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Index of articles on employee participation

Ownership Culture Report: Participation

OA consulting support for employee participation

Briefing Paper 3 on ESOP Committee Design Parameters


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ESOP Committee Development:
Stage 4 "Older Adult"

This is part six of a seven-part article.

Published in the ESOP Committee Guide, Oakland: The National Center for Employee Ownership, 2000
by Stephen Clifford, Loren Rodgers and Christopher Mackin,
Ownership Associates, Inc., Cambridge, MA.
ISBN 0-926902-64-4
The full text is available in PDF format and as a multipart webpage.

Contents of this article:


Group Dynamics

Stage 1: "Infancy"

Stage 2: "Adolescence"

Stage 3: "Adult"

Stage 4: "Older Adult"


Stage 4 is the "older adult" stage in the human development model, and often called the "transforming" stage by those who use Tuckman's model. Many ESOP Committees enter stage 4 after they have tried some ideas and found limited success. The lack of success can be due to a failure of the committee to plan, lack of support from management or unrealistic expectations. Regardless of the cause, stage 4 is common.

Stage 4 occurs when the initial energy of stage 3 falters and the committee loses its focus. In some ways, this stage looks similar to stage 1. Members wonder why they are there and about the purpose of the committee. The committee is likely to become a "rubber stamp" for management ideas (like it was in stage 1), making only nominal suggestions and changes to management initiatives. Once again, the focus of concern of the committee has become internal, while the locus of control - the instigation for new ideas and projects is external.


Change it

Often, the first reaction is to "change" the committee by bringing in new members. This may be productive and helpful, but it also may send a message to the remaining committee members that "you've failed so we're replacing you." Such a message is very likely to cause regression to the adolescent or infant stage, but the committee will lack the hope for future productivity. What the committee really needs at this point is an opportunity for success -- even if it is a small, incremental success. The importance of clearly defined, realistic, achievable goals is paramount to avoid rapid development into the older adult stage. "Teamwork requires an act of faith from team members and top management"i according to J.R Katzenbach and D.K. Smith, authors of The Discipline of Teams. Thus rapid changes in membership can be destructive to the cohesion developed through the previous stages of development.

Another means to define incremental successes is regular employee attitude surveys. Such surveys can be simple or complex, internal or administered by outsiders, but the changing results over time will provide the committee an opportunity to declare minor victories, receive formal input on issues that deserve more time and energy, and will help generate new ideas for projects to pursue.

Jump start

Another common reaction is to jump start the committee by "giving" it a project to work on. While this approach can successfully focus the committee on a new project, it can also drain it of its independence and energy. Whether the idea will refocus energy or drain it depends on the extent to which the idea is suggested or the project is proposed or imposed. To be successful, the committee must feel responsible for the selection of the idea and its implementation. If someone outside the committee proposes a project, the committee may not feel responsible for the project or its success. The committee must embrace the idea then design and run it on its own. This way, the committee will feel responsible for the project and its success.


Make sure that the goals are realistic. Encourage the ESOP Committee to break down major projects into smaller steps. These individual steps are an opportunity to declare victory and celebrate success. Success breeds energy and enthusiasm!

Encourage careful evaluation of projects implemented. Celebrate success and dissect failures. Failure is instructive, if the committee intentionally identifies the areas and causes of failure. When specific causes of failure are identified, the experience becomes productive and potentially positive, rather than simply a disappointment that will drain enthusiasm and energy. ESOP Committee successes (even small ones) need to be celebrated in a positive and general way.

When an ESOP Committee has entered stage 4, it can often be reinvigorated into stage 3 of high productivity with a successful project. Sometimes this will be a new project, or an idea that has surfaced in the past but is forgotten, thus it is valuable to keep careful notes of ideas and projects as they progress, and as they are prioritized. A project or program once abandoned for lack of resources can often provide the group with a new idea to pursue. Thanks to the insight and lessons learned, the committee can pursue this project with more knowledge, experience and often with new enthusiasm.

Provide more information. The lack of energy and focus in stage 4 can often be overcome with new and important information. One extremely useful set of information can be provided by employee attitude surveys. Surveys can be simple or complex, designed and implemented internally or by outside service providers (See Loren Rodgers, Chris Mackin How well is ownership working? Foundation for Enterprise Development Newsletter, Jan 1998). But the information provided will likely challenge the stage 4 ESOP Committee to find new solutions, ideas and projects to meet the concerns exhibited in the survey results. Additional information can be financial information about the company, the marketplace in which the company operates or statistics about employee injury, turnover and absenteeism rates. Each of these topics can reinvigorate new ideas in the committee about how to improve morale.

i Hackett, T.J. Giving teams a tune-up. HR Focus, Nov 1997. v74 n11 p11

ESOP Committees: Conclusions

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