Becoming a Team Within a Hierarchical Structure: an Experiment
Speakers: Mary T. Kalnin, Original Cataloger, University of Washington Libraries; Lili H.
Angel, Complex Copy Cataloger, University of Washington Libraries 


Present the experience of one section within the Cataloging Division of the University of Washington Libraries as it moved from a supervisory structure to a self-managed team. This change in structure to a concept. What makes this different from the team concept is that this team of seven members is only one of two sections that are participating in the self-managing structure within the hierarchical structure of the University of Washington Libraries at the time of this proposal. This University of Washington Libraries at the time of this proposal. This presentation will recount the team's experiences with training and how the members had to change their mode of thinking, from working as individuals supervised by one person to a group who share the load of supervisory responsibilities as a team.


Good afternoon. We are honored to be here today to present to you our experiences in organizational change--a change from the Monographic Cataloging Section with a supervisor to the self-managing Monographic Cataloging Team. This presentation has indeed been written as a team. Each person contributed a portion to the whole, which was then edited by one person for structure and consistency. We hope that you will enjoy the presentation and that you will find something of interest and of use for your libraries.

The handout you have received contains our organizational structure, our Management Team survey and the International Studies Cataloging Section Communication Guidelines. If something isn't clear during the presentation, feel free to interrupt me, but there will be an opportunity to ask questions at the conclusion.

We would like you to have a peek at the University of Washington campus and the area in which we work. We'll show an assortment of images that includes views of the Suzzallo and Allen Libraries exteriors, Red Square, the Quad, and Denny Hall (the oldest building on campus) as well as some of the vistas near Suzzallo during the course of this presentation.

Now we would like to present the team members to you. In the back row from left to right: Lili Angel, Kelly Mecifi, Mary Kalnin (aka TC), Mary Whiting (aka Ree); in the front row from left to right: May Chan Rathbone, Diana Brooking, Shao Yu Chen (aka Mr. Chen).

Before detailing our experience with self-management and its changes, we would like to give you some history of our organizational structure.

The University of Washington Libraries (the Libraries) is a state institution.  The personnel in the Libraries divides into classified staff, librarians and professional staff.  Other staffing support comes from the ranks of students and library volunteers.  To simplify this discussion, and because the self-managing sections of Cataloging Division are comprised of classified staff and librarians, mention of the professional, student and volunteer staff will be omitted from the rest of this discussion.

To help with your understanding of the State of Washington's phrase, "classified staff," the following is a very loose definition of classified staff within the Libraries: State employees hired for various library jobs in which possession of an MLS is not a requirement. Some organizations refer to non-librarian staff as paraprofessional library staff.  During the course of this presentation, our team has chosen to use Washington state's phrase "classified staff," which is the Libraries' most commonly used phrase for its non-librarian staff.

There are three hierarchical levels in the Libraries between the director and the non-supervisory staff of Cataloging Division: the associate director of libraries for technical services; the head of Cataloging Division; and either section heads or self-managing sections. The division, responsible for cataloging most of the Libraries' monographs, has 34 staff members including 12 librarians and 22 classified staff comprising five sections: Database Maintenance, Quick Cataloging, Special Materials Cataloging, International Studies Cataloging (ISCS) and Monographic Cataloging (MCS). Database Maintenance is responsible for ongoing maintenance activities such as corrections.  Quick Cataloging searches incoming materials, processes books found with complete copy and handles all the shelf preparation tasks. The last three sections perform all the complex copy and original cataloging; it is ISCS and MCS that are experimenting in self-management.

Geri Bunker, interim associate director of Libraries for technical services, is the leading influence and advocate of Cataloging Division's self-managing experiment. And her actions speak volumes about her philosophy of management. When the Library of Congress or other institutions contact Geri for information about a division within The Technical Services Department, her policy is to refer them directly to the individual involved. So at the very least, other organizations notice an administrative difference at the Libraries because they've had to revise their contact lists. One of Geri's bigger endeavors for her Technical Services staff was to organize a departmental one-and-a-half-day "Learning Organizations" retreat in May 1997. She received funding from the Libraries to hire ARL consultants Shelley Phipps and Maureen Sullivan who engaged ninety people in the learning organization process. We think that Geri's leadership and systems thinking set the mood for us to engage in group process, teamwork, "visioning" our future and trying our hands at self-management.

