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Kellogg Team and Group Center
Kellogg School of Management
Leverone Hall, Room 371
Evanston, IL 60208
(847) 467-6079
The Troubled Team at Universal Telecom*
Managing Process and Personalities
By Kristin Behfar
Note to Readers
This case is based on interviews over nine months
with a team of four at Universal Telecom*, one of
the world’s largest telecom networking companies.
This team has been charged with a very important
role in the organization, but the members are having
extreme difficulty getting along and working
together. One member’s personality in particular is
making things difficult for the team. However, firing
this member is not an option. The organizational
context makes it impossible to hire new team
members—and the team needs at least four
members to handle its workload. You should read
this case from the point of view of an external
consultant. What would you recommend to this
team? How would you advise team members to
address the problems they are having? Do not worry
if you are not familiar with the technical telecom
terms. Focus on what you would recommend to
improve the team’s structure and process.
Contextual Overview and Recent History
Metro and Enterprise Planning is the division of
Universal Telecom responsible for handling two
types of customer accounts in North America: 1)
Metro customers—large metropolitan cities and
telecom carriers that service metro areas (e.g. Quest
or AT&T); and 2) Enterprise customers—large
private enterprises such as Texas Instruments,
Motorola, Coca Cola, Microsoft, etc. This division
was created to better serve these two types of
customers by integrating the data, voice, network,
and optical services of Universal Telecom. The
division was very successful at doing this. Three
Directors were running the division, which consisted
of 160 people and three sub-groups. Warren Merrill
was the Director of the Services sub-group, Jack
Morgan was the Director the Data sub-group, and
another Director ran the Optical sub-group.
In the past year and a half, the Metro and Enterprise
Division has undergone massive change. Universal
Telecom experienced severe financial difficulties
after the Internet “bubble” burst, and was forced to
implement severe (quarterly) waves of downsizing
to avoid bankruptcy. After five rounds of layoffs,
the Metro and Enterprise division that once
consisted of 160 employees now consists of only 20
employees. Warren Merrill is now the Director of
the remaining group of 20. The previous Director of
the Optical sub-group was fired, and Jack Morgan
was demoted from Director of the Data group to
Senior Engineer (and now reports to Warren
Merrill). Jack Morgan describes the sentiment in the
division as “shell-shocked” saying, “There was
definitely some dead wood that needed to be shed,
but wow—it was extreme.” Despite the dramatic
reduction in manpower, the division is still
responsible for all Metro and Enterprise customers
in North America.
One of the first decisions Warren Merrill made as
the new Division Director was to reorganize the
group of twenty into two sub-groups: 1) a group of
four who were to serve a Presales role, and 2) a
group of 16 who would assist the Sales division in
* The names of the company and team members in this case have been changed to protect the confidentiality of all parties.
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DRRC, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, 2001 Sheridan Road, Evanston, Illinois 60208-2001
Tel: 847-491-8068, Fax: 847-467-5700,,
implementing existing contracts. This case is about
the group of four called the Presales Team.
politics trying to ensure the survival of his division
(and himself). He is of no help to the Presales team
in managing their process, setting goals, or
monitoring the quality of work they do. This has not
changed despite repeated requests (both verbal and
written) by the team for direction.
The Presales Team
The Presales Team has an essential role in
generating revenue for Universal Telecom. Their job
is to call on existing or potential customers in order
to diagnose/reassess their telecom networking
needs. The team then creates a service plan that
outlines needs for equipment, software, and service.
The team members depend heavily on each other’s
expertise to create these customer plans. Once plans
are complete, they are passed on to the Sales
division to price and close. After the deal is closed,
the group of 16 in the Metro and Enterprise division
is called on to implement the plan.
Jack Morgan, Pre-Sales Team
Jack has been with Universal Telecom for 24 years.
He does not respect Warren and is very bitter at now
having to report to him. He characterizes Warren in
this way: “Warren feels intimidated by me so he
ignores me and I ignore him. We just do our own
thing. And I can see the turmoil he is causing the
team. He’s just a X#@#X@. To manage a group
when times are good and then manage a group when
times are bad—and I’ve had to do both—is a much
different undertaking. Much different. When times
are bad you can do what ever you want (a.k.a. be a
Kelvin) because people don’t have the lateral
movement. When times are good, oh ho, you’ve got
to manage properly because these guys will leave on
you. And you have no control, and you’re constantly
just bringing in new young kids with no experience
and it costs you. Right now there is no lateral
movement. The layoffs were handled very poorly.
People were slotted into space to keep them, but not
really to leverage their skills. I’m complaining
because I’m one of them, right. But you will find
that those people, once things start improving, they
will do what they’re good at. They will move on. I
joined the Presales Team because the team plays a
vital role in planning for Enterprise, which was not
impacted as much by the high-tech slow down. With
only four people covering all of North America it’s
unlikely that we will be cut anymore. It is more of a
survival role here. And the first chance I get to get
the hell out of here I will. It’s as simple as that.” In
terms of performance, Jack is highly respected and
has one of the most distinguished technical track
records of any employee at Universal Telecom. His
background is in video devices, speech (he created
the software for speech recognition collect calls),
passport and IP development. He then switched to
more of a planning role. He thinks the other team
members are “good guys” but really prefers to work
alone and devote full attention to his customers. He
says he does not want to be affiliated with the
mistakes his teammates make in front of customers.
The members of the Presales Team feel they are
under intense pressure because there are only four of
them to handle all Universal Telecom’s customers in
North America. Their travel schedules are grueling
and they are over committed. The Presales Team’s
projects typically last 5-6 weeks. Each member of
the team received the standard Universal Telecom
employee training when he/she joined the company.
