MGMT 7014-002 Leadership and organizations
Lumen and Absorb Case Write-Up
Prepared by: Christopher Stojanovski
Employee morale and performance is particularly challenging to maintain and grow for any company when an organization undergoes downsizing. Typically, following such changes, companies are able to rebound and overcome such adversity in the workplace. However, at Crutchfield Chemical Engineering (CCE), a subsidiary of PPQ Worldwide Industries, there has been a call for concern about major differences among five research and development teams with regards to motivation and performance levels.
Paul Burke, director of the Polymers Department in the Corporate Technology Development (CTD) division of CCE is faced with figuring out why there are such drastic differences among his five project teams, and how he can address those concerns.
In February, Burke received an annual study from the HR department that measured each of his five project team’s skill sets, performance, work environment, and motivation levels. Information from this study was based on several objective measures, and an employee survey. The results were astonishing, and left Burke to be puzzled and very concerned. Of the five project teams in Burke’s department, the Lumen project team was the only team to have a high level of motivation in their work. Three of his project teams appeared to have only an average level of motivation in their work, and the Absorb project team had the lowest level of all.
In an effort to better understand the differences in motivation between the Lumen team and the Absorb team, Burke told the vice president of HR, Alice Kohler, that he would like to get “a detailed look at what was going on in those two teams”. It was at this stage; Kohler suggested to Burke that he work with an organizational behavior consultant from outside the company. Following that discussion, Burke selected Joanna Mckinty, organizational psychologist to get an inside look on what was going on within the two teams.
In late February, Burke has his initial meeting with Mckinty. At this meeting they discussed the results of the HR study and how the information in the study was attained. Mckinty pointed out there was not a lot of detailed information on why there was such a discrepancy in the teams’ motivation and creative activity. She also pointed out that there was only one question about motivation in the survey, and the survey provided no specific information on team dynamics that might account for the motivational differences.
Following this exchange, Burke also reported to Mckinty his findings of both teams when dropping in on team meetings, and chatting with a few of the team members individually. He discovered that the Lumen team members were very excited and enthusiastic about their work. Burke quotes, “they got so wound up talking about what they were doing!” This was very contrasting to the mindset of the Absorb team, where he describes the team’s members to be “apathetic about their project, and interested primarily in small talk”.
Mckinty provided some background on the issues, and explained due to the nature of innovation in the teams work, creativity is closely correlated with motivation. She also explained that, “people tend to do their most creative work when they are intrinsically motivated – driven by their passion for the work, the sense of positive challenge it brings them, and the excitement they feel when making progress due to their efforts.”
At the end of this meeting, Mckinty suggested a diary study technique to gain more insight on the members of the teams. This involved collecting personal diaries at the end of every work day over a two day period from all team members via confidential email that only Mckinty would be able to view. McKinty assured Burke that she would not release any of the information from the diaries to anyone else but herself, and would only summarize her observations into a set of conclusions and recommendations for management to review. In addition to the daily journals, she would also use personality scores provided by HR the prior year as part of her overall organizational assessment. Burke quickly agrees with the suggestions made by Mckinty, and advises her to begin the study as soon as possible.
The Diary Study
The Lumen Diaries
Day 1: Max, team leader, requests a meeting first thing in the morning to discuss his first draft and to make suggestions as to how he could improve the application. Max quotes, “Hal (Marketing Manager) and Melinda (Tech Specialist) made excellent suggestions about how to clarify and simplify a major section of the application and the other team members pointed out some subtle grammatical errors I had made”. Max e-mails the revision to everyone before end of day, and Hal is pleasantly surprised. Hal quotes, “I think he did a masterful job of resolving and expressing the diverse ideas and opinions we covered. I think his efforts have greatly bolstered the value of this patent and our chances of getting it approved”. Allen, Research Specialist, spent the day compiling trial data for the visit with the prospective client, also commented on the revision: “The good teamwork and open communication among the entire work team contributed to a great result”.
Day 2 and 3: Melinda leaves Max a voicemail requesting some assistance with regards to a piece of the program that was stumping them. Max returns call within the hour and pointed her in the right direction. Max invites Melinda to tinker around with the program in an effort to make it more user-friendly. Melinda quotes, “I always enjoy a challenge, and so I told him I would see what I could do. Max also took the opportunity to fill me in on the customer visit”.
Days 4-8: The team receives a complaint from Cyrenea, their key existing customer. Allen describes in his journal entry how he and Max responded to the complaint. “I scrambled to gather all samples from past and current products. Meanwhile, Max contacts raw material suppliers to secure more economical material”. Mid afternoon, Max calls for a team meeting to discuss the complaint. The team creates a list of action items on a whiteboard to determine what had to be done, who was best suited to do it, and when the team member was estimated to complete the task. Before the meeting was over, the team discussed rescheduling priority tasks that were being pushed aside to tackle this complaint. Pierre quotes in his journal, “I’ve had a recent increase in my personal responsibilities (I have a new daughter at home!), this sudden change really stressed me out. Melinda, offered to take a few tasks off my plate and Max also offered to lend a hand if needed.” There is mention from Melinda’s journal in day 6 of being shorthanded, because of the corporate downsizing. Max had reportedly gone to management on behalf of his team to request more people. Melinda quotes, “I have to admire Max’s courage to make that request at this time”. By day 8, the team was able to resolve the client’s complaint and improve the sample strength and economic cost. The team goes on lunch to celebrate the positive outcome. Allen writes, “My teammates and I let Max know that we couldn’t have done the job without him”.
