So Sinatra's "My Way" is your theme song? Just don't make it your work style.
America's love affair with rugged individualism -- at least in the work place -- is nearing an end, according to an increasing number of management consultants. Among them, Bob Bookman, president of Bookman Resources Inc., an Arlington consulting firm that advises corporations on the techniques of replacing outdated macho management with teamwork.
"Ten years ago, the norm for getting something done in most work settings was to 'kick a little ass,' to borrow George Bush's words," says Bookman. "That norm is changing. It's now participate, cooperate, innovate and facilitate. It's teamwork."
Bookman points to signs he says indicate our society already is captivated by the team concept: among them, the WRC-TV news team promos and Team Xerox. "The undeniable success of the work-team way of thinking in Japanese industry," he adds, "has great appeal here in our corporate world."
The reason? Simple mathematics. After decades of stability and steady growth, U.S. productivity hit the skids in the mid '70s, about the same time foreign competitors started multiplying their world trade. Corporate executives have been scurrying ever since to find innovations to bolster production and rewrite the old profit formulas.
There have been no quick fixes. Japanese management cloning hasn't proved to be the cure-all some American businessmen had hoped for. Patching the work place with hybrid innovations, a "quality circle" here and a "matrix reorganization" there, hasn't made up for the shortcomings of rigid corporate structures and shortsighted management practices. But it has helped to create new management styles and redefine work hierarchies in an increasing number of companies.
More than half of the 195 companies surveyed last year by the Bureau of National Affairs planned to start new productivity programs (the most popular, quality circles or labor-management committees) during the next two years. Rosabeth Moss Kantor, author of The Change Masters: Innovation For Productivity in the American Corporation, attributes that corporate willingness to positive results: productivity programs give employes incentive "to move beyond the box of their own jobs."
It's not, acknowledges Bookman, an easy move. While most American workers and managers cheer innovations such as the team concept, they're often uncomfortable when the changes invade traditional offices and jobs.
"In essence, I'm suggesting that many people need to change their fundamental work styles today to be successful tomorrow," says Bookman, 40, who left the faculty of Cornell University to practice business theory beyond the ivory tower. He combines a background in organizational development with psychological sleight of hand to trick, conjole and nurture his seminar participants into a team frame of mind. Clients such as Wang Laboratories, American Security Bank, the Mitre Corp. and the U.S. Navy Sea Systems Command pay $750 a day to develop a work mentality designed to accomplish specific team goals.
"The teamwork experience is like being a boy scout around the campfire. You share the last sandwich," says Bookman. "You can't be in it for personal gain -- only for the benefit of the team."
To create a team, Bookman says coworkers first must accept six basic philosophies in the work place:
* Trust. Employes and supervisors are typically wary of each other, the greatest obstacle to flexibility and information flow.
* Involvement. Teamwork success is dependent on everyone believing their participation counts, regardless of where they fit into the hierarchy.
* Point-of-view communication. One of "America's most popular TV commercials are the Miller Lite ads, which exemplify our cultural ideal of good fellowship," says Bookman. "But they always come down to an ambivalence of opinion: 'good taste' versus 'less filling.' Point-of-view communication doesn't collide like that. People aren't right or wrong. Opinions count as much as facts and figures."
* Emphasis on others' strengths, not weaknesses. Employes must look for ways to complement rather than compete with each other.
* Persuasive, instead of paternal, leadership. Managers must become good listeners, willing to involve others in decision-making. "Ask American workers who the boss is, and they all know. Ask Japanese workers the same question and they point to everyone around them. They all take personal responsibility."
* Precise objectives. "Team members need to know precise goals and deadlines in solving defined problems," says Bookman. "Otherwise, it has the same effect as an airline pilot telling passengers, 'We're going to try to land now.' "
Bookman tells his clients that, once broken in, the teamwork concept becomes as comfortable as an old shoe -- made in the U.S.A. "I'm hesitant," he says, "to emulate the Japanese work environment too much. But put together our sense of creativity and entrepreneurship and their sense of responsibility and teamwork and you have a winning combination." The Work Ethic
You want to take a stand at work but aren't sure how? That's the kind of quandary tackled by the Washington Ethical Society's People Skills at Work forums. The society meets monthly for lunch and group discussions at Herb's Restaurant near Dupont Circle.
Scheduled for the March 20 meeting: "Leading From Where You Are." April 17, "Making It Safe To Be Yourself; May 15, "Discovering Purpose -- Where Do You Fit In?" The cost, including lunch, is $15. For more information: (202) 822-6650.