A Virtual Team-Building Workshop: Meeting the needs of leadership development coaches in the United States Coast Guard
A paper written for “Developing the Organization’s Human Capital” (Leadership 8530) in the Fischler School of Education & Human Services of Nova Southeastern University.
The United States Coast Guard traces its roots back to the Revenue Cutter Service; The Revenue Cutter Service was founded in 1790 by Alexander Hamilton, the country’s first Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton realized both the need for the young United States to “suppress smuggling and ensure duties and taxes were paid” (U.S. Coast Guard, 2002, p. 20) and the need for the officers of the infant Revenue Marine to be wise leaders. He had sought authorization from Congress to build cutters to help generate revenue for the United States, and, more importantly – at least for this discussion – Hamilton provided crystal clear leadership direction, in the form of a letter, to the first officers of that service. (Hamilton, 1791) Thus began a tradition of strong leadership in the Coast Guard; for more than 200 years, the service has grown leaders. That strong tradition from our nation’s infancy continues to the present day. Earlier this year the Commandant of the Coast Guard mandated a unit-level leadership development program, building on the strengths of other initiatives employed to increase performance through leadership and management. (U.S. Coast Guard, 2005a) With the advent of the Unit Leadership Development Program, the service is now attempting to institutionalize leadership development at all levels of the organization.
Overview of the Unit Leadership Development Program
The Coast Guard’s Unit Leadership Development Program – commonly referred to by it’s acronym, ULDP – is an overarching framework for unit-level leaders to develop and implement an ongoing leadership development program. The primary feature of the ULDP is a website – see http://learning.uscg.mil/uldp – which has a list of resources for training and non-training leadership interventions, all segmented by the Coast Guard’s defined leadership competencies. More than a decade ago, the Coast Guard developed a list of leadership competencies all military members and civilian employees were expected to be able to demonstrate. The service believed, and still believes, these competencies can be taught, and they can be learned. The Coast Guard now has 28 leadership competencies segmented into four categories: leading self, leading others, leading performance and change, and leading the Coast Guard. (U. S. Coast Guard, 2004a)
The ULDP website also offers unit leaders the opportunity to generate a web-delivered survey instrument, again based on the Coast Guard’s leadership competencies, to determine the unit’s leadership development strengths and areas for improvement. The assessment instrument has 36 questions (U. S. Coast Guard, 2004b), most of which were originally published in the “Organizational Assessment Survey” developed by federal Office of Personnel Management (n.d.) for the Coast Guard or in the “Are We Making Progress” survey developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (2004) for the Baldrige National Quality Program. Once at least 50% of the possible respondents have completed the survey-–commonly called the ULDP-36-–the unit’s responsible person can see the results. The survey results are aggregated by leadership competency; the mean average of the response is provided for each competency. No demographic information is collected with the instrument, so there is no method for segmenting the data to determine response rates for sub-groups such as women at the unit, enlisted members at the unit, or first-term members at the unit.
A third part of the ULDP is a “coach” component. Some 40 Coast Guard civilian employees and military members have received certification as a ULDP Coach. Unit leaders who want personalized assistance as they develop their implementation plan, review their survey results, choose appropriate interventions or resources, or implement their overarching leadership development programs, partner with a certified coach. A list of all the coaches is available on the ULDP website; unit leaders can directly contact a coach, or they can contact a coach coordinator for a referral based on their needs and situation. At the initial beta introduction of the ULDP, specific individuals were invited to attend a one-week training session and become a coach; the invitees were senior noncommissioned officers serving in full-time Command Master Chief billets, faculty and staff from the Leadership Development Center, and internal Organizational Performance Consultants. Since that initial training session in January 2005, the leadership development program manager has opened the rolls of coach to any military member, civilian employee, or volunteer Auxiliarist who has the interest and skills in being a coach and has the appropriate professional experience. The process for certification includes an interview with a coach coordinator, a lengthy application, and a two-part certification test which includes a knowledge portion as well as an application/simulation portion. (U.S. Coast Guard, 2005b)
Statement of Problem
With more than 60,000 full and part-time military members and civilian employees – and another 30,000 volunteer civilians in the Coast Guard Auxiliary (a uniformed volunteer organization similar to the Air Force’s Civil Air Patrol) – spread across the United States and, now in our post-9/11 world of early intervention, across the world, implementing a program like the ULDP has a host of challenges. That nearly every Coastie is attached to a unit – some as small as half-a-dozen people – is one reason for relying on unit leadership for leadership development of members and employees. The “unit” is the smallest consistent measure of membership and provides every assigned person with opportunities to both lead and follow. With units spread across the states and the globe, so, too, are the coaches. In a sense, they are like missionaries; they have been prepared during their certification process to go out into the world and “do good things.” Unlike missionaries from the Church of Latter Day Saints, these coaches work alone. They are geographically dispersed and they have little, if any, contact with other coaches.