We were not the first section to engage in self-management. The International Studies Cataloging Section holds the honor of being the first to venture forth and "vision" its future.  After an unsuccessful search for a temporary section head for ISCS, one of the section's members suggested that the division head might consider letting ISCS try self-management.  The administrative ranks investigated how to implement the experiment with self-management and decided on the following structure.

The main section head responsibilities are split between two positions in the section--the personnel coordinator and the management team liaison. The personnel coordinator signs the personnel-associated paperwork and conducts staff evaluations; this is no different from the structure outside Cataloging Division.  The management team liaison, an intradepartmental change, undertakes the management team responsibilities. The management team liaison's main responsibilities include attending/participating at weekly management team meetings with the division head, principal cataloger and other section representatives; meeting weekly with the division head; reporting to the section about division matters and writing a monthly report to the division head regarding any new business involving section members during the previous month. The other element to the new structure involves the entire membership of the section actively participating in the running of the section and interacting as a team. Each member is both responsible and accountable for the accomplishment of his or her individual work assignments.

The main reason behind dividing the section head responsibilities into two separate positions is to allow for the development of classified staff and new librarians.  This new structure gives them the opportunity to be involved in the non-supervisory, administrative responsibilities of the section.  It gives those who are willing the opportunity to serve in the additional capacity as the management team liaison, which is a six-month rotating position.

Regarding the personnel coordinator position, the opportunity to serve in this role only applies to senior librarians. When there is a mixture of librarians and classified staff, only a librarian may be permitted the role of personnel coordinator because classified staff cannot hold positions that involve personnel responsibilities associated with librarians; librarians outrank all classified staff and promotion expectations for librarians and classified staff differ. The person serving as management team liaison may be from the ranks of classified staff and must be unanimously agreed upon by the section's membership. The conditions that must apply for classified staff appointment are: the person receives a 5% increase in salary to reflect the increase in responsibilities and the person does not receive this compensation for longer than five-and-a-half months. These conditions are state-mandated for classified staff and there is no flexibility in these requirements at this point in time.

Once the groundwork had been laid and the decision was made to move to self-management, ISCS began self-management training and began carrying out its new organizational structure simultaneously. By July 1997, MCS followed ISCS's six-month lead and also began the self-management experiment. A recruitment for a section head had failed and the temporary section head wanted to reduce some of her administrative responsibilities. There was the ISCS model to follow now, so the conversion to self-management was just a matter of all of us agreeing to the change, of deciding who would act as the first management team liaison, and of our participating in self-management training as we simultaneously adopted our new structure.

Our team training was a barrel of laughs and inspiring all in one due to our wildly imaginative and flexible trainer, Elaine Jennerich, who is the staff development coordinator for the Libraries. We were given several options about how to proceed, one of which was to use a workbook designed specifically for team training. After looking at it we decided that we preferred to start from scratch with no preconceived ideas borrowed from someone else's opinion about how all of this should work. Before the actual training began, Elaine met with us so she could get acquainted with us and ask questions. She discovered that our team felt all along that we had more or less been self-managing in practice, if not in theory. Prior to our first session, Elaine assembled helpful materials and tips then distributed them to us in a notebook. Our next step: to learn to engage in "team thinking."

At our first meeting we learned idea-generating techniques about how to foster creative thinking. This exercise entailed building on one another's ideas in writing. The topic: "An idea I wish we would try in the libraries is..." By the time five other people add on to your one measly idea you start to think that with a little help from your friends your idea indeed actually might fly. The six ideas were: "Everyone gets one personal holiday every month; I wish we had monthly catalog divisional meetings with refreshments even if there is no written agenda; All classified staff to enjoy more privileges that have been traditionally accorded to professional staff such as leave of absence for education and or professional purposes; I wish Charles would testify for salary increases before the legislature; Having staff float in the stacks of Suzzallo/Allen library to help library users; Have peer input into each other's evaluations at all levels of staff including librarians."

