I Can Even! Engaging Employees by Enabling Employees

A popular phrase which is most annoying is “I can’t even.” According to the Urban Dictionary, “I can’t even” means that the person is so overwhelmed with emotion they cannot function. However, in the workplace, “I can’t even” often means that the person is frustrated or unwilling to do a work task. Even with the best efforts to engage employees, not enabling employees will lead to frustration.

Mark Royal and Tom Agnew, in their 2012 book The Enemy of Engagement, explain why enabling employees are just as important as engaging employees. “Frustration is created for those employees who are thwarted in their attempts to be successful despite their deep feelings of commitment and engagement. In other words, frustration is brought on by a belief in the organization and a desire to help it to be successful!” (p. 29)

Employee holding his head in frustration.

Frustrated employees solve their problems in one of three ways. The frustrated employee looks for a breakthrough or a solution to his or her frustrations. Or, the frustrated employee has a breakdown. Finally, a frustrated employee may make a clean break from the organization and its frustrations.

Royal and Agnew give the following suggestions for building employee enablement:

Performance Management (p. 134)

Specify clearly what employees need to accomplish.

Set challenging but attainable performance standards.

Provide ongoing feedback regarding progress relative to goals.

Authority and Empowerment (p. 136)

Give employees the authority and decision-making responsibility needed to do their jobs.

Allow employees to have input into the way their work is structured.

Encourage employees to come up with new and better ways of doing things.

Resources(p. 137)

Give employees the resources they need to do their jobs.

Ensure all information needed is readily available and up-to-date.

Maintain adequate staffing levels and review job designs and workloads when the organization changes.

Training (p. 139)

Get new employees fully trained before expecting full performance.

Ensure skills of current employees keep up with changing job demands.

Provide opportunities for employees to expand their current skill sets.

Collaboration (p. 140)

Facilitate strong cooperation and teamwork within the unit.

Establish supportive relationships with other groups to which the unit is connected.

Promote effective sharing of resources and information across the organization.

Work, Structure, and Process (pp. 141-142)

Structure and organize work processes within your unit to ensure optimal efficiency.

Coordinate with other units to clarify decision-making accountabilities and enhance cross-unit operating effectiveness.

Continually seek new technologies and creative approaches to improve overall internal effectiveness.

By following these 18 actions, you can have your employees saying, “I CAN even!” instead of “I CAN’T even!”

Multiteam Systems and Public Administration Leadership: Promising New Area for Research

I love going to conferences and learning about a new field of research that sheds some light on issues I am pondering. Recently, I attended the International Public Management Association’s Human Resources’ (IPMA-HR) Montgomery County (Maryland) Chapter’s Day of Learning. The day included discussion topics on how to improve government HR operations and personal development. So, when I read about Dr. Stephen J. Zaccarro’s talk on multiteam systems, I was attracted to the phrase, “Team of teams.”

I first encountered the concept of a team of teams in General McChrystal’s 2015 book, Teams of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World. McChrystal describes how he created a fluid organization that coordinated the actions of highly-specialized military teams. Other organizations have adopted the team-of-teams model such as the social entrepreneurship nonprofit, Ashoka. Bill Drayton, who founded Ashoka, describes his approach in this way:

Instead of maintaining a traditional structure in which people work in hierarchies based on a function or a formal business unit, an organization operates as a constellation of teams that come together around specific goals. At the center of this constellation is a coordinating executive team, but the composition of each project team shifts as needed over time. Teams and team members work together in fluid, constantly changing ways. The model emphasizes decentralized autonomy, meritocracy, and a sense of partnership.

An especially interesting point in Dr. Zaccarro’s studies on teams of teams (what the literature calls multiteam systems) is his focus on how the teams coordinate their actions. As he explains, the more high-performing the individual teams are, the less effective the multiteam system is. This is because the individual high-performing teams try to enforce the team’s ways of working on the other teams in the multiteam systems.

team meeting

Dr. Zaccarro states that communication is a significant factor in helping multiteam systems. The liaisons between the teams create the channels of communication that the leadership of the multiteam system uses to coordinate the teams’ actions to the goal or goals of the multiteam systems. Equally important is the leadership of the multiteam system. When General McChrystal describes his briefing structure for his team of teams, you can see how the team liaisons created effective channels of communication to build a shared reality around which the multiteam system’s leadership effectively coordinated action.

