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Virginia Libraries

Current editors:
Beth DeFrancis defrancb@georgetown.edu, Editor
John Connolly jconnolly@nsl.org, Assistant Editor

October/November/December, 2003
Volume 49, Number 4

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Managing Team Excellence in Times of Change

by Andrew Sanderbeck

What are the latest changes taking place in your library this month, this week, today, or in the past hour?

Budget Cuts? Patriot Act Issues? Personnel Changes and/or Shortages? More Technological Breakthroughs? Staff Members Acting Out?

Need I list more?

As I was told on the first day of my new job as a sales and service representative for Continental Airlines: "The only constant around here is change. If you can't embrace change, you won't last very long."

I actually lasted about five years.

Historically, change in the workplace is a disruptor of team efficiency and productivity, especially when the changes have to do with money or people. It's really no one's fault, though. You see, fear of the unknown affects almost everyone, and change can bring out insecurity issues within your team members.

Your challenges as someone who manages teams include: what to do to calm the fears of your people and how to stop them from making assumptions about what will happen next.

Did you ever notice how the number of rumors concerning workplace issues dramatically increases when team members fear "the unknown?" My guess is that you are noticing them. Once the rumors have begun, fear based behaviors from your team members will follow. These behaviors can show up as missed deadlines, lazy work habits, increased tardiness and absences, a greater focus on being right instead of doing what is best for the team, and an increased resistance to change.

Because team members feel like they are losing control of their work lives, interpersonal relationships among employees and with their patrons can become visibly strained and stretched.

I used to hang a sign in my office to help me to remember where rumors come from:

Partial Information + My Assumption = False Information

Are you tired of dealing with the symptoms of the rumor mill? Are your team's measurable productivity outcomes dropping fast while your frustration level is starting to peak? Here are a few suggestions from Three-Step Team Tune-Up Process™, a team development strategy I developed:

1) Stop, Look and most importantly … Listen. Listen to what your team members are saying and not saying. Give this your full attention. Listen for the heartbeat of the team — that synergetic energy that is the rhythm of their success. Listen also for … their fears. What are they afraid of? Hint: What do they feel like they can't control in their work life? Start there … and you'll find their fears.

2) Ask yourself, "What has changed internally with the way the team functions?" Is there a new team member in place? Are there new procedures and policies that have been put into effect? Have the words "budget cut" been circulating through the building?

3) Meet one on one with team members. Ask them why they think productivity is dropping, and listen to what they believe to be the truth. Do not accept, "I don't know." If their answer is, "I hadn't noticed," then take a look in the mirror at a possible source of the problem. Part of your responsibility is to make sure that everyone knows how the library is functioning. Discourage any blaming and focus your questions on measurable results, not mysterious circumstances. Whenever possible, ask open-ended questions that prompt an answer that is more than a one-to-five word response. Here are a few sample questions:

No Results Question: "John, I don't know why the pages aren't getting the books shelved in a timely manner. It's a mystery to me … what about you?"

John: "Gee, I don't know either!"

John is going to believe it is a mystery if you do. You're the boss … so how should he know more than you? Ask questions with measurable data, which prompt answers that are possible solutions to the situation.

Better Question: "John, I've noticed that our pages are three days behind in re-shelving our books. What do you suggest we do differently to solve the problem?"

John: "I think we fell behind when Judy was out sick last week. I suggest we get a few people to work two extra hours each day until we're caught up."

Managing team excellence in times of change requires you to diagnose problems, dispel false rumors, monitor morale and productivity, and most importantly communicate what is going on in their work world. Information empowers teams. A lack of information causes fear.

Finally this golden nugget from my experiences: If you don't tell them what's going on...someone else will.

Well, actually...someone will tell them what they heard plus their interpretation of what it means. Then you'll really have your work to do!


Andrew Sanderbeck is an expert who speaks and works with libraries experiencing team and team development challenges. He is also the publisher of the Library~Connect Newsletter, a free, monthly, subscriber-only e-letter for library management. Comments regarding this article are appreciated. Phone Andrew at 727-526-4620, or send comments and subscribe to his e-letter by email at Andrew@ andrewsanderbeck.com.


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