What characteristics of an effective work group

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Steve Ward, the vice president of business transformation and chief information officer at IBM, was having dinner with a few members of his approximately 200-member leadership council. During dinner he decided that saving time, through making decisions faster, writing software faster, and completing projects faster, needed higher priority at IBM. If smaller telecommunications companies could continue to work faster than IBM, they would keep nibbling away at Big Blue's market share.

The morning after the leadership council dinner, the Speed Team was born. Ward contacted 21 IBMers and give them an assignment. Get the 100,000 - person information technology group moving faster than ever, with a focus on the rapid development Web-oriented applications. At IBM, the IT group has high status and reports to the senior vice president of strategy.

The Speed Team's Co-leaders - Jane Harper, director of technology operations, and Ray Blair, director of e-procurement - had strong reputations for pushing projects forward at a blazing pace. The two leaders decided that the team should have a life span of approximately six months. "I think that we will have failed if the Speed Team is still together three years from now," explains Harper. "Our plan, when we started this, was to come together, look at what works, look at why projects get bogged down, create some great recommendations about how to achieve speed, get executive buy-in, and try to make those recommendations part of the fabric of the business." Steve Ward built the Speed Team with IBM employees who had led breakthrough projects that were completed in an unusually short period of time. One example is Gina Poole, founder of develop Works, a Web site to help IBM forge stronger relationships with software companies. She was drafted based on how quickly she was able to get the site up and running. Members of the Speed Team shared success stories about how rapidly they accomplished projects in the past. They also shared information about how they were able to overcome barriers to speed.

The Speed Team then picked up some ideas about quick turnaround times by studying the IBM WebAhead lab, which develops prototypes for new technologies. WebAhead employees work in a single shared-office setup - long tables of several employees arranged in rows. The overall atmosphere is casual. A sign on the door reads, "This is not your father's IBM." The lab's purpose is simple and liberating. "Our team is funded to do cool stuff for IBM," says Bill Sweeney, a WebAhead manager. "We don't have to think about increasing sales of a product line. We just have to think about the next important thing that might hit us." One of the secrets that the WebAhead team unlocked is that speed is its own reward. Employees were encouraged and energized when they saw their pet projects being deployed in weeks rather than months or quarters. After examining many fast-moving projects, including e-procurement, the Speed Team began outlining what those projects had in common. It then created the "Success Factors for Speed," six attributes that all successful projects had in common. : strong leaders, team members who were speed demons, clear objectives, a strong communication system, and a process carefully tailored to the requirements of the group. The general principle discovered by the Speed Team is that going faster is all about how you relate to time. If you treat time as a tangible (like money), you wind up moving faster.

The Speed Team decided that it needed a medium for gathering fast feedback, so the team held a weeklong online "town hall" meeting. The goal was to encourage other employees to contribute ideas about getting projects accomplished quickly. Some of the suggestions confirmed what the Speed Team had learned. Many projects wind up in the breakdown lane because of overly rigorous measurement. The coordinator of the online meeting said, "People complained about breaking down 13-week projects into 13 phases and having to produce measurement reports at the end of each week." The Speed Team also picked up some information about speed they did not discover on their own. Information overload at IBM was slowing people down. Newsletters, e-mail, and the intranet can create duplication and mixed messages.

Soon the Speed Team began implementing both its "quick hit" ideas and its long-term initiatives. Quick hits included things like creating a speed rating for employee performance reviews and getting all leads to specify more clearly their time-oriented priorities. Long-term initiatives involved addressing the occasional disconnect between finance-department employees who supervise the funding of company projects and those employees who actually run the projects. Sometimes by the time a project is ready for implementation, its funding has been cut. Although the Speed Team has a specified termination date, its members and its leaders believe its influence will not end. "These people will work together for years, whether you call them the Speed Team or not," says Ward. "People have begun to think about the need for speed in their work. We're no longer necessary. Our job was to be catalysts, and catalysts can't linger around."

Case Questions

1. What characteristics of an effective work group does the Speed Team appear to have?
2. To what extent was a team structure really necessary to carry out the mission of the Speed Team?
3. Should the Speed Team really adjourn at this point?

Reference no: EM13222775

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