This training included a tour of Universal Telecom
products, consulting skills, presentation skills, and
persuasion and communication skills training. The
team gets feedback about its work from Sales or
directly from the customers. There is extreme
pressure on the team to create plans for the Sales
division that will turn into contracts. A description
of each member is below:
Warren Merrill, Director of Metro & Enterprise
Warren has been with Universal Telecom for 25
years. He is currently the Director of the Metro and
Enterprise Planning division. After the latest round
of layoffs, his span of control has increased from 5
people to 20. He can no longer manage his direct
reports as closely as he used to and his own
professional survival is at stake. If his group is cut
any more in the next round of layoffs he will lose
his credibility and most likely his job. Several of his
direct reports are highly critical of him for not better
protecting the division when senior management
was making layoff decisions. He is not well
respected by the Presales Team at all. Their
nickname for him is “Kelvin” and they use this
name to refer to him behind his back. They explain
that this is engineering humor—the Kelvin scale is
the only temperature scale that contains an absolute
zero value—and as a manager he is considered to be
an absolute zero. He spends most of his time
examining the organizational chart and playing
Mavis Tate, Pre-Sales Team
Mavis has been with Universal Telecom for 8.5
years. She is a Senior Consultant for Enterprise
Solutions and her expertise is in business planning
and network services. She is the only member of the
team that has regular contact with Warren and is
admired by the team for her “cool-headed” ability to
Universal Telecom
put some “order in the chaos.” She is very
concerned with the fact that the Presales Team is not
organized and that customers are starting to notice.
She says, “When a customer calls they get different
answers about their account based on whom they
talk to. We don’t have any centralized
communication about projects or any way to check
the quality of work that is reaching customers. The
team has incredible expertise, but we are not able to
keep up with new products because we are so busy.
When a customer asks about a new product and we
don’t know about it—it just makes me want to pull
my hair out. Jack has so much knowledge and
experience—and he is just not willing to use it to
pull the group along—and when he does he swears
and asks us how “we can’t know something as
simple as that? He can be so condescending and
totally offends everyone.”
blown apart and put back together again and I found
myself in this group.” She loves her job and
working at Universal Telecom despite the chaos
around her, but is very concerned that the group is
not getting enough visibility with upper
management. She is fed-up and extremely critical of
Warren (a.k.a. Kelvin). She says, “The culture here
is that the boss in a group like this should be very
much outward looking. In a big organization it is the
boss’s job that the organization knows what we’re
doing and knows our value. And that helps us to get
the kind of work that we like to do, which makes us
successful, and able to show value to the
organization—and everyone knows it. So it’s a
circle that you get into—and if the boss is not good
at doing that, effectively doing that, then it circles
the other way—you’re not getting the kind of work
that you want to do, and therefore not showing your
value. It’s funny right, but every group wants to
grow and make a significant difference in the
company. That’s why we’re here.” She adds, “We
would do this for ourselves but our contacts outside
the group have been downsized. We are having
trouble linking to other parts of the organization for
important information like strategic direction, tools
and skills, key learnings, pointers, etc.” Jennifer is
particularly concerned that if the next round of
layoffs touches the Presales Team they would be
doomed. The loss of even one person would make
the team’s workload totally unmanageable. She is
also concerned that the stress level in the group is
approaching a dangerous level. She says, “Mavis
has been doing a great job trying to organize us, but
we need to play along. Jack is critical, harsh, and
sometimes downright mean. It is taking a toll on
Neil. The stress is causing us to make mistakes.
Things have to change.”
Neil Bateman, Pre-Sales Team
Neil has been with Universal Telecom for 3 years.
For 16 months of those three years he was still in
college and worked as an intern at Universal
Telecom. He came directly to the company out of
college and this is his first job as a Network Planner.
He joined the Presales Team from the Metro side of
the division and his educational training is primarily
in Optical. He jumped at the opportunity to join the
team because the turnaround time on this group’s
projects “seem to be a lot more fast and furious
compared with a carrier environment. It’s a lot more
rewarding that way because you actually get to see a
lot more of the process as opposed to one little
segment within a multi-year endeavor.” Neil has
two current complaints about the team: 1) Jack is
intimidating, critical, and makes him nervous, and
2) Neil sometimes makes the same mistakes as the
other team members, but when customers notice his
mistakes, the team comes down on him really hard.
Neil says he has started to “bite the bullet” and ask
team members to review his presentations before
they go to the client, but has been frustrated by their
feedback. Jack, for example, “shreds” presentations
based on metrics and numbers, whereas Mavis and
Jennifer “shred” presentations based on concepts
and placement of graphics. Although he finds both
types of feedback valuable, there is often only time
for one or the other—and when there is a high stress
level in the team, these reviews can get ugly.
What Do You Recommend?
At this point, it is clear that each of the team
members is frustrated. They feel like they are
“firefighting” and they report assigning work based
on the question: “who has the bandwidth (time) and
the inclination?” They have tried different processes
but report that if one of the members does not
adhere to the process that person “just gets a slap on
the wrist and everyone carries on as before.”
Jennifer Giaconi, Pre-Sales Team
Jennifer has been with Universal Telecom for 17
years. Her expertise is in Voice but she has a broad
skill set and wide range of experiences at Universal
Telecom. “I was working on high speed access,
DSL type things. I moved into Optical Solutions—
Optical Ethernet. Then Universal Telecom got
What are the critical process and performance
issues this team is facing?
How do the personalities of each member play
into their problems?
How should the team be structured in order to
address the performance issues and capitalize
on the strengths of all members?
Universal Telecom

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