An Impossible Dream? What’s wrong with the team? What’s wrong with the team? Zequine Mansell’s words repeated over and over in Allen Block’s head as he boarded the plane from Los Angeles to Chicago. Block was responsible for the technical implementation of the new customer relationship management (CRM) software being installed for western and eastern sales offices in both cities. The software was badly needed to improve follow-up sales for his company, Exert Systems. Exert sold exercise equipment to high schools and colleges, as well as to small and midsize businesses for recreation centers, through a national force of 310 salespeople. The company’s low prices won a lot of sales; however, follow-up service was uneven and the new CRM system promised to resolve those problems with historical data, inquiries, reminders, and updates going to sales reps daily. The CEO of Exert ordered the CRM system installed with all possible haste. Block pulled a yellow pad and pen from the side pocket of his carry-on bag and tossed it in the seat beside the window, stashed the bag in the overhead compartment, and sat down as other passengers filed past. In an effort to shut out his thoughts, he closed his eyes and concentrated on the muffled voices and low whooshing sound of the air vents. An image appeared in his mind of his promotion to Mansell’s job when she retired in two years. He blocked that thought and started doodling on the pad as a way of focusing his thoughts. He wrote what’s wrong with the team three times and began drawing arrows to circles bearing the names of his team members: Barry Livingston and Max Wojohowski in Los Angeles and Bob Finley, Lynne Johnston, and Sally Phillips in Chicago. He marked through Sally’s name. She had jumped ship recently, taking her less-than-stellar but much-needed talents with her to another company. It was on a previous LA–Chicago flight that Sally had pumped him for feedback on her future with Exert. She had informed him that she had another job offer. She admitted it was less money, but she was feeling under pressure as a member of the team and she wanted more “quality of life.” Block told Sally bluntly that her technical expertise, on which he placed top importance, was slightly below that of her peers, so future promotion was less likely despite her impressive people and team skills. He wrote “quality of life”, circled it, and then crossed it out and wrote “what the hell?” Why should she get quality of life he mused? I’ve barely seen my wife and kids since this project started. Block’s team was under a great deal of pressure, and he had needed Sally to stick it out. He told her so, but the plane had barely touched down when she went directly to the office and quit, leaving the team short-handed and too close to deadline to add another body. What’s wrong with the team? Block furiously scribbled as his thoughts raced: (1) The deadline is ridiculously short. Mansell had scheduled a 10-week completion deadline for the new CRM software, including installation and training for both cities. He was interrupted by the stewardess. “Would you care for a drink, sir?” “Yes. Just water.” Block took a sip and continued to write. (2) Thank God for LA. From the outset, Barry and Max had worked feverishly while avoiding the whining and complaining that seemed to overwhelm members of the Chicago team. The atmosphere was different. Although the project moved forward, meeting deadlines, there appeared to be less stress. The LA guys focused tirelessly on work, with no families to consider, alternating intense work with joking around. “Those are my kind of people,” he thought. (3) But there is Chicago, he wrote. Earlier in the day Sam Matheny from sales had e-mailed, then called, Block to tell him the two remaining members of the Chicago team appeared to be alternating between bickering and avoiding one another. Apparently this had been going on for some time. What’s with that? Block wondered. And why did Sam know and I didn’t? So that morning, before his flight, Block had to make time to call and text both Finley and Johnston. Finley admitted he had overreacted to Johnston. “Look, man. I’m tired and stressed out. We’ve been working non-stop. My wife is not happy.” “Just get along until this project is completed,” Block ordered. “When will that be?” Finley asked before hanging up. Block thought about Mansell’s persistent complaints to him that the team appeared to have a lack of passion, and she admonished him to “get your people to understand the urgency of this project.” Her complaints only added to his own stress level. He had long considered himself the frontrunner for Mansell’s job when she retired in two years. But had his team ruined that dream? The sense of urgency could be measured now in the level of stress and the long hours they had all endured. He admitted his team members were unenthusiastic, but they seemed committed. Is it too late to turn around and restore the level of teamwork? He tore off the sheet from the pad, crumpled it in his hand, and stared out the window.
1. How would you characterize Block’s leadership approach (task versus people)? What approach do you think is correct for this situation? Why?
2. What would you do now if you were Block? How might you awaken more enthusiasm in your team for completing this project on time? Specify the steps you would take.
3. How would you suggest that Block modify his leadership style if he wants to succeed Mansell in two years? Be specific.