Days 9-10: The Lumen team returns to their regular activities.
The Absorb Diaries
Days 1-2: Most team members wrote about frustrations they are experiencing with team leader, Chip. Dave, Tech Specialist, describes his one on one meeting: “Chip is very nitpicky when it comes to format and presentation – He kept me so long reviewing what I had already done that I had no time to do the other things that needed to be done today!” Chip, describes meeting as, “a good exchange of ideas on this important document. Dave did a good job and continues to be a highly productive team member”. Helen, Senior Engineer, wrote about an interaction she had with Hector, Tech Specialist. Helen writes, “Hector is discouraged because Chip seemed to think the trial was a bomb”.
Days 3-6: The division is interested in going after a company called Composites. Jim (Marketer) and Ying (Marketer), write, “There is no market opportunity for us with Composites, but Chip said we will need to keep working on it because of political reasons…” Ying quotes, “Everything Jim and I are doing with Composites is purely to check off the boxes – how can I get enthusiastic about that? I want to make a real contribution”.
Days 7-8: Hector experiments on his own to improve product, but doubts anyone would be interested. Meanwhile, Jim, Ying, and Helen discuss what had gone wrong in their attempts to identify promising opportunities for their developing technology in the medical markets. Consensus seemed to be that the specs of the product line were narrowly defined, too early.
Days 9-10: Chip tells Hector they would be losing a team member, and that he would be picking up that extra workload. Hector was not very happy that he was not asked about this, but forced into it. Dave looks into joining new team. Dave comments, “I don’t feel that I can work efficiently when my team leader is trying to be involved in every detail of my work”.
The Absorb project team is lacking in motivation in large part due to poor leadership. Chip does not have the ability to influence his group towards achieving a particular goal. All team members make mention of how frustrated they are to work with Chip. Chip is very nitpicky, and it shows with Dave, who wants to leave the team. It appears Chip is a micromanager, and wants to be involved in every aspect of work. This style of leadership is leading to productivity issues, and ultimately hindering the team’s morale.
There is a lack of autonomy in their work, and with highly skilled knowledgeable workers this is very important. For example, Hector is discouraged and less inspired largely due to the recent new workload he may receive with the loss of a technical member. Employees are more likely to be encouraged and accepting of new workload when it is their choice, thereby their responsibility.
The Absorb team also lacked task prioritization. For example, spending too much time on presentation and format of documents is leaving little to no time to get real productive tasks complete. Market direction was another key problem in setting priorities. The marketers performed analysis and decided Composites is an unlikely prospect. However, Chip is governed by upper management, does not trust his team and their decision making which creates a big lack of focus and direction. This lack of focus and trust destroys Absorbs team’s motivation. It is even written in the case, Jim and Ying are just checking off the boxes and not able to make a real contribution.
Chip also failed to understand his team’s problems and was unwilling to be supportive and helpful during these times. For example, Hector worked extremely hard producing material samples, and Chip tells him they were “far from perfect.” Another example is when Jim told chip his report revisions would take a day longer to complete. Chip was okay with that. He did not offer to help out to make the report be complete in time, nor did he try to understand what the problem was for the lateness and try to offer a solution.
In contrast to Chip, Lumen’s team leader, Max appreciates and values the suggestions of the team members. He held meetings on a consistent basis to ask for suggestions and improvement options on every task. The Lumen team members were engaged and involved with each other. This made the team members feel a part of something, and that was because they were involved in all decision making processes.
In addition to that, the Lumen team members complemented each other and were ready to share job responsibilities amongst each other. For example, Pierre was struggling with stress and the addition of a new daughter at home, along with an increased workload. Melinda and Max both offered to share job duties in an effort to reduce his stress and improve the overall effectiveness of the team.
Max is able to guide the team members in achieving goals, and also gives them scope to use their creative ideas making him an effective leader. For example, Melinda calls Max for assistance on a program he created that was causing her issues. Max quickly responds to her within an hour and points her in the right direction. In addition, he invites Melinda to tinker around with the program in an effort to make it more user-friendly. Melinda quotes, “I always enjoy a challenge, and so I told him I would see what I could do. Just the sheer fact, the team members are able to communicate questions and hardships to each other and exchange solutions with one another just goes to shows how well of a leader Max is, and how highly motivated he keeps them.
Max’s team members value him and his support in taking up team issues with management. For example, the issue of being shorthanded, because of the corporate downsizes. Max had reportedly gone to management on behalf of his team to request more people. Melinda quotes, “I have to admire Max’s courage to make that request at this time”. Unlike, Chip with Absorb, who does whatever management tells him and refuses to fight alongside his team.
• Leaders should be appreciative of team members’ efforts and be willing to help and support whenever needed.
• Delegation of work should be divided in an efficient and equal manner
• Be sure to have a clear and concise understanding of the project requirements before starting to work, and develop a plan of action that can be executed in a timely manner
• Team Leader should be more assertive in their exchanges with management
• Team should have openness to communication among themselves and with the team leader
• Review process should have a standard window of time, should not take too long so that it prevents other important tasks from being completed
• Leader should not be governed by management and job focus should not be politically driven
• Offer more and better work autonomy to high skilled team members, along with trusting the judgment, analysis and jobs of your team members
• Less micromanagement
• Reward team members for successful and positive results, such as team lunch