Increasing the Odds for High-Performance Teams: Lessons Learned

Increasing the Odds for High-Performance Teams: Lessons Learned

by Arlen Leholm, Raymond Vlasin

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780870137778
Publisher: Michigan State University Press
Publication date: 01/28/2006
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 284
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Arlen Leholm is Dean and Director of Cooperative Extension for the University of Wisconsin.
Raymond Vlasin is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus for Michigan State University. He was also director of the Natural Resource Economics Division of Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a Staff Economist for the House Public Works Committee.

Read an Excerpt

Increasing the Odds for High-Performance Teams

By Arlen G. Leholm Ray Vlasin

Michigan State University Press

Copyright © 2006 Arlen Leholm and Ray Vlasin
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-87013-777-8

Chapter One

The Book, the Cases, the Protocol

* Arlen Leholm and Ray Vlasin

Why This Book

Have you ever wondered why some work teams greatly outperform others within the same organizational settings? Have you questioned whether work teams from very different sectors of the economy and society achieved their high performance by similar means? Have you considered what you or others might do to help teams increase their chances of becoming truly high performing? We have. And, it motivated us to perform our research on high-performing teams and to share the lessons we learned in this book.

Both of us have been members of work teams, leaders in such teams, and designers and organizers of teams as well as mentors, coaches, diagnosticians, and team educators. We have benefited from the valuable work of others—"the masters"—who have studied, worked with, and written about work teams and their organizations. We have joined those masters in concluding that you cannot design a work team from scratch to be high performing. You also cannot force a work team to be high performing and expect that performance to be sustainable. However, our experience from actually working with many teams has convinced us that you can increase the odds that a team can become truly high performing and can sustain that performance.

Increasing the Odds through Lessons Learned

Our goal was to find and select a handful of very high performing work teams from widely differing sectors of the economy and society and work with them to determine what caused them to perform so very well: What made them special? What made them stand out in the eyes of their team members, their team leaders, and others who knew about them? And most important, we wanted to learn from those directly involved what lessons could be drawn from their experiences and achievements and shared with others who want their teams to become high performing.

As a result, our book focuses on insights and lessons from the diverse cases that we analyzed. Though our analysis of the teams selected was detailed, we share here only the organizational and team details sufficient to provide a context for the lessons and insights learned. The book is condensed and in popular style. It is reader friendly, with a similar layout for each case. And it accommodates the busy reader by including a synopsis and a snapshot of each case. If you are between planes, you can decide what case to read first and what to read next, or you can jump to the last chapter and scan the lessons learned. We hope you enjoy the entire book and find it informative and useful.

What's in the Book?

* Contributions from the Masters. Fortunately, the field of work team performance is well served by an array of practitioners, writers, and scholars who have studied team performance and the organizations within which teams function. Since we have benefited greatly from them, we decided to recognize them and briefly to share concepts and ideas they have provided. We view these contributors as "the masters" in their field and are indebted to them for their contributions. We have devoted chapter 2 to their work and believe it will enrich the usefulness of the cases and lessons shared here.

* Five Cases with Diverse Teams. In the five case-study chapters, chapters 3–7, we give special attention to one or more teams and their organization plus lessons from the team experiences analyzed. Each chapter presents the organizational context, team characteristics, and key variables that influenced high performance. Each presents the views of team members and team leaders about what made the team special or unusual. Our treatment sets the stage for lessons to be learned from each individual case. While these lessons are specific to the high-performing team or teams involved, they may contribute to a larger set of lessons that apply more broadly to several of the high-performing teams from the five cases analyzed.

* Both Administrative Support Teams and Production and Service Teams. Self-directed real teams are recognized for their great value in producing products and services and in providing them to clientele. Self-directed teams also can bring major value to an organization by enhancing its internal administrative support services. The five case chapters explore examples of product and service teams—in food manufacturing, laboratory analysis of genomes, automotive product testing and development, education and technical assistance, and rural farm and community betterment (chapters 3 through 7). Three of the five chapters also include examples of administrative support teams—"a team at the top" in food manufacturing, a "team leaders group" in laboratory analysis of genomes, and a "regional administrative team" in Extension education and outreach (chapters 3, 4, and 6).

* Both Co-located and Geographically Dispersed Teams. The five case study chapters also provide an opportunity to explore teams whose members are located together and virtual teams whose members must work together across distances. Chapter 6 describes three virtual teams while the other case chapters describe teams with members at the same location.