One major task was to formulate a team mission statement that was clear, stable, yet able to be constantly challenged and lived in details, not in broad strokes. Each team member wrote a personal mission statement and finally the formal team statement was culled from all of them. We also drafted a statement about the hopes and personal benefits we wished to gain from being members of the team. It was important to all of us to demonstrate that we could do a good job as a self-managing team so that it could become permanent, not just a temporary grand experiment.  It was unanimous that just within a month we had already enjoyed support from the team both psychologically and job-wise, had an improved, more positive attitude, and had a desire to learn more about management and allocation of resources thus affording us greater autonomy.

Later training sessions concentrated on decision-making within the team and addressed how to balance and share the work of the team. We decided to archive all of our documents including team meeting minutes and management team liaison reports, and we now have a Monographic Cataloging Section homepage.  We also talked about conflict resolution and actually discovered a conflict about something that surfaced while we were meeting: we discussed it openly, met as a group with someone outside of our section, communicated our concerns, and with that person's help, resolved the conflict to everyone's satisfaction. It was gratifying to actually put the theory into practice and attain positive results.

The team planned and participated in new team member Diana's orientation to the Libraries, the division and our team. Her willingness to share her previous experiences and her vast expertise have been invaluable to our team and to the division as a whole.

Our final training session was spent dissecting our mission statement: we reviewed it sentence by sentence and came up with a list of tangible facts to see if we were indeed practicing our mission and we discovered that in some ways we were exceeding it.

Since the short-term goal of writing this paper is now finished we will try to accomplish some of our long-term goals which are: to continue to examine criteria for success beyond the evaluation of self-management by others, which is addressed at length in this paper; to complete an annual report; to examine individual work assignments with possible reallocation of the workload if need be; to make a priority list of policies to be updated and to volunteer our time to update the ones we can; to explore having a liaison named for our Main library collection or other unrepresented units; and to work on redecorating the Cataloging Division conference room.

It is vital to acknowledge and thank the members of the International Studies Cataloging Section which was the first team to explore self-management. They openly shared their views with us and offered support in our bid to follow in their footsteps. Those members include Alan Grosenheider, Charmaine Gunaratna, Janet Heineck, Lijana Holmes, Allen Maberry, Huong Ngo, and Mary St. Germaine. Both teams are richly diverse and a major success for both teams was to jointly adopt a proposal of the International Studies Cataloging Section Communication Guidelines drafted by ISCS which will likely be adopted by the division as a whole.

We thought an important component to this presentation would be to seek information from the constituency of the management team. We designed a survey of nine questions to ask the permanent members and asked the liaisons (past and present) to also respond to the last five questions.

The following summarizes the results of the Management Team survey:

Five of the six permanent members of MT responded to the questionnaire. The effect of rotating liaisons from the self-managing sections was generally seen as positive. In relation to workflow issues, most welcomed the different perspectives and fresh ideas of the liaisons. One person felt that workflow tends to be discussed at a more detailed level.  Four people commented that extra discussion was often needed to bring liaisons up to speed on unfamiliar issues.  With regard to personnel issues, two respondents saw no difference with rotating liaisons, one appreciated the additional perspective brought by classified staff, and one person felt some discomfort in discussing "supervisory" information with "non-supervisory" liaisons and believed that there was a lack of trust and that some personnel issues that would have been previously discussed in MT were not now.  As to communication within the MT, one person commented positively about the presence of new voices, two saw no problems, and two felt that the six-month rotation period was too short to build up rapport.

The presence of more non-librarians on MT was generally viewed quite positively--more representation of classified staff at management level was seen as beneficial, giving staff more of a voice in management decisions and giving staff more insight into management's viewpoint. One person commented, "Everyone seems to work together well and I don't see much attention paid to libr[aria]n/non-libr[aria]n status. Sometimes, however, the differing perspectives and career expectations of the two groups (e.g. librarians and promotion/permanent appointment) show themselves and there are some gaps in understanding."

Most thought that the overall role of MT in the Cataloging Division had not changed since the introduction of rotating liaisons from the self-managing sections.  However, some commented that staff now seemed more supportive of management decisions, and that more communication was taking place between MT and the division as a whole.  One person commented that the rotating liaisons seemed to report back to their sections in much more detail, which has changed what staff from other sections expect from their supervisors in the way of communication.

