Motorola's HR Learns the Value of Teams Firsthand

June 1, 1995
Teamwork. It's become the rallying cry of business—and for good reason. Employers across the United States have reaped increased productivity, effectiveness and efficiency through work teams. HR departments have sweated over team implementation, molding and encouraging individuals to become cohesive groups. But with such intense involvement on areas outside their function, HR departments can forget one important thing: To best serve their company, HR professionals themselves must practice what they preach—they must form a close-knit, interactive team.

Schaumburg, Illinois-based Motorola, Inc. is one company that has implemented a team-building program for its HR people. Not a program designed by HR, or implemented by HR, but for HR. In this case, it was the HR professionals who took center stage-and were rewarded with a higher level of trust, openness and creativity, as well as reduced stress.

A successful HR department is one that views itself as a team.
Over the past five years, the HR function has focused more intensely on serving its customers, or business partners. This major shift has increased HR's impact in the company. Yet it has come at a price. As the interaction with business partners outside the HR area grows, HR professionals invest more time and energy in building relationships with the business units they support. Over time, HR professionals begin to psychologically bond with their business partners.

This bond can soon become a deterrent to HR job duties. Human resources professionals no longer define themselves as members of an HR team, but as members of their business unit's team. Like a ream of paper going through the collating machine, each HR professional allies with his or her business partner, and the HR team identity quietly disappears. When that happens, HR loses its objectivity. It can no longer coach and guide its business partners because it has become a part of the business unit's team.

When HR moves out of an advisory role and into the frame of mind of its business partner, its effectiveness is threatened. It can no longer offer the expertise of a consultant on the outside looking in. HR's ability to create innovative solutions is impaired.

"To best serve their company, HR professionals themselves must practice what they preach—they must form a close-knit, interactive team."

It's common for HR teams to function below their potential. They mentor their business partners and rebuild teams in other departments while their own teams are splitting apart because of a lack of trust and communication. And when HR professionals have new successes, they share their innovations with their business partners rather than with their colleagues, further increasing the gap. Are they consciously aware of these departmental shortcomings? Probably not. But they can find out about them. This information can be gathered in several ways: Through an interview process, a 360-degree assessment program specifically focused on HR's role, or some combination of both. Feedback on HR's strengths and weaknesses helps pull the focus back on the department as a unit, and also helps build interdepartmental communication.

Two HR departments at Motorola were aware that their HR teams could benefit from increased synergy. Both groups faced some serious team-building obstacles: They were lean, high-growth units, geographically remote from each other, which made it easier for HR professionals to align with their business partners than with each other. Individual performance was excellent, but team needs were more important than ever.

Last year, the two departments asked me to provide a 360-degree assessment for their HR groups. I used these multi-source assessments—which obtain feedback from a broad base of input—in conjunction with interviews, which provide supplemental and more detailed information about needed improvements. This type of combined feedback tells each individual about his or her strengths and improvement areas, which, when shared as a group, helps the HR team grow together.

HR departments become teams with help from feedback.
Jack Beavers, vice president and director of HR for one of Motorola's fastest-growing groups—Automotive, Energy and Controls—was concerned about his 135-person HR department. With such rapid growth, his leadership team was polarizing, and he knew they needed to come together to remain effective. Beavers had personally been through the 360-degree assessment process as part of Motorola's executive development program, so he chose a similar approach for his team-building exercise. Included in this program were Beavers' eight corporate direct reports and the five site managers who report to them, spanning two levels below Beavers.

Beavers and his team worked with me to develop specific questions to allow them to get feedback about their effectiveness. This feedback came from a variety of perspectives—we elicited opinions from HR peers, HR business partners and internal customers, the participants' direct reports and the participants' managers. I supplemented the 360-degree assessment with two other assessment tools: The Myers Briggs Preference Indicator from Palo Alto, California-based Psychological Consultants, and the 16 Personality Factors Instrument (16 PF), a test administered only by licensed psychologists and available from Champaign, Illinois-based IPAT.

The Myers Briggs tool identifies each person's approach to leadership. The 16 Personality Factors Instrument helps people understand what drives their behavior, and how their personality affects their approach to their jobs (see "HR's Got Personality").

The instruments also provide a way for me to talk with participants on a deeper, more reflective level. The advantage of going deeper, and talking about motivation and underlying intention as well as actual behavior, is that the process allows us to connect entire patterns of behavior, providing the groundwork for significant and long-lasting changes.

The Myers Briggs and 16 PF instruments work well together. For example, consider a creative person who is viewed by peers as not being very innovative. Using the two instruments together can identify the discrepancy: The person's 16 PF scores may be high for creativity, yet their Myers Briggs score may be low in risk taking. Bottom line? The individual comes up with new ideas, but is too risk-shy to share the innovations with peers, and so does not seem creative. Understanding how these two characteristics-creativity with a fear of risks-create a pattern of behavior allows the HR team to address the problem. The solution could be as easy as simply knowing that the person's opinion must be sensitively elicited rather than expecting him or her to jump right into a debate.

Once the feedback has been assessed, I provide the results in a one-on-one, three-hour session with each individual. Along with teamwork, the assessments address other issues such as:

  • Cooperation, collaboration and company networking
  • Ethics, integrity and trust
  • Communications
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Coaching managers and employees
  • Personal leadership
  • Overall performance.

