Introducing the Basics of Teamwork and Communication

A community action agency was in danger of losing its funding.  The agency’s funding sources had threatened to pull support unless the agency staff could solve its internal problems and become productive.

Problems were documented through a combination of state audits, customer complaints, staff complaints, vendor complaints, monitoring, and compliance reviews.  The new president of the agency was at odds with much of the staff, and trust levels within the organization were at an all-time low.

The agency had been founded and directed by one person who died several years ago; the issues within their agency are not uncommon among other community action agencies.  When you’ve had one boss for 20 to 30 years, it is often difficult to adjust to a new personality and a new way of doing things.

The agency staff had developed an ‘us versus them’ mentality with regard to the senior management team and the president.  The agency was no longer productive – the staff wasn’t organized appropriately and they didn’t have any accountability mechanisms in place.  As a result, the agency had been audited due to its lack of productivity; the organization constantly missed deadlines.  Reports were late and often incomplete or inaccurate, payments were not being made in a timely fashion, allocation of personnel to tasks was often inefficient, and rules were not being followed.

The staff needed to learn to work as a unit to increase productivity.  The organization needed overall professional development at all levels and had no mechanism to link employee evaluation to continuous improvement planning.

The agency’s staff sensed they weren’t working as a team, but they had no idea why.  The agency thrived on having meetings but had no clue as to what the meetings even cost the agency to assess against measurable impacts, which too often were defined as writing up the minutes in a timely fashion.

The Team Dimension Profile and DiSC were introduced as the solution to the agency’s problems.  The Team Dimension Profile helped introduce the idea of team roles and process for project development, and DiSC was introduced to help sensitize the agency’s staff to communication issues.

Once the staff achieved self-understanding, they could begin to understand the communication styles of others, particularly how their coworkers received information based on their behavioral styles.

The goal was to introduce a new philosophy into the agency: integrated human services.  Human services delivery is most often done in “silos.”  There is a silo for energy assistance, another for food assistance, another for employment assistance, one for housing assistance, and so on.  An integrated human services case management system links those silos together and provides more effective solutions to customers’ needs.  As an example, it does little good to train a person for a job when they lack transportation, adequate clothing, day care and dental care.

The training session began by talking about changes in the human services system and the philosophy of human service shifting from entitlement to personal responsibility and how that provided new challenges for the profession along with the increased expectations for performance accountability.

Next, everyone completed the Team Dimensions Profile which led to a discussion of the Z-process and the importance of balance on teams.

At the beginning of the second day everyone in the room was given a box of four light bulbs.  As the agency’s staff began working through the materials and discussions, lights were coming on for people regarding their ability to impact the future.  People were instructed to pick a lamp at home or at the office and to use these light bulbs to remind themselves of what they learned during the training and apply those aspects to their everyday life, each time they turned on the lamp.

From this, the agency’s staff was introduced to the DiSC Classic Profile.  Everyone also received the DiSC Talk! Keys to Dimensions of Behavior and the DiSC People Reading Guide. It was also recommended to the agency’s MIS director that the DiSC General Characteristics Report be provided for all key staff.

In addition to the DiSC Classic Profile and the Team Dimensions Profile the participants were encouraged to put the ideas of team roles and style interaction into a personal perspective - at home, in religious or neighborhood groups, etc. – in order to expand their horizons about how these ideas of interpersonal skills can positively affect all aspects of their lives, not just work.  One individual reported that he planned to use the DiSC Classic Profile and the Team Dimensions Profile with his church committees. Another planned to use the Team Dimensions Profile with his college-bound daughter to help her with career planning. 

At the beginning of the process, many of the participants were hostile; they thought they knew everything they needed to know to perform their jobs.  Slowly, they began to understand that they could learn valuable communication skills and teamwork strategies. Their hostility decreased during the course of the initial training and had pretty much evaporated after six months. The innovation teams provided the foundation for the agency’s future success.


DiSC Case Study from Inscape Publishing