Conference Tecniques



IDEO, a design firm discussed briefly in Chapter 4, is a prime example of the empowered team approach. In fact, IDEO is considered so effective at team empowerment that for the last several years it has served as a consultant for diverse organizations all over the world (Kelley & Littman, 2001; see also “IDEO has been on a mission not just to serve business, but to reform it” (Myerson, 2001, p. 8). This effort has been dubbed IDEO University.
IDEO has a flattened hierarchy characterized by few titles and no time clocks or specified vacation schedules (Hyatt, 2010). Employees are free to transfer to overseas offices in London or Tokyo or to transcontinental offices in Chicago or New York, as long as someone from those offices agrees to swap jobs. A team of designers, not “the boss,” chooses new team members. At IDEO, employees are treated as equals who set their own schedules (typically 50- to 60-hour workweeks) while meeting demanding standards and strict deadlines. Designers can pick project teams and even occasionally specific projects to tackle. “Its flat multi-disciplinary ‘hot team’ structure is democratic, engages the client directly in the work, and reflects the idea that ‘big ideas come from small teams’” (Myerson, 2001, p. 30).

The pyramid structure and the star system are replaced with team empowerment. Status at IDEO is based on talent, not seniority (Kelley & Littman, 2001). As one designer puts it, “The only way to enhance your reputation in the organization is by earning the respect of your peers” (Myerson, 2001, p. 31). Each of IDEO’s studios, with between 25 and 30 designers apiece, has maximum autonomy to shape its work environment. Each studio reflects the personality of the design team residing in the space provided. One studio team hung a $4,000 DC3 airplane wing from the ceiling to create a “cool space.”

“Hierarchy is the enemy of cool space” (Kelley & Littman, 2001, p. 136). As founder David Kelley explains, “The general principle with work environments at IDEO is to try stuff and then ask forgiveness, rather than ask for permission first” (Myerson, 2001, p. 30). Traditional organizations assign office space and create a pecking order for the high-status “corner office with a window.” Rules forbidding personal items such as family photos, wall posters, and the like are rigidly enforced. Office square footage traditionally is a status symbol in hierarchical organizations. IDEO’s director of business development, David Haygood, tells the story of one of his previous employers who assigned workers to dismal, tiny cubicles if they were “grade 19” or lower, while workers given a grade 20 or above got hard-walled offices with an actual door. When reorganization occurred, grade 20 employees engaged in a competitive squabble to seize the offices with the most square footage. When Haygood moved to another company, he had the false ceiling of his office ripped out and overhead fixtures spray-painted black. His office was purposely the worst in the building. When some of his employees complained to him about their inferior offices, Haygood offered to switch with them (Kelley & Littman, 2001). He got no takers. David Kelley’s office at IDEO is remarkably similar to the offices of his designers.


1.Do you think the IDEO-empowered team approach would work in every organization? What might prevent it from translating well to some organizations?


2. Would an IDEO-type organization appeal to you? Explain. Would you have any reservations about working in a organization structured lied IDEO?


3. Describe the team leader’s role in an IDEO-type organization.


Question 2

Team Relationships

Group members are the raw materials of any successful team. Assembling the optimum combination of individuals is the starting point for team building. Building competent team relationships is a complicated process that unfolds over time. In this assignment, consider how teams are developed successfully through the individual team members.

Your assignment is to write a 2-3 page paper that answers the following questions:

  • Why is the attitude of team members at least as important as their aptitude for decision-making and problem solving?
  • How is a team identity developed?
  • Should team roles be chosen by team members? Why or why not?
  • Identify three ways to develop competent team relationships. Provide examples for each


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