Positive effects reported by most respondents:

- empowerment of staff; participation in management benefits understanding on both sides

- fresh ideas, new perspectives, excitement of new people on team

- improved morale, team spirit, enthusiasm

- more detailed reporting to constituency, more willingness to communicate

Negative effects:

- six-month rotation is too short, less continuity, harder to build relationships, more time spent to bring people up to speed (reported by most respondents)

- more non-librarians: discussion of details rather than theory, gaps in understanding, differing career expectations (reported by one respondent)

- some discomfort with personnel issues and non-supervisory liaisons (one respondent)

Survey of both permanent members and liaisons:

Nine out of eleven responded to this part of the questionnaire. Most respondents reported that orientation of the liaisons to MT was done by the Division Head, who meets individually with the liaisons at the beginning of their rotation. Respondents also commented that MT participates in team building exercises, outgoing liaisons may give new liaisons advice, and that time was used during MT meetings to bring people up to speed.

Responses were unanimous that self-management could be adopted by other sections if all members in a section were willing, and if at least one person were qualified to serve as the personnel coordinator.

All respondents believe that all levels of staff (classified and librarians) have the capability to serve as liaisons to MT. Requirements mentioned include the desire to serve on MT and the willingness to show up to meetings, to contribute whatever he/she can, and to honor confidentiality when asked.

After the survey was completed, some follow-up questions were directed to Joe Kiegel, the head of Cataloging Division. Eventually the same individuals will repeat stints as liaisons as the rotations continue, but Joe expressed a wait-and-see attitude about how much effect this will have on stabilizing MT dynamics and increasing trust. Joe felt that gaps in understanding between librarians and classified staff could be bridged "through conversation and mutual education," but that "it takes real effort and willingness to see the world through another person's eyes."

As for expanding participation in self-management, especially in sections where not all members wish to do so, Joe thought "the easiest area to make progress here is with the role of management team liaison. Someone could sit in on MT meetings in parallel with or replacing the supervisor. Sections could have team training to get a little of the experience, though this wouldn't be the same as self-management.  Also, "transfers between sections are possible and need to be looked at on a case-by-case basis." As to the amount of information that staff is getting, Joe felt that unevenness in communication persists. He is willing to have division-wide meetings if we have topics to discuss, but is reluctant to schedule regular division meetings just for the sake of having meetings. The speed and amount of communication varies from section to section.  Joe said that it doesn't seem to be a problem in self-managing sections, and that he has encouraged supervisors in traditional sections "to say more and to do it more regularly."

Since we exist in a setting that is the norm for Washington universities and state agencies, we believe that it is important for you to understand how the four administrative persons in our hierarchy view self-management. A member of our team interviewed each of them for his or her reaction to self-managing teams in general, our particular experiment and, as our deputy director says, the "speed bumps" to be traversed in order to enable the classified staff members to take their places on Management Team.

Our first interview was with Joe Kiegel. When asked how he viewed self-management in general, he recalled the great experiment in the former Yugoslavia.  The general result of that, of course, was that when everyone is in charge, nobody is in charge.  He and the interviewer agreed that such a situation is likely not the best for getting anything done. Amusing anecdote aside, Joe views our experiments in self-management as valuable to our division and to the Libraries as a whole.

As with any organization, there are always some problems with communication and making change when change is necessary. He likes our teams because, at the very least, they explore some new methods of solving some of these problems. He applauds the effort to tap the creativity of more members of the division, to let them see and understand how management of the division has to take place. He also sees it as a practical approach to deal with the supervisory problems that arose in the division over these past few years and realizes as do all of the members of the division that this has increased morale, especially in the two self-managing teams.  He believes in our experiment and supports us.

When asked how he sees his function in relation to the teams and the hierarchy of the Libraries in general, he said: "the role of the department head is to be an interface between a self-managing section and the traditional hierarchy above. The department head translates between the language and concepts of the hierarchy and those of self-management, seeing that the needs of the hierarchical system are met, while providing maximum freedom to the section.  Of course this is not done in isolation and in fact requires a great deal of consultation with the section, at least initially."