Multiteam systems research is still evolving, and much work needs to be done. I see two areas where multiteam systems theory can aid public policy and administration.

Can Multiteam Theory Help Explain the Garbage Can Model of Organizations?

Cohen, March, and Olsen’s 1972 article described some organizations as organized anarchies:

 “Such organizations can be viewed for some purposes as collections of choices looking for problems, issues, and feelings looking for decision situations in which they might be aired, solutions looking for issues to which they might be an answer, and decision makers looking for work.” 

Organized anarchies, or garbage cans, have three properties that force the organization into anarchy:

As I listened to Dr. Zaccarro’s talk, I thought about the three properties and how some aspects of the multiteam systems theory could address the challenges of the garbage can model. For example, establishing a clear goal to align the teams can mitigate the problem of inconsistent and ill-defined preferences. Another thought is addressing the issues of fluid participation by strengthening the relationships between team liaisons.

Monge and Contractor’s Multi-theoretical and Multilevel Model of Organizational Communication Networks Applied to Multiteam Systems

Monge and Contractor’s 2003 publication, Theories of Communication Networks, lays out a new way of incorporating various social science theories such as exchange theory and self-cognition theory to all aspects of a network. The purpose is to describe how agents in a network communicate, collaborate, and compete. Establishing communication pathways and protocols are essential to multiteam systems. Monge and Contractor’s 2003 multi-theoretical and multilevel (MTML) methodology can be a useful tool for investigating and envisioning the multiteam system’s communication flows and processes.

Multiteam System Theory of Public Administration Leadership

 As Dr. Zaccarro finished his talk, he described how there needs to be more research in the leadership competencies for multiteam systems. There is much research on leading teams and organizations. What is missing is how to lead in-between the teams and the organizations—the multiteam systems. Multiteam systems are becoming increasingly common in public agencies as these agencies confront today’s wicked problems.

The Link Between Customer Service and Coaching

Recently, I had contacted a consultant to take her coaching training.  I chose the online version which was to launch in September. After confirming the dates with the consultant, I attempted to register for the course.  

Everything seemed fine until I received a call from my bank’s fraud alert department. My card number was used to purchase some items at a clothing store. My card was deactivated, and I contacted the consultant to warn her about the incident. What happened next made me think about the link between customer service and coaching.

I received an email from the consultant that blamed my bank for misunderstanding the fraud alert. She stated that her self-managed WordPress web site used a popular e-commerce plugin which is completely secure. I agree that the e-commerce plugin is reliable – if correctly configured.

In my reply, I pointed out that, according to her web site’s language, I would not be charged until the course began in the fall. I thought that putting in my card number was to reserve my spot in the class. She could understand my confusion.

However, her second email just restated that it was my fault and my bank’s fault for misunderstanding the fraud alert. Her response wasn’t helpful, and I spent the last seven days waiting for my bank card which was a significant inconvenience.

The ACCESS Customer Service Delivery Model

One course I teach is customer service to government employees. The model I use is the ACCESS Customer Service Delivery Model:

Actively listen to identify needs

Create customer confidence

demonstrate Care and commitment

exert extra Effort

Stay calm, courteous, and professional

Solve the problem

I take the participants through various role plays to demonstrate how to use each step in the model. We spend much time on the first five steps so participants can help the customer be receptive to the problem-solving stage. Think of the times when you felt listened to as a customer and how much more likely you were to trust the customer representative.

The Essence of Coaching is Listening and Problem Solving

As the Career Coaching Program Manager, I am familiar with the coaching competencies of the International Coach Federation. The ICF competencies also stress listening carefully, demonstrating care and commitment, and staying calm, courteous, and professional as the coach and coachee explore solutions to the coachee’s problem(s).

The coaching relationship is a deeper relationship, and more effort is expected on the coachee’s part than in your typical customer service transaction. Having excellent customer service skills should be a fundamental skill for any coach. Especially if the coach’s success depends on how well he or she listens in helping to co-create solutions.

So, I did learn something valuable from my recent “coach.” Given how poorly she practiced customer service, I must question her skills as a coach. And, especially her skills in training other coaches. I now know what to look for in finding my next coaching trainer.