Week 07 application assignment – case study #6 leadership

Southwest Engineering Services

Donna Burke was a systems engineer at Southwest Engineering Services for five years when

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she was invited to participate in a project to develop a new type of software for the company. The project director was Ron Morrison,who had a reputation as a software whiz and rising star in the company. Donna was

not sure why she was invited to work on this project,but she was very excited about it. She understood that the work would be important, and she knew that a successful project would also provide a big boost for her career

in the company. Ron called a meeting the first day for the12 people invited to be part of the project team.

After introducing himself, Ron gave a short welcoming speech to the group.“All of you are here today because you have special skills that are essential for the success of this project. Each of you was recommended by

your boss, and only the most qualified people in the company were invited to participate. As you know, the volume of business handled by Southwest Engineering has been growing steadily. The company needs a better type of decision support system for managing engineering projects in a way that will guarantee quality while keeping costs low.

Southwest Engineering faces an increasingly competitive market, and this decision support system is essential for the company to remain profitable. Our objective is to develop a new and innovative system that is better

than anything else currently available. It is an extremely challenging assignment, but I believe we can pull it off if we have total commitment by every member of the team. If you are going to be part of this team, the

project must take priority over everything else in your life for the next nine months. We will be working long days and even many weekends. If anyone has reservations about making a total commitment, there is still time to withdraw from the team. Please let me know your decision by 9:00 a.m. tomorrow.”The next day, Donna and 10 other employees joined the team. The one person who declined to join had family health problems that would prevent him from working

extra hours on the project. As the team plunged into the project, the work was even more intense than Donna

had expected. On weekdays it was common to order in food and work late into the evening. Working Saturday mornings was taken for granted, and the team would often go to lunch together after finishing work on

Saturdays. Ron had an attitude of enthusiasm and optimism that was contagious, and before long even the most cynical and unemotional member of the team was caught up in the excitement.Despite the long hours,

the work was exhilarating because everyone knew that they were part of something that would change the way things are done in the company.Ron provided a clear picture of the specifications necessary for the new system,

and this picture was important for guiding the work of team members and keeping them focused on the same objective.However, Ron did not dictate how the work should be done. Team members were expected to use

their expertise to determine how to do the work. Ron was available to provide guidance if asked, but he was careful not to impose himself when not needed. When someone was experiencing difficulties in doing a task, Ron was supportive and helpful. Nevertheless, it was clear that he would not tolerate less than a maximum effort.Dur-

ing the first two weeks of the project, one member of the team failed to do the normal check procedure that would have enabled him to find and correct a mistake in a programming document. The person was required to explain what happened to the team and apologize for the problems he caused them. It was the last careless mistake he would make. Ron pushed relentlessly for continued progress in the work.The team met regularly to evaluate progress and determine how todeal with obstacles and problems. Every member of the team had an opportunity to influence important decisions about the design of the software system, and the actual influence for a particular issue depended on one’s expertise and quality of ideas rather than on status in the company or years of experience. An important part of Ron’s job as project director was to make sure the team got the resources and assistance it needed from the company. Ron spent considerable time traveling to various company facilities to meet with key people whose support and cooperation were needed to design and implement the new system. Before leaving on these trips, Ron would ask a member of the team to carry out his internal leadership responsibilities. When it was her turn, Donna was at first apprehensive, but she found it to be an interesting and satisfying experience.As Ron debriefed her afterward, he encouraged her to consider a managerial position at Southwest Engineering in her career plans. At one point during the fourth month,the team became discouraged over a series of setbacks involving some persistent technical problems. Ron called a meeting to give them a pep talk. He said to them, “I know you are discouraged about these setbacks,but it happens in any project that is breakingnew ground. We have made tremendous progress, and I am really proud of what you have accomplished so far. I am confident we can overcome this latest obstacle and make

the project a success.Let’s take the rest of the day off to give ourselves a little rest and meet again tomorrow to discuss some new ideas for integrating the system components.” The following week the team figured out an innovative way to deal with the obstacle. They celebrated this breakthrough with a party at Ron’s house. The project was completed three months later,which was several weeks earlier than the original deadline. The project was a great success, and they felt tremendous pride in what they accomplished. A final celebration party was held

before people dispersed back to their regular units or to new projects. Afterward,Donna and another team member reminisced about their experiences. Donna gave Ron much credit for being a fantastic coach and facilitator, and she hoped to have the opportunity to work with him again on another project. However, she also realized that their success was a team effort that could not have been accomplished without the significant contributions of all the team members and their willingness to cooperate and put the needs of the project above individual self-interests. ■

SOURCE: Copyright © 1991 by Gary Yukl.

 

QUESTIONS

1. Describe the leadership behaviors Ron used and their influence on the attitudes and

behavior of the team members.

2. Compare this cross-functional project team to a self-managed operations team by

identifying similarities and differences in the leadership roles

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