Within the division, the two self-managing sections have not had problems that could wrench apart the sections or division. Should they arise, training will be needed to solve them. The situation has not occurred that would pit a section's staff who wants to move to a self-managing team against a supervisor who does not, nor have we faced a disciplinary problem in one of the sections with a personnel coordinator who is not a supervisor.  Technically, the personnel coordinator does not have the same authority to compel behavior as the supervisor.  In our structure, a team member can defy the personnel coordinator, although none of our staff see this as likely.  Should this occur, it would devolve to the team as a whole to exert peer pressure upon an uncooperative person in order to try to effect a change in attitude or behavior. These are the kinds of problems that will test the mettle of the teams, the Management Team and the Division Head. Eventually, Joe expects evaluations from the self-managing teams, then we will have a more objective determination of how our "grand experiment" is really working. Joe's final comment was that the presence of our two self-managing teams makes his job much more complex but also much more interesting.

Currently Geri Bunker leads the Technical Services Department.  When interviewed she said that at first her job was to be an advocate for self-management in Cataloging Division. This was necessary of course because we were breaking new ground. No one had ever done it before. She spoke with our Deputy Director of Libraries, Charles Chamberlin, and the Director of Libraries, Betty Bengtson. These negotiations went well and in due course she was able to approve the International Studies Cataloging Section's request. We had taken the first step.

When interviewed for this presentation, Geri was quite thrilled with the accomplishments to date. She now sees her role less as advocate and more as an enabler of our decisions. When asked if anyone else in our administration had asked about us and what we are doing, she said an emphatic "yes." She mentioned that two of the administrators from the Libraries public services departments inquired about our self-managing teams in Cataloging while exploring ways to make some changes in their own areas. The interviewer also asked her if our experiments were known in the wider library community.  She said that indeed they were and that people were asking about us.  Her final comments were that she indeed believes in us, and in our experiments; she looks forward to what happens next, how much the Libraries organization will flatten and how our digital library initiatives will fit in.

Charles Chamberlin, who functions as the Libraries personnel officer, was interviewed because of his duties in enabling the classified staff members to take their place on the Management Team and still observe the rules of the State of Washington. Charles also believes in our initiatives and is quite willing to determine what needs to be done and to do it. His first comments to the interviewer were that he considers the rules under which the classified staff work as quite flexible and only "speed bumps" for taking new initiatives in personnel management and the like. He mentioned that he would ask that when a division wants or needs to take some new initiatives such as the self-managing teams, that he be consulted.  It is usually quite possible to fit the new initiatives into the existing rules. One must of course take care that everything has been worked out, but he has seen nothing yet that has been insurmountable if everyone is willing to be reasonable and give a little.

For example, the rules for the librarians are pretty flexible. Having them perform other duties is not normally a problem, nor is providing extra salary for them when necessary. Our "speed bumps" (and I must admit that I like that term) come with the classified staff who work under Washington state civil service rules. As noted above, Charles finds the civil service rules quite flexible. However, for this experiment in self-management, there are two rules we have to consider that are not quite so flexible.

The first is a compensation issue. If a classified staff member works out of class--in this case holding management duties not usually assigned to him or her--there must be an incremental increase in compensation. Unfortunately, that can be only a two-step increase on the salary grid which is about 5%. Secondly, any assignment not in the job class to which the staff member belongs must be for less than six months.  According to state rules, once assigned duties have been in force for six months, it becomes a permanent part of the person's job and therefore triggers an appraisal for reclassification. This complicates matters because making service on the Management Team permanent defeats the whole purpose of team management--rotating the duties. So we make the rotations officially less than six months. Each classified staff member on the team understands this and is quite willing to cooperate.

Once the paperwork is complete, it must move through the chain of command in the Libraries and then to the University personnel office to be signed by our personnel liaison. Charles believes in a somewhat hierarchical structure just because of our sheer size and the myriad positions and personalities involved. However, he also feels that our self-management teams can make some real contributions in the management of the Libraries and supervisory matters. As long as the state regulations are covered--compensation and a person named as supervisor--we are free to make some changes in our organizational structure.

Like Joe and Geri, Charles remarked that we have yet to encounter those situations that really strain a team--serious personnel and personality problems. Like the others, he believes that they can be solved with a modicum of common sense and good will. He says that his role in these self-management experiments is to support them and help them to work. He also believes that our model of working within our structure and state rules is a good and workable model for other libraries looking to make some changes.  There are always individual differences of course, but doing a little at a time and bringing others along works best in the long run.