While the ideal coach is a seasoned Coastie with an excellent understanding of the Coast Guard culture, organizational development, and leadership development, they often are faced with issues for which they may be ill prepared to provide coaching. Many of the first coaches were solo professionals; a major staff command will have one command master chief and the service’s organizational performance consultants are generally paired but usually work alone. The opportunities for informal give-and-take, for face-to-face interactions, are limited. And, while the various communities might meet yearly for a conference – for instance the command master chiefs gather several times a year – there is little, if any, time set aside for talking about their leadership development coaching roles. Sadly, the program manager for the ULDP – the Leadership Development Center – does not have the funds to sponsor a regular face-to-face conference. While the Leadership Development Center’s staff is available to provide long-distance assistance, for the most part, coaches, once certified, are left to swim, tread water, or flounder. Certainly, the Coast Guard would like to see the coaches swim. The question remains: how can the ULDP program manager best support these coaches?
Given the constraints of geographic dispersion and solo practice within a larger community, the coaches – a virtual team – are linked to each other through technology. As Houser (2000, p. 61) notes, “The Internet is changing the way people live, work, and conduct business.” The Coast Guard has not been immune to this change, adopting Internet and Intranet technologies to facilitate communication with customers, share information among members and employees of the Coast Guard, and provide immediate and direct communication within the service. Using these technologies, the Coast Guard has embraced the use of matrix and virtual teams for a variety of issues and projects.
Wong & Burton (2000, p. 341) argue that virtual teams have five characteristics. Virtual teams are composed of “culturally and organizationally differentiated members” who are “grouped together temporarily” and “physically dispersed.” Group members are “connected by weak lateral ties” and, finally, they perform “non-routine tasks.” Wong & Burton also suggest that most virtual teams are not “pure;” the teams are virtual by degrees. In the case of the leadership development coaches, however, the team is nearly 100% virtual. The team context is “characterized by low team history, novel tasks, and physically distributed members.” (Wong & Burton, p. 341) The team members are “characterized by the heterogeneity of their cultural and organizational backgrounds.” (Wong & Burton, p. 342) And finally, the connections between the team members are “lateral but weak.” Had the program decided to only use command master chiefs or only use performance consultant, or to only use staff co-located at the Leadership Development Center, perhaps the coaching team would have been less virtual. As constructed, however, the coaching team is very virtual.
Given the virtuality of the coaching team, a key challenge to team building is “creating avenues and opportunities for team members to have a level and depth of dialogue necessary to create a shared future.” (Holton, 2001, p. 36) Ratcheva & Vyakarnam (2001, p. 514) suggest that effective teams – whether virtual or not – are “engaged simultaneously and continuously in three functions.” Effective teams are involved in producing work (which includes solving problems and performing work tasks), supporting colleagues and team-mates, and ensuring group well-being. According to Mohamed, Stankosky, & Murray (2004, p. 128), effective teams are collaborative in nature and depend on the same pillars on which the field of knowledge management is built: “organization, leadership, technology, and learning.” For Mohamed, Stanksosky, & Murray, effective teams will have processes and systems in place which ensure each of these pillars is adequate; the nature of the system in which the team works will determine how strong each of these pillars must be. Townsend, DeMarie, & Hendrickson (1998, p. 20) note virtual teams are “only possible” due to advances in technology. They state, “Because these technologies define the operational environment of the virtual team, it is critical to examine how these technologies come together to form the infrastructure of virtual teamwork.”
Given the constraints of the Coast Guard’s system – including not having the financial resources to bring all the coaches together to the same geographic location for a team building session – a virtual team-building workshop provides a reasonable compromise. The workshop must address the key challenge of team building – creating a shared future – and provide opportunities for all participants to demonstrate work production, teammate support, and team health. And, the entire workshop must be conducted using current, accessible technology available at all coach work sites.
At the conclusion of this workshop, the participants will be able to identify available resources, including teammates, which can provide assistance as they provide leadership development coaching services to unit leaders. In addition, the participants will be able to identify the elements which make a successful coaching interaction or experience. And, finally, the participants will be able to model appropriate coaching skills and behaviors when presented with a scenario, case study, or role play event. All these tasks will be completed in the normal work environment; a standard Coast Guard computer workstation connected to the Coast Guard’s Intranet and to the World Wide Web will be available for use, if the participant wishes to use such a resource.
Participants must be logged onto the Coast Guard Intranet through a standard computer workstation. They will need to have a browser open with the Unit Leadership Development Program website up; using a second browser, each participant will need to be logged into Coast Guard Central – the Coast Guard’s intranet portal – and the ULDP Microsite in CG Central. While all necessary resources are available on the ULDP Internet site and the ULDP CG Central Microsite, participants may want to have a hard copy of the Coach Manual and the Coach Certification Simulation Scoring Sheet.
The leadership development coach team-building workshop will be presented in a synchronous, “distant” – or “on-line” – format. The workshop facilitator will also be on-line. There will be no advantage to coaches who happen to be in same geographic vicinity to come together for this workshop; the expectation is that each coach is participating “solo” and has a computer and a phone at hand.
