In a California facility of a national firm, Meridian Group worked with the managers to establish employee problem-solving teams. One particular issue—Forced Work at Weekends—was contentious and divisive. Some employees loved the overtime pay. Others hated the disruptions to their family life. Management invited volunteers to form an employee group to study the issue and see what alternatives might be offered.

Twenty-four people volunteered. Management decided to select twelve people from the volunteers as the working group. Instead we suggested that they facilitate a meeting with the volunteers to reduce the 24 volunteers to a working group of 12. This action would demonstrate management’s trust in the employee’s ability to create the best group.

While the management team was very skeptical that the first-line employees could do this, they had already accepted the common sense behind it: “If people are affected by a decision, they should be involved in it.” Because it was our suggestion, they asked us to facilitate the meeting.

Creating a self-determined work group, or, “Look, We Shrank Ourselves!”

All 24 volunteers showed up and we suggested to them a process they could use to select their representative group. “First, you decide on your selection criteria. Then you vote and rank order everyone against the criteria. Finally you look at the result and decide if it is satisfactory. It’s totally in your hands.”

Everyone agreed and we could tell they were very excited by the sense of control they would have over this decision. The criteria they listed were fairly straightforward. The final group should represent:

  • Each department.
  • Different age groups.
  • People who want to work weekends and people who don’t.
  • People who are angry and outspoken and people who will speak up for others.

Using a list of all the names, within 10 minutes each person ranked their top 12 candidates according to the selection criteria. We tallied the results and made a copy for each person. We asked them to look at their selection of top 12 vote getters and compare them against their selection criteria, “If we go with those top 12, do they represent the areas you said should be represented?” The response was a resounding “Absolutely!” We scheduled the next meeting with the selected group of 12.

Everyone left the meeting feeling enthusiastic about this new group. Although a few who did not make the cut were disappointed, they were satisfied because they were part of the decision.

Management Impressed with Results

The management team’s response to the 12 names was, “That is an exceptionally good group. We couldn’t have done better ourselves, and if we had done it, there would have been a lot of opposition to our decision, particularly from those not chosen. Now we understand the process we will use it again in the future.”

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