* Dynamics of Prominent Variables. Also, for each of the five case chapters, our discussions will share key variables viewed by team members and team leaders as influencing high performance. These are typically both team variables and organizational variables. These variables are not static, and their influence changes over time. For each case, the increasing intensity of one key team variable illustrates the dynamic influence of that variable on team performance and on the team and organizational environment. The variable selected in each case was identified by organizational and team leaders as most prominent in their emergence as a high performing team.

* Important Lessons Learned. Each of the five case-study chapters provides lessons that were important to the team or teams in that case. We have deliberately retained each of the major lessons learned for each case, placed at the end of the case study chapters. Chapter 8 addresses the question "What lessons cut across two or more cases and might apply more broadly to enhance work team performance in other situations? Chapter 8 orders the lessons by those pertaining to (1) starting right—a key to performance enhancement, (2) investing in knowledge and skills for performance, (3) cautions in team formation and operation, (4) concepts that made a difference, and (5) administrative context and the huge difference it can make. Some twenty-one broader lessons are shared. These lessons provide ways to increase the odds that your team(s) can achieve high performance.

Five Cases—Deciding Which to Read

We have attempted to assist you in deciding which cases might be most immediately germane to your interests. For this reason, we have added here a very brief notation on each of the five case chapters. In addition, you will find a somewhat longer introductory statement called "Why the team story" at the beginning of case chapters 3–7. Furthermore, a "snapshot" provides a quick history and overview of the case without the detail on team performance or lessons learned.

The five case situations present "high-performance teams" from different sectors of the economy and society. They represent quite different organizational and team settings. Each case situation involves a special set of experiences, observations, and lessons. Readers may wish to focus first on the case or cases that most nearly match their interest and then explore the others. Listed for each case below are some highlights that may help readers select what to read first and what to read after that.

* Chapter 3. The Quaker Oats case shares how management and labor overcame an unsatisfactory manufacturing environment plus an extremely low-trust atmosphere. Through a trust-based partnership, they transformed an aging plant's work system into a highly productive, team-based, performance-driven, mutually gratifying environment for both labor and management. Trust, shared leadership, carefully crafted teaming and team education, and careful attention to team and organizational fundamentals propelled their successes. A "team at the top" energizes and enhances its sixty-four production and service teams. Important lessons learned are shared, starting with those from the mutual leadership achieved.

* Chapter 4. The self-directed teams of the Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) demonstrate the productive power of deliberately seeking divergent thinking and approaches in this research-based laboratory environment. They also demonstrate unusual performance increases and staff retention improvements in moving to a shared-leadership and responsibility-based context for team operation. The teams demonstrate the performance gains possible from intense mutual accountability, highly complementary team members, and a focus on productivity measures and goals they help create. A "team leader group" guides and enhances its seven analytical, laboratory, and research and development teams. One key lesson is that by seeking diversity of applicable skills and knowledge and divergent approaches and thought, TIGR simultaneously has achieved great diversity of cultures and created a magnet for professionals.

* Chapter 5. The two teams of the Bosch Corporation demonstrate how midlevel management can enable a high-performance team to achieve unusual creativity. The case shows the importance of hiring persons who fit with the team. It also shows how professionals with differing technical knowledge and skills can meld into a very complementary high-performing team with trust and caring. Team creativity and outstanding performance can occur in harsh climatic conditions and challenging remote living situations. Camaraderie aids creative problem solving, and highly effective communication links the teams and customers and enhances customer trust.

* Chapter 6. At the heart of this case study is the importance of organizational support systems, including helpful administrative boundary conditions, and the roles they serve in enhancing high team performance. Short case narratives from two educational outreach entities, from Michigan State University (MSU) and Ohio State University (OSU), highlight geographically dispersed virtual teams. Within MSU Extension, two teams within a larger organizational venture show what can be achieved with shared leadership, self-directed team creation, a close partnership with clientele, and nurtured citizen financial and program support. A "regional administrative team" demonstrates how shared leadership in budgeting and in decisions about educational program coverage and staffing can result in major gains in team productivity and program impacts. Within OSU Extension, a virtual team demonstrates the value of directly linking university extension education programs with stakeholders to creatively advance mutual interests. In addition, this example shows how the active seeking of divergent views among cooperating scientists, educators, and stakeholders can lead to timely education actions that are highly beneficial to the nursery, landscape, and turf grass industries.