Team members will log on to the Coast Guard Intranet and into the “microsite” for the ULDP Coaches. The primary method of direct communication will be the built-in “chat” function available through Coast Guard Central, the service’s Intranet portal. The workshop facilitator will pose questions to the group using the chat function; participants will respond. In addition, the facilitator and participants may upload or download documents, including scenarios in Microsoft Word format or presentations in Microsoft Powerpoint format. The CG Central site has the ability for the upload and download of electronic documents.
Three different evaluations of the workshop will be completed. The first will be a “reaction” evaluation to see how the participants liked the workshop. This survey will be conducted online using survey software managed and supported by the Coast Guard Academy. The second evaluation will look at the participants’ learning based on the stated learning objectives. This evaluation will be completed a week after the workshop and will be conducted online. The emphasis for this evaluation will be the first two learning objectives: identification of available resources and identification of the elements which create a successful coaching interaction or experience. The third evaluation will be conducted four to six weeks after the workshop; this evaluation will take the form of a structured phone interview conducted by each coach coordinator. The interviewer will ask the participants to indicate how they would respond to a specific scenario. Each participant will be presented with five scenarios to respond to.
Rather than allowing the leadership development program coaches to flounder, capitalizing on the characteristics which make them a virtual team and providing them a team-building workshop in a virtual setting, will allow the coaches to better serve their clients. The work of the coaches – including the virtual workshop – appears to be heading down the road predicted by Hauser (2000) as she looks at the future of knowledge workers. The workshop allows the disparate members of the virtual coaching team to belong and create a shared future. (Holton, 2001) And, the Coast Guard’s culture dictates the needed strength of organization, leadership, technology, and learning (Mohamed, Stanksoky, & Murray, 2004) as the service continues to institute leadership development at all levels of the organization.References
Coast Guard Leadership Development Center. (2005). Unit Leadership Development Program Coach Manual. New London, CT: Author. Retrieved October 12, 2005, from URL
Hamilton, A. (1791, June 4). Letter of instruction to the commanding officers of the Revenue Cutters. Retrieved October 13, 2005, from United States Coast Guard Web site
Holton, J. A. (2001). Building trust and collaboration in a virtual team. Team Performance Management, 7(3/4), 36-47.
Houser, E. (2000). The future of cyperwork. Employment Relations Today, 26(4), 61-71.
Mohamed, M., Stankosky, M, & Murray, A. (2004). Applying knowledge management principles to enhance cross-functional team performance. Journal of Knowledge Management, 8(3), 127-142.
National Institute of Standards and Technology. (2004). Are we making progress? Retrieved October 12, 2005, from URL
Office of Personnel Management. (n.d.). Organizational assessment survey. Retrieved October 14, 2005, from URL
Phillips, D. T. (with Loy, J. M.). (2003). Character in Action: The U.S. Coast Guard on leadership. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press.
Ratcheva, V., & Vyakarnam, S. (2001). Exploring team formation processes in virtual partnerships. Integrated Manufacturing Systems, 12, 512-523.
Townsend, A. M., DeMarie, S. M., & Hendrickson, A. R. (1998). Virtual teams: Technology and the workplace of the future. The Academy of Management Executive, 12(3), 17-29.
U.S. Coast Guard. (2002). U.S. Coast Guard: America’s maritime guardian (Coast Guard Publication 1). Washington, DC: Author.
U.S. Coast Guard. (2004a). Leadership competencies. Retrieved October 12, 2005, from URL
U.S. Coast Guard. (2004b). ULDP Assessment Questions. Retrieved October 13, 2005, from URL
U.S. Coast Guard. (2005a). Commandant’s Priorities – People – Unit leadership Development Program Implementation. Retrieved April 9, 2005, from URL
U.S. Coast Guard. (2005b). Unit leadership development program: Coach application package. Retrieved October 13, 2005, from URL
Wong, S., & Burton, R. M. (2000). Virtual teams: What are their characteristics, and impact on team performance? Computational and Mathematical Organization Theory, 6, 339-360.
Appendix: Virtual Team-Building Workshop Agenda
This team-building workshop is designed for a three to four hour block of dedicated time. Team members will participate in the workshop from their own workspace or another adequate location. Each team member must be logged onto a Coast Guard standard computer workstation, connected to both the Coast Guard’s Intranet and the World Wide Web. In addition, each team member must be logged into Coast Guard Central, the service’s Intranet portal, with the chat function up and running.
The primary activities of the team building workshop will involve on-line brainstorming, a sharing of ideas and responses. The participants will often select some responses they believe are more important, segmenting out the wheat from the chaff in the responses. The topics will include defining the elements of a successful coaching interaction or experience; identifying the benefits of a unit leader working with a coach; identifying what the ULDP program ought to look like in four to five years; and developing alternate ways to respond to difficult scenarios when working with a unit leader.
The standard ULDP resources – including the Coaches’ Manual (Coast Guard Leadership Development Center, 2005) and the ULDP website – will be available to the workshop facilitator and participants.
The following is an outline of the entire workshop, including time suggestions. This workshop is designed for 12 to 18 participants; the times allotted are for 18 participants.
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