activities enabled some interaction between folks that didn't normally interact.

A carnival day during the first week of session celebrated that time when most of our rush projects had been completed. We turned offices, hallways, and cubicle areas into different carnival games for an afternoon (miniature golf, darts, bean bag toss, blackjack tables)and gave everyone a chance to win tickets that could then be used for an auction and raffle prize drawing. We also had an Office Jeopardy game going in the middle of this.

An office-wide open house during afternoon break provided an excuse for staff to wander around and visit the offices of other staff on a casual basis. We held this open house soon after a large number of our staff had changed offices. We planted treats throughout the office (especially in offices or areas where people had moved), and encouraged everyone to wander around and see who was now sitting where.

Office assignments are not grouped according to teams or policy areas. While it is often easier to be housed next to the person you are working with, we have found some advantage for office-wide morale to having staff from various policy areas scattered throughout the office. This avoids creating parts of the office where an employee may feel like they don't belong.

Training in understanding personality differences (i.e. Myers-Briggs types) has been useful in emphasizing the concept that it takes different types of individuals to make an effective office. We have also instituted a formal process for mentoring new employees, that includes both a social and a professional dimension.

Eating together often is a great way to emphasize the collegial nature of our office. A Friday morning breakfast has been standard for several years. We also have an annual Thanksgiving week chili lunch where several of our analyst-chefs bring in their fine chili variations for a real feast, and other periodic celebrations and meals.

Our new employee training program, called OPPAGA I, includes clear explanations to new employees of OPPAGA's approach to teamwork and of our expectations.

 From: Gary Brown, Michigan

Here in Michigan, we have an award program. Each 6 months we choose the audit team which demonstrates the most teamwork, esprit de corps, and exemplary effort. The winning team is treated to lunch, and their names are engraved on a plaque which we display. 

 From: Kirk Jonas, Virginia

We have done a number of things to promote team-work and collegiality, ranging from office-wide Myers-Briggs testing (so we know whom we're working with) to office sports teams. Among those that come to mind:

-- Myers-Briggs testing of office on several occasions
-- Team management training for team leaders
-- Management training for supervisors
-- Interpersonal skills training for selected staff
-- Office sports teams, currently softball
-- Monthly birthday celebrations (two types: cakes in the office, and -- more informally -- groups treating the individual to lunch on his or her birthday)
-- Office-wide sexual harassment training (promote collegiality by avoiding problems) office-wide events such as "Octoberfest," and an annual "Winter Holiday Party" (these are generally hosted by a senior member of management at no expense to the staff or state)
-- More informal events such as "JLARC at the Diamond" (Richmond's minor league team) or "JLARC on Ice" (a trip to the minor league hockey game),etc. These are paid for by participants.
-- "Commonhealth" wellness programs

In addition to the above, we have seen that teamwork and collegiality have often been enhanced by voluntary staff participation in charitable activities. Individual staff are active in a number of charities (United Way, "adopting" a family at the holidays, street lunch, AAU sports, girl scouts, etc.). When such activities are supported (as opposed to solicited), they seem to promote good staff relations. Most importantly, staff treat each other with appropriate professional respect and courtesy on a day to day basis.

 From: Jane Thesing, South Carolina

A few years ago we all took training in working on teams offered by the state's quality management folks, and that was good training, but we usually seem to find that the structured approaches to such things as collegiality are too formal for our small staff. Things that encourage collegiality, such as playing "audit council" Jeopardy (questions based on LAC trivia) at our Christmas party, or our annual NCAA tournament contest (in off-hours, of course) culminating with the winner's name being engraved on an office plaque, just seem to happen by themselves, more or less.

I might also mention that besides our audit teams (which are project based, and shift regularly), we also usually have one or more ad hoc teams going within the office at any given time. For example, we currently have a team looking at audit timeliness and another one looking at developing an audit follow-up process. These teams make recommendations to management, and are usually effective in accomplishing something! 

 From: Mary Anne Queen, Tennessee)

Our office has tried various team-building approaches, such as annual staff retreats. However, the one thing that I enjoyed the most was a weekly mini-staff meeting (as opposed to our monthly staff meeting) where we would discuss the week's progress on each of our research projects. It was informative, enlightening, encouraging, and fostered cohesiveness to share our weekly accomplishments and frustrations. It was also frequently very helpful to receive our fellow co-workers' suggestions. 

 From: Leslie Tanaka, Hawaii

At the Hawaii State Auditor's Office, we have contracted with a trainer to provide our office with a session on Team Building. The training is planned for May 15, 2000. I n addition, besides the office annual Christmas party, we annually schedule a Halloween costume party luncheon in the office. 

 From: Joel Alter, Minnesota

About three years ago, our office brought in a consultant for a two-day teambuilding retreat, and we brought her back to revisit similar issues the next year. Among the changes that came out of these meetings were the following:

-- A more systematic approach to new employee orientation. This includes a checklist of things to discuss with the employee and assignment of a current staff member to be a mentor to the new employee.
-- Team "forming" meetings at the beginning of each new project. Team members meet to talk about work styles and preferences, conflict management styles, and expectations for the project.
-- Guidelines on team member roles. We developed explicit statements about the roles of project managers, team members, and internal quality reviewers.
-- Statement of staff expectations. We developed brief statements of (1) basic work expectations, (2) basic team expectations, (3) expectations for communication, and (4) expectations for coaching.

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