Finally, our team member interviewed Betty Bengtson.  The interviewer also asked Betty what she thought of self-management in general and of our experiments in particular. In general, she wants to know more about self-management. Betty is open to greater freedom of management and is quite willing to encourage these kinds of experiments. She is pleased with our self-managing teams, but is withholding complete judgment until we have made team evaluations. The timing on those evaluations is somewhat vague because Betty and those involved know that our usual evaluation period of six months is much too short.  However, she is supporting our endeavors and does hope that they work.  She encourages us to make the most of our teams.  It should be said that she also encourages our staff members to explore staff development opportunities in whatever form they might present themselves.  We know this because she has been supportive of team members' forays into the general world of librarianship.  We see her approval of our teams as one more proof that she means what she has always said: her staff is important to the Libraries and she wants the best she can get.

Here is what each member of our team has to say:


The one thing that has struck me the most is that I didn't really understand what I had been missing before. My responses and behavior within various situations in the past supervisory hierarchy were to a perceived equality that I "hoped" was in place rather than what I now "know" is in place. There is no power imbalance now and I think everyone's morale has skyrocketed.

Living the future? I think we are part of a great experiment and I hope that within the homogenization effect of and the natural tendency to be protective of our team, that we do not fail to extend our energies to those outside of our team and that we continue to share what we learn.


I don't look at self-management as a renaming of "business as usual." I truly believe that each of us is sanctioned to help each other.

We tap the capabilities of our team members.  We recognize that we have a seven-member host of skills from which to draw to accomplish the work at hand.  What self-management does is make us participate in the organization more fully--it makes us self-motivated, accountable, and intrepid for our team.

Mr. Chen:

It has furthered the value of "accountability." Everyone on the team is actively involved and held accountable for the goals and operations of the team. ... Everyone's level of competence and enthusiasm may be varied, but everyone has to participate and contribute, no excuses, no exceptions!

It has promoted a sense of belonging, a spirit of camaraderie, and, to a certain extent, a sense of security. It makes me feel that the whole team acts as a support system in which I can ask any member for help when I need it.


A reason and ability to be assertive--not to let remarks pass as I might have done in the past.

The opportunity and necessity to think in terms of the Division as a whole. I've tried to do it for years, but now that we are responsible for decisions that affect everyone, it becomes somewhat easier.


The members of the section have been very enthusiastic about being a self-managing section. They have been active and upbeat in organizing meetings, attending team-building workshops, participating in discussions, voicing their opinions, and even writing a paper about our experiences and presenting it at a conference!

I feel that as a self-managing section, we communicate with the Management Team in a way that we have never done before--the communication is two-way.  Furthermore, I am most relieved that each member of the section is sharing the responsibility of being a leader.


The Team members themselves are fun-loving people who enjoy lots of laughter and open communication and who work well together.

The nature of the Division's work seems to lead to each person cataloging their own material in their cubicle. People seem to work quite independently for the most part.


Becoming part of a self-managing team has brought me closer to my fellow team members. It has brought me a true satisfaction for working (and playing) as a team. I feel their excitement when we plan even the simplest of tasks. I experience their support in good times and bad.

Sometimes we are almost giddy with the thrill of making a team decision. The challenges that meet us are much easier to withstand when you know there are 6 other people backing you, no matter what the outcome.  When mistakes are made, hand-holding is a must. When triumphs are to be celebrated, they are shared with gusto.

As we have detailed for you, our self-managing teams are doing quite well so far and work well within the constrictions that we have.  We have greater freedom in assignments for our librarian team members but it is perfectly possible to work within our current civil service system to allow classified staff the freedom to take on management duties as their time comes.  Yes, it requires some maneuvering but the rewards are well worth the trouble. Our self-managing teams are working--morale is high, the work is getting done, the state rules are obeyed. We, the Monograph Cataloging Team, believe in our work, we believe in self-management as we practice it, we believe we can be a model for others, we believe in ourselves.

c. Lili Angel, Diana Brooking, Shao Yu Chen, Mary Kalnin, Kelly Mecifi, May Chan Rathbone, and Mary Whiting

 Living the Future II Home Page | About the Conference | Call for Papers | Conference Contacts | Local Accommodations | Maps, Directions, Parking | Registration Information | Schedule | Proceedings

Go to the UA Library Home Page