* Chapter 7. The Women's Interest Group from India shows how mutual caring, zeal to improve, and energized human spirits can lead to unusual performance. In a very low-resource environment, dedicated women undertook new and improved agricultural enterprises and increased family income. They used their newly created abilities and team strength to make other personal, family, and community improvements. The case shows how the women used their advancing skills to address other community problems and opportunities. As a major lesson, a "real team" can occur and achieve in a low-tech environment in which initial illiteracy and poverty were substantial—many village residents initially earned less than two U.S. dollars per day.

Taken together, the five cases provide a range of observations about the emergence and functioning of high-performance teams in both private and public sectors. The teams excel in creating and providing joint products and services in very different industry and organizational settings—whether for external clientele or for those within their own organization. The cases reaffirm the importance of supportive organizational conditions within which to operate. They also reaffirm the importance of team conditions that enhance team progress and performance and facilitate and encourage creativity and self-motivated performance. Last but not least, the five cases strongly reaffirm the tremendous value of the sound research-based works and applications highlighted in chapter 2.

Case-Study Protocol


Our initial tasks included identifying a pool of "high-performing teams" from which to select individual teams and their organizations for interviews and analyses. We tried not to duplicate teams in case studies already covered in the popular and/or scholarly literature.

We deliberately sought teams from an array of situations—business and industry, private sector and public sector, high resource and low resource, high tech and moderate to low tech, research and education. We also deliberately sought to select teams that represented differing product and/or service outputs. We believe that teams can differ greatly by type of joint products and services they produce and still take actions that increase the odds that the teams can become high performing.

In our identification of high-performing teams, we relied heavily on the assessment of their contemporaries. We initially judged a team qualified for our selection if it appeared to have the attributes of a "real team," as per Katzenbach and Smith. We required also that a team for the pool be recognized as performing at high levels by peers within the organization and by professionals beyond the organization who knew about the team.


As a result, we selected five cases involving one or more teams for more intensive analysis. They were, as represented in chapters 3–7, the following types: (1) manufacturing teams producing food products, (2) genomic sequencing teams mapping organisms' DNA, (3) applied engineering testing teams improving automotive systems, (4) university extension-research teams for enhanced educational impacts, and (5) a low-income women's interest group producing agricultural enterprises.


We wanted to determine how teams could develop into high-performing units under an array of conditions. Our interest in teams operating in diverse circumstances comes in part from two working hypotheses we shared.

1 Interdependent work teams producing joint products or services can achieve high performance under an array of situations as long as the teams possess the empowering conditions and operating relationships that allow full expression of team creativity. This view supports Katzenbach and Smith's excellent work concerning organizational basics, team basics, real teams, and high-performing teams (see chapter 2).

2 While one cannot deliberately command or direct an interdependent team into unusually high performance, the organization and its teams together can take a series of actions that will materially increase the odds that the teams will become very high performing. We believe that this hypothesis applies whether the teams are public or private, high or low tech, or high or low resource and whether they are producing products, providing services, or both. The lessons learned, presented in chapter 8, respond to this hypothesis.


Excerpted from Increasing the Odds for High-Performance Teams by Arlen G. Leholm Ray Vlasin Copyright © 2006 by Arlen Leholm and Ray Vlasin. Excerpted by permission of Michigan State University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


How to Use This Book to Your Advantage....................1
1 The Book, the Cases, the Protocol Arlen Leholm and Ray Vlasin....................2
2 Learning from the Masters of Team Performance Arlen Leholm and Ray Vlasin....................12
3 Quaker Oats: A Team at the Top with Joint Management and Union Leadership Roger Vincent, Justin Shields, Terrance Stone, Arlen Leholm, and Ray Vlasin....................36
4 The Teams of TIGER Tamara Feldblyum, William Nierman, Arlen Leholm, and Ray Vlasin....................88
5 Bosch Teams: Two Creative Arrangements Ken Brochu, Kevin O'Keefe, Arlen Leholm, and Ray Vlasin....................150
6 Michigan State University Extension and Ohio State University Extension Self-Directed Teams Margaret Bethel, James Kells, James Chatfield, Arlen Leholm, and Ray Vlasin....................200
7 The Women's Interest Group: The Hill Women Mary Andrews, Ashok Kumar Seth, Arlen Leholm, and Ray Vlasin....................238
8 Broader Lessons from the Cases Explored Arlen Leholm and Ray Vlasin....................274
About the Authors....................285

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