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Self-Directed Team Improves Performance

Self-Directed Team Improves Performance

OPM's self-directed work team in its Office of Retirement Programs (ORP) reported in a conference session that it has improved its work processes, increased its productivity, and significantly improved the quality of its work, exceeding organizational standards. Team members told conference attendees that the improved performance is due in large part to the increased level of employee involvement in planning, measuring, and monitoring their work and to the development of the team members.


OPM's self-directed team is a customer service organization that determines eligibility for civil service retirement, continued eligibility for health and life insurance benefits, and the correct amounts of monthly annuities for retirees, survivors, and dependents. It handles retirement cases from receipt in OPM to final disposition and again if any post-retirement changes need to be made.

The team was established as a pilot for Vice President Gore's reinventing Government initiatives. A steering committee was formed, which included executives from ORP and union officials. The steering committee established a design team which laid out the blueprint for team implementation. The design team composed of a supervisor, a branch chief, a union representative, other employees, and members of the steering committee developed a preliminary plan consisting of four parts:

  • the structural plan, which addressed changes needed in work processes and management systems to ensure the success of the team;
  • the implementation plan, which addressed what would happen at each stage of implementation to ensure smooth transitions;
  • the training plan, which addressed preparing team members and managers for self direction; and
  • the communication plan, which addressed exchanging information with stakeholders outside the team.

Following these plans, the team has been working towards self direction and, in the process, has improved work performance and quality.


After receiving training, team members developed a work plan that took into account members' experience levels, caseload balances, and other work situations. Members felt that having a work plan increased their accountability for their own work as well as their commitment to helping the team achieve weekly goals. They also collected data on the team's performance, did a weekly data analysis, and adjusted the work plan as needed. The results showed reduced case balances along with a reduction in aged cases (cases over 120 days old).

Quality also became an important issue for the team. Team members created a database to track case errors and produced a bimonthly report on monetary and procedural errors by individuals. At first, feedback on quality was given on the team's performance only because the trust level among team members was not fully developed. However, as additional interpersonal training was given, and as the trust level improved, the quality reports addressed both team and individual performance. As a result of these measurement and feedback techniques, the team has exceeded the organization's standards for quality, for decreasing case backlog, and for the total number of retirement cases completed.


Session attendees asked team members about the training they received. Members responded that they received technical, administrative, and interpersonal skills training and stressed that training and employee development were imperative for the success of the team. They mentioned that interpersonal skills training was being given to all ORP employees to improve communications and build trust.

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