This is followed by a two-day team program in which people share their feedback, talk about specific skills, aptitudes and values of their team, as well as the strengths and development areas they share as a group. We start the meeting with the Myers Briggs scores, which highlight the team members' differences, as well as places where the team members are too much alike. Next, we look at the distribution of the 16 PF scores, and team members are grouped according to the combination of both scores.

From these assessments, the HR staff members learn which behaviors must change. In particular, we address behavior that thwarts team-building efforts. For instance, failure to give direct, honest feedback to other team members is a detriment to team effectiveness. Yet, it's often easier to ignore problems with teammates than to confront them. The anger then stays bottled up. People withdraw and don't reach out to others, resulting in a team that functions below maximum synergy. Learning how to give and accept feedback builds team solidarity and prevents team splitting from occurring.

On the second day, we focus on the 360-degree assessments. Giving people a safe way to share their feedback creates a very open team environment, where members clarify issues they don't understand and become more comfortable sharing feedback and being honest with each other. The assessment approach takes the sting out of criticism and focuses team members on solutions involving each of them. Teams quickly grasp the fact that as soon as something is measured, it begins to improve.

At the close of both the individual and group meetings, participants set goals for characteristics they want to change. They share these with the group so that team members can encourage and support each other along the way. They also agree to follow up at quarterly intervals. After the assessments, teams feel more open with each other and realize the enormous talent they have within their departments. People often select mentors on an informal basis and practice giving each other feedback.

"Getting feedback is an enormous opportunity to develop," says Beavers. He shared with the group the feedback he'd received about his own performance, and his openness set the tone for the frank discussions that followed. "I think when you get feedback that's not all positive, it's a wake-up call," he says. "I've seen people focus on things they need to do, and I'm seeing stronger relationships and more accountability. Our customers say that our department is more aligned."

Beavers particularly zeroed in on the importance of teamwork in building HR influence skills-the skills used to persuade another person, such as a business partner, that the advice the HR professional is providing should be acted upon. This becomes particularly important as HR drives more of the business strategy. As HR team members learn to be more open with each other, and internal conflicts are faced and resolved, they will be able to build a consensus which, once established, makes members better able to convince others to implement their ideas.

The HR department's new team-oriented viewpoint is helping the group stick together during the challenges of rapid growth. "The process of [internal] alignment was viewed favorably by my team," Beavers says. "If I asked for feedback right now, it would probably be that the HR directors are more aligned with each other, more focused on real issues and more proactive rather than reactive."

Team members are now more likely to confront and resolve interdepartmental conflicts so they can focus on the real HR issues. For example, two individuals in Beavers' group had worked together for years, yet were experiencing conflict with each other. One person thought her peer was trying to drive her own process home at all costs, and the other thought her co-worker wasn't being supportive. By giving each other honest feedback, they quickly ironed out the problem.

"When there's shared responsibility and unity of purpose, then there's trust," says Beavers. "If you trust someone, you'll push the envelope faster. We're accomplishing a lot in a short period of time. I think team building is a big part of it."

Motorola's second HR group had similar success. Glenn Gienko was a corporate HR vice president for the General Systems Sector when he decided to implement a team-building program. (He recently has been appointed to corporate vice president and director of HR for all of Motorola.) Like Beavers, Gienko also decided that a 360-degree assessment was key to strengthening his HR team.

"In a fast-moving, high-growth business like ours, I could see the natural forces of gravity pulling our HR team apart," says Gienko. "We moved towards the business units we served, and we forgot we were an HR team. Yet we can serve our customers best by being a team."

Gienko knew his department had room for improvement. Among his nine direct reports, he saw natural redundancies in work processes, successes that weren't being picked up by other team members and too much reinventing of the wheel. He recognized that these problems threatened the company's competitive advantage—Motorola emphasizes that "The difference between success and failure is our people."

Gienko's 360-degree assessment—also supplemented by the Myers Briggs and 16 PF instruments—included heads of HR for all businesses his sector comprises. Also included were four staff specialists: the staffing manager, the strategic HR manager, the communications manager and the environmental health and safety manager. Gienko's wanted the program to help his team members better understand each other so they could work together more effectively and efficiently.

"You get so immersed in day-to-day business that you keep running as fast as you can," he says. "A little better appreciation of the strengths of our team members—and how each of us can contribute—was needed. We also needed course correction by our peers, direct reports and customers, to let us know if we're headed in the right direction."

Like Beavers' HR group, Gienko's team members also were provided with individual, one-on-one feedback. They then met in a two-day group session to discuss past, present and future HR strategy. Again, frank, open discussion was the key—it opened the lines of communication and provided the HR team with insight into their co-workers.

Gienko says he can already sense the renewed energy and synergy in his team. The team has a heightened awareness of its collective power. And team members continue to be more invigorated as their goals become realities. Gary Howard, who reported to Gienko at the time of the survey, and who is Motorola's director of HR for the Cellular Infrastructure Group, says the 360-degree assessment provided useful information. "The program gave me a sense of how well I'm communicating my HR mission to my staff," he says. "It gave us a sense of how well we're performing the complex HR role for our customers. The most powerful message is the insight into the personal characteristics that are working well or need improvement."

As Motorola's HR departments continue to help other business areas grow, the groups know now that they need to pay as much attention to their own growth. With a new understanding of each other and open lines of communication, these two departments can truly demonstrate the value of teams.

Personnel Journal, June 1995, Vol. 74, No. 6, pp. 117-123.