Archive for Team Building

It’s the Little Things that Matter….

A typical weekend for us might look like this:

There’s a lawn to mow, naturally, and some laundry that needs doing. Perhaps a blazer and a couple of sweaters need dropping off at the dry cleaners. Food shopping, without a doubt, hopefully at some non-peak hour when we won’t find ourselves in a checkout line that resembles the wait for a ride at Disneyland. We might also go to a movie, or perhaps a hike with our dog, Zoe, who manages off-leash commands quite well and loves to play with any other dogs rambling along the trail. We’ll also most likely need to gas up the car and, oh yes, run either a dust cloth or vacuum over our home’s horizontal surfaces.

When Monday arrives invariably someone will ask, “How was your weekend?” to which we’ll likely reply, “Pretty good. The weather was perfect so we took Zoe and headed up to Riddle Brook Park.”

Nary a mention of anything else, and why would there be? All those other things we did (which probably took up most of that “pretty good” weekend) are the kinds of things that everyone does all the time. No one needs to talk about them; they’re assumed.

The time at Riddle Brook Park was wonderful, of course, but was it more important than everything else we did? Not really. All those other things—the routine, run-of-the-mill, gotta-get-done maintenance tasks of life—are the true engines that keeps things moving. Imagine if all we ever did was go hiking, or to the movies, or to concerts. Our lives would suffer rapidly and seriously. All those other things are critical activities, even if we don’t pay them much attention.

Our lives as leaders, it turns out, aren’t that different. Oh, sure: we work hard to have those great events for our employees—the development programs, the holiday parties, the summer picnics. Those are valuable and remembered. But equally valuable (perhaps even more so) are those smaller repeated tasks that keep things running smoothly every single day. The good mornings, the smiles, the one-on-one conversations, the mentoring and coaching sessions, the problem solving meetings…. the time spent, each day, with those who work for us, those who make us, as leaders, successful.

When we maintain our employee relationships we encourage a better life for ourselves and those around us.  It may not be what we remember, it may not be shiny and glossy, and it may not have the same cache as a big celebration or big event, but it’s what makes everything work for us, each and every day.

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Why we call it “Team Building”

Teams are interesting things, shifting and changing both in composition and direction, constantly fluid even while team members work hard to stay focused on a specific set of goals and objectives.

It almost doesn’t matter what kind of team you’re talking about for this to be true. There are famous rock bands, for example, that have changed personnel over the years and have seen their “sound” change along with it, yet the basic goal—producing quality music, remains unchanged. The same holds true for sports teams, pit crews, and the casts of successful TV shows. A good example of the latter is the original CSI which, after fifteen years and numerous cast changes, still pumps out the same solid formula week after week. (And Saturday Night Live has been doing it for forty years, consistently defying one premature obituary after another!)

It’s an absolute fact that teams and team members have a flow to them. And if it’s true for the kinds of teams outlined above, then it must be true for your teams, too.

The difference we often find, though, is that the bands, sports teams, and television casts never seem to be done “building” their teams. They know change is a constant; the makeup of a team can (and will) alter and they can never say that they’re “done” building.

Yet those of us in business sometimes forget that a team is never “built,” but always “building.” We too often allocate time to getting a team off the ground, but then, once it’s up and running, tend to leave it alone. As leaders, it’s important to remember that team-building activities are not “one-and-done” efforts, but ongoing and necessary parts of continued success.

Whether they are rock bands, sports franchises, casts of actors—or organizational constructs—teams compose, compete, perform, and execute, all while in a constant state of subtle flux and change. As leaders, we best serve our teams by never forgetting that building is a process, not an activity, and that truly great teams are those that embrace that process as an ongoing part of growth.

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Possibility…

This week Renee heads up to Maine, where she’ll lead a session at the Maine HR Convention, which also commemorates its 20-year anniversary. She’s done this for a few years running now, and her sessions always focus on a book that she’s found both enlightening and practical. This year she’s introducing The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander.

The book covers a variety of interesting perspectives, many related to Benjamin Zanders’ experiences as an orchestra conductor. The Zanders discuss frameworks of leadership, the importance of speaking possibility, enrolling others in your vision, and how best to listen to the voice in your head. Their views truly open up new ideas of furthering “possibility,” providing us with guidance that can inform how we engage with others in ways that are productive, creative, and inspiring. The book’s concepts instantly resonate with HR leaders.

“Possibility” is a wonderful and powerful word, isn’t it? It’s the stoker’s fuel, the swimmer’s stroke, the pilot’s current. Possibility can take us anywhere, allow us to do anything, reach for any goal. It’s a word steeped in color and vision.

Possibility.

Each of us is surrounded daily by possibility. We see options and we make choices. Many of them are repeats of choices made the day before, or the week before, or the year before, while others are new, unique. Some are mundane—choosing breakfast, for example—while others are life-changing, like offering up a ring from one bent knee. Some are innovative. Some challenge us to try new things, while others limit opportunities.

What’s important, though, is not which possibilities we explore and which we don’t, but that we recognize that the possibilities are always there. Too often we encounter possibility like a butterfly encounters the air. It is so much a part of existence that we don’t even know it’s there. But it is. Each day we experience it, breathe it, catch its flow.

What the Zanders remind us—over and above their specific notions of Capital-P Possibility, is that possibility is constant, always with us, always presenting opportunities for change, innovation, and growth. It’s just there for our taking.

Photo courtesy of lightwise.

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We are all so many things…

Sometimes ideas for this blog come from the strangest places. It might be a lightning-struck tree that sparks thoughts of fragility, or time spent weeding flower beds that germinates reflections on care and mindfulness. Wherever we look, something always emerges.

Today, it’s a photograph. This one:

The flying fish is an odd, odd creature, and not just because of the way it lives in two worlds. Each of the more than sixty species are structured precisely to their purpose, able to propel themselves out of the water for brief periods before returning. They are attracted to light—a trait easily anthropomorphized as spiritual—and exhibit behaviors both regal (as in the broad and noble “wingspan”) and frivolous (as in the curlicued trailing wake).  Too, they are excellent swimmers, gaining speeds of nearly forty miles per hour on their way to breaking the surface.

This living in two worlds—and adapting perfectly to each one—reminds me that each of us also lives in multiple worlds. We have home lives and work lives, family lives and friendship lives. We wear personas for each, shifting easily (most of the time), moving from metaphorical water to air and back to water.

What does this mean for us as leaders?

It’s easy to develop a profile of those with whom you work, to cast them in bas relief as employee, or team member, or contributor. Such roles are important, providing a sense of definition and the accompanying responsibilities and expectations that come with it. However, it is often too easy to forget that the people we work with are so much more than just that one definition, that each of them, like the flying fish, can leap and dive among roles, can be more than employee, or team member, or contributor.

Each person we manage arrives to work each day, quickly shifting from sea to sky. We lead them through the air, guiding them through eight hours before they slowly shift back to the sea. It’s also worth remembering that each lives a life of more than just one role, and that they bring with them each day the cares, concerns, emotions, and upheavals of all the worlds they inhabit. As leaders, we do well to remember the complexity of each person, noting how they shift, how they participate, and how they live.

And how they fly.

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Changing Thoughts

Change is hard.

I know that all of us in the Leadership and HR fields write about