Transition (Temperature) Monitoring Team

Change Management, Culture D&I | 2 comments

I was recently contacted by Susan Bridges, the widow of William Bridges, the guru of Transition (and Change) Management. I had corresponded with Bill who taught and certified me to use his material many years ago, and Susan, who is producing an anniversary updated version of his classic book ‘Managing Transitions’, was interested in my work with Transition (or as we called it, Temperature) Monitoring Teams.

The TMT, as they are also know in Bill’s book, is a network of people who check the ‘temperature’ of the organisation, through picking up, collecting and sorting rumours, complaints, complements and passing on to leadership what everyone in the organisation was really thinking and talking about.

Whilst set up for a short but major transformation at Shell in Amsterdam, where I worked, in 1995, it became a permanent fixture through a series of large (and minor) reorganisations. Over the first ten years of its existence (and having set it up I continued to be connected in different roles and it continued for at least another five years afterwards), the team had many changes of personnel, and indeed changes in the organisation that it was monitoring, but the same essential three classic roles were performed:

  1. The TMT demonstrated commitment from the organisation that it wanted to know how things were going for people
  2. The TMT provided a point of ready access to the organisation’s grapevine and so could be used to correct misinformation and counter rumours, as well as letting the leadership know what people were really thinking and saying
  3. The TMT could be used as an effective focus group to review communications before they are announced (although in practice we used this rarely)

A longer case study paper is available, so feel free to contact me if you want to know more, but here are a few of my learnings and experiences.

  • Selection of TMT members was vital to its success; people with natural networks and networking skills, who had credibility and whom other people trusted
  • Members covered all parts of the (formal) organisation, geographical areas of the organization, had different backgrounds, were at different levels of seniority in the organisation and even different ages (and both sexes)
  • An efficient and workable TMT-team seemed to consist of a maximum 12 members each representing a part of the organisation
  • They collected input in different ways: via e-mail, by the coffee machine or in the hallways, at coffee or lunch breaks, at personal meetings or by people spontaneously giving it
  • The input always remained anonymous
  • The TMT met face-to-face as a team every 2-3 months to synthesise the material and to try to make sense of it; when the need arose, the team met more frequently
  • The team met together with a representative of top management, who acted as the liaison. I did this role myself for a number of years before becoming the top line manager myself. This person also needs to be well-chosen. They must be trusted by the TMT members, be sympathetic to the process, and have the ear of, and access to, the top leader
  • The items, which were considered to be the most important, and had a high frequency, were identified as the burning issues, which were shared with the leadership team. In later years, as the leadership became more confident with the often critical feedback, it became standard to openly feedback to all staff the current concerns and actions arising from those concerns
  • Input often fell into the following categories: Leadership; Communication; Motivation; Concerns/Uncertainty; Structure/Organisation; The list was extended with other specific items when appropriate
  • The response of the management was crucial to assure a continuous flow of input from the employees
  • Responses to input was given in Talks-to-Staff (TownHalls), and a few years into its existence, a note was issued to all staff to indicate the current concerns in the organisation and actions to have come out of concerns. Later (when I was Site Director), the TMT ‘Burning Issues’ were published in a weekly electronic communication which went to all staff, and I responded to those issues with my thoughts also openly, within two weeks.
  • We had an early and unexpected success, which proved the concept very early on and boosted credibility
  • Not all members of the leadership team were happy with the (often critical) responses. Certainly in the formative years there were often requests for more statistical data, which was successfully resisted, as the importance of the input was people’s feelings and emotions
  • Actions came from the input in many different ways: sometimes this led to immediate and direct action but input could also be fed into or stimulate longer-term strategic initiatives, to either partly stimulate initiatives (skill resource management for example)
  • The TMT was not a mechanism to replace any ‘open door’ policy or talking to line management
  • The TMT was not in place of or in competition with the Staff Councils, which have an important legal position in continental Europe.
  • It was important that the TMT members were not seen as an extension of management to ensure their credibility; partly for this reason, the average TMT member sat in the team for 2-3 years before changing out
  • Members received no monetary or additional reward (except perhaps once a year a dinner). They agreed in the beginning to be part of the TMT because they wanted to help the organisation improve. Later, as the TMT became better known, it became prestigious to be asked to be part of it
  • It was originally thought that communication would improve such that the TMT could become obsolete and cease to exist. This view changed as it became clear that the TMT was an additional method of communication with the organisation as a whole, a positive channel, and was not there because of a breakdown or failure in ‘normal’ communication processes

In conclusion, Shell Research’s Temperature Monitoring Team was successful over more than a decade through a number of major organisational changes, and influenced the culture of the organisation, improving the overall openness of communication and feedback between management and staff.

2 Comments

  1. Marese Dijken

    Gary it was great to be a member of this team for some years and it really worked the way you describe

    Reply
  2. Laura Hansen

    Hello, I would be grateful to connect with you to ask you to share the longer case study paper that I would forward to an organization in Sacramento, CA that is about to set up a TMT for their organization.

    Reply

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