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Best Practice

Honor Work Styles ... to a Point

Teams are comprised of individuals, each with his/her own way of doing things. When processing a document as a team, individual work styles can sometimes work at cross-purposes; but sometimes the team can benefit from the team members' individual styles.

In many firms, teams are formed for a certain period of time and then the members are reassigned to other teams; so it's important to be aware of individual work styles' effects on the team dynamic as soon as a team is assembled. It's a good idea to convene a preproduction team meeting to discuss and establish some ground rules. First, it's important to identify and agree on non-negotiable document processing practices: version control, document naming conventions, file architecture, etc. Make sure all team members understand the importance of adhering to those types of practices – precious time can be lost if these basic process practices crumble. The team should also discuss the following …

  1. Logistics - where will the team members be during the production process and how do they plan on providing input into the process? There are many choices here, some more effective than others. For example, if a team member is not in the office, faxes with hand-written notes and edits are usually best: they are easily interpreted and proofable. Not so great are a list of page numbers and text describing the changes: they are not always easily interpreted, but at least they are proofable. Verbal, real-time changes are the least effective: highly subject to interpretation and not at all proofable. The team needs to decide the acceptable method of providing input from a distance.
  2. Team members' availabilities – are all team members fully dedicated to the project? Individuals who are juggling many teams may need to be excused from adjusting their work styles too dramatically. Always be considerate of the total demands placed on team members whose time is not 100% dedicated to the team project. Decide what is acceptable in these situations and not acceptable and request specific, appropriate behaviors as soon as possible. Sometimes it takes less time to accommodate some behaviors than to attempt to correct them.
  3. Seniority – with seniority comes experience and accountability. Senior members of the team can add much to setting process practices but should always be open to input from the rest of the team. Also, senior members of the team are not always in a position to see all phases of the process; so at the very least, postmortems should be performed by the team to (a). celebrate the process successes and (b). surface areas where adjustments can be made to future processes. Senior team members will benefit from these postmortems as much as any other team member. Individuals providing production support should always be included in these discussions and have a unique perspective on the process(es).
  4. Before constraining the process too much at the beginning, allow team members to perform their duties and observe the beneficial as well as less beneficial practices. A team can many times benefit from innovative approaches, and other individuals on a team may wish to adopt new, more effective styles.
  5. Decide as a team when it is important to halt and adjust a production process. Most times halting a process is warranted when meeting the deadline is in jeopardy, but there are other instances when it would be appropriate (gaining time or quality by incorporating additional steps, etc.). Remember that the team should be scheduling short (half-hour) postmortems on the processes, so decide what can be handled in a postmortem rather than halting a process. Be careful here.
  6. Controlled flexibility – is this possible? These two contradictory terms actually conjure a middle-of-the-road impression of processing a document in an efficient, concerted effort while allowing individuals the freedom to perform their duties creatively and in sync with their overall work style. It's a good approach to meeting goals and staying fluid. Avoid challenges over work styles when there is little to gain.

The first time a team works together is usually more stressful than after the team as worked together for awhile. This will always be, regardless of how comprehensive a preproduction or kickoff meeting is. Observe and adjust, observe and adjust, and then observe and adjust. Teams sync more quickly when production processes are observed, discussed, celebrated, and adjusted; and team members' comfort levels expand during typically stressful, deadline-driven efforts.