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Article No.: 08-2

Article Title: Group Level Needs Assessment

Author: Guest Columnist: MaryAnn Lohmueller

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Teams are quite simply the amino acid of corporate life. Small groups of employees at all levels of an organization, each with a piece of the puzzle, can solve complex problems more effectively and creatively than any individual.

The challenge to an organizational development professional is to accurately and efficiently partner, strategize, and collaborate with “teams” (loosely defined) to enact solutions to move the business forward. Every competent OD professional will insist that a prerequisite to any substantial intervention (and after all every intervention changes the flow of an organization to some degree) in the life of an organization is to conduct a needs assessment.

Traditionally, needs assessments are conducted by working with and through individual employees through the completion of a written survey, or individual interviews. This method is often a long, slow, tedious process such that when it is completed, the data is often outdated. This practice must certainly go by the way of the dinosaur to adjust to the rapidly changing global business environment.

To replace this traditional method, I propose using a best practice called the Group Level Needs Assessment. This method was modified from the work of the late Dr. Brendan Reddy through his consulting practice and the writing of his book, “Group Level Team Assessment”.

Let me compare the individual assessment to the group assessment before proceeding further:
 

ASSESSMENT

INDIVIDUAL GROUP LEVEL
  • Consult is the conduit of information
  • Members do not interact
  • Consultant determines trends
  • Trends to generate negative data
  • Confessional/secretive approach
  • Slow, labor-intensive process
  • Not cost effective
  • Little ownership of data
  • Results often "scapegoated" to consultant
  • Generate data together in real time
  • Collaborative process
  • Group determines trends
  • Team members openly share
  • Fast/energizing process
  • Cost effective and efficient
  • Group owns data
  • Group creates action plans


As Chris Argyris told us through his 1970 publication, Intervention Theory and Method, “valid information, free choice, and internal commitment are considered integral parts of any intervention, no matter what the objectives are.”

The goal of any needs assessment should be to generate timely valid data from which team members can make a reasoned decision. Employees are then confronted with the most important questions of all – “am I going to take ownership for helping my team become more effective?”

The best result that can come from a “needs assessment” is one that will allow team members the opportunity to talk with each other about what is transpiring dynamically in their group. This is exactly what Group Level Needs Assessment accomplishes that traditional individual assessments do not.

What is the rationale for this best practice?

The process is based on the premise that collaboration and consensual agreement produces the most efficient and effective results.  Specifically, a Group Level Needs Assessment presumes that employees are ready to act when they are willing to talk about the transpiring dynamics of their team.

One aspect that makes this process effective is the public generation of a common data base and working it to completion through subgroups.  Ownership of the data comes out of this process and leads the team to commit to action plans they were responsible for developing.  “Public data gathering”, means all the members of the group generate the data all together in real time.  Marv Weisbrod in his 1987 book, Productive Workplaces, makes the case for working with the entire team at once by indicating it “favors the timely development of a common data base” filtered through the team’s eyes and not the eyes of a consultant.

Traditional assessments often take so long that the data is outdated by the time it is collected, analyzed, and fed back to the “powers that be”.

What does this best practice look like?

During the process “team members” (loosely defined) generate data together.  Specifically, a Group Level Needs Assessment calls for the commitment of 4 to 6 hours of time during which team members, with the help of a skilled consultant, collectively generate data by responding initially in writing to statements placed on flipcharts located on walls throughout the room, the data is reviewed in subgroups (several times), resulting in the formulation of an assessment of the team, then finally, the production of action plans.

The statements listed on the walls throughout the room are generated by the consultant after making initial contact with any combination of people from an HR representative to the group manager, or any other executive in the organization.  No matter what, the consultant must meet at least briefly (approximately 15 minutes) with the team as a whole prior to the intervention.  During this time, often as part of a regular staff meeting, the consultant introduces herself, the purpose of the assessment and overviews the process while asking the group, “what’s going on?”.  Statements (called data generators) that I have used before include any combination of the following:

  • Taboo Topics in this group include. . .
  • When we’re working well together we. . .
  • We need to start. . .
  • We need to stop. . .
  • We need to do more. . .
  • We need to do lees. . .
  • We need to begin. . .
  • I wonder why. . .
  • I wonder what if. . . 
  • In 5 years we could be. . .
  • Others perceive us to be. . .
  • It seems as if we handle conflict by. . .

What kind of results can I expect?

Enthusiasm and an honest assessment of both the positive and negative aspects of what is transpiring in the team is what consistently surfaces from this type of assessment. A skilled consultant creating a safe environment will not get merely polite, politically correct responses. Instead, team members during a Group Level Needs Assessment share openly in a balanced manner many relevant observations about their work world.  As this information is shared, dialogue ensues which invariably clarifies misperceptions that inhibit the development of a high performance team. Understanding and buy-in of this caliber, translates into employees being ready to interact with each other in different ways.

A Final Note

The most important consideration for an OD professional to ask yourself prior to utilizing this best practice is “am I skilled to conduct this assessment?”  A consultant engaging in this practice must have significantly well developed skills in group process consultation to interject process expertise, stay out of the content, while creating and maintaining a safe environment.

For questions or comments, contact Mary Ann at: maryann.lohmueller@gmail.com.

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