Is Your Name on the Door? by Kevin McManus
First published in Industrial Engineer magazine November 2005
Is your name on your door at work? Do you even have a door, or are you simply one of the ‘fortunate’ ones who have their name posted next to the opening to their cubicle? Does it really even matter? Believe it or not, some people do gather some measure of self esteem from having their name on their door or being one of the select few who actually have an office. Others take such signs of status very seriously, and will even put up a fight if someone suggests that they should give up their office, or if someone they perceive as being undeserving gets moved into an office similar to theirs.
So what? Why would I bring something like this up in an article that is supposed to be focused on performance improvement? Well, back in the day when participative management was the ‘hot thing’ to do, steering committees and leadership teams would actually spend significant amounts of time debating the pros and cons of designated parking places, job titles on business cards, and yes, who, if anyone other than a team, should even get a business card, let alone the corner office. I can personally remember one particular Accounting Manager essentially refusing to give up the parking space with his name on it, even when his boss was suggesting that we all needed to do this, and the rest of the group was agreeing to do so.
The premise behind our efforts had to do with breaking down barriers between management and the front lines, and more importantly, with removing the tangible barriers that were standing between our current culture and one that was more team focused. I had just came to this company from one that truly practiced participative management, and that facility, you actually got in trouble if you parked at the front of the building instead of in the parking lot that all employees, regardless of title, were expected to use. Yes, there was a point in time when people actually worried about these things. We now live in a time however when we are probably not giving them enough thought.
I believe that our workplaces are getting more impersonal and more class focused by the day. At a time when we probably need even higher levels of organizational teamwork than we needed fifteen or twenty years ago, we are slowly, but consistently, drifting towards a workplace that is focused more on the individual than on the team. Sure, we might say that we use teams to solve problems or point out that we spend a lot of time in meetings, but does the existence of those approaches provide true validation that we have a high level of teamwork in our workplaces? How many companies measure team effectiveness? How many organizations devote eight hours of their precious training time each year to helping people better understand and practice good group dynamics skills? How many of today’s managers and supervisors even know what the term ‘group dynamics’ means?
Fifteen years ago, I was charged with developing a one day group dynamics course, and all of the people in the plant were expected to participate in it when it was presented. Now, it seems as if we are content to give everyone some form of personality profile, and following a two hour explanation of their results, become more appreciative of their team members’ perspectives and somehow be better prepared to get the most out of their team interactions. How effective are your teams? How many dollars and hours does your company devote to activities that are of a team nature each month? What percent of these investments is non-value added? How many dollars a year could be saved if you could somehow raise the level of team effectiveness in your organization?
I’m a strong advocate of the Woody Hayes’ quote “You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse – no one is staying the same.” I appreciate the fact that our work cultures are either moving closer to or further away from the ideals we would like them to reflect, whether we can definitively measure this degree of drift or not. I am significantly concerned about the amount of waste that occurs and the amount of damage that results in and from the group events that take place at work each day in the absence of skilled facilitators and in the presence of managers who don’t appreciate, or find it challenging to recognize, the value of true teamwork.
Do you think I am exaggerating? Am I somehow evaluating the degree to which we are actually team, versus individually, focused in today’s workplace through cynical glasses? Of course I don’t personally believe that I am, but I would ask you to look around your own place of employment. Listen to the conversations that occur in the meeting rooms, the cafeteria, and the restrooms. Watch the facial expressions and mannerisms of people when they are communicating with each other. What do you see? Do you see true teamwork in action, or are you more apt to witness people who are looking out for their own best interests much more than they are concerned about the level of effectiveness in their process and project teams? You be the judge.
Whether I like it or not, I do recognize that organizational behavior trends and workplace improvement topics go in cycles. Since it has been twenty five years since quality circles, employee involvement, and self-directed work teams began to achieve fad status, I can take some solace in the hope that they will soon become popular again. While I will bristle a bit when I see people acting like these approaches are somehow new or unique, I will get much more satisfaction from the fact that perhaps we are finally focusing on the value and promise of true teamwork once again.
I would like to think that we use nameplates and job titles simply to help us find the people and resources we need to do our jobs more effectively, but I am not that naive. I long for the day when group dynamics and team facilitation skills are not only taught in the workplace, but in our formal education institutions as well, but that idealistic notion may never be realized. Perhaps we can at least get back to the place where time is spent talking about the need to remove the nameplates or other forms of class distinction in the spirit of building stronger teams. What’s more important – being known for the service you provide to your teammates, or being recognized for the status you’ve attained in your career? Is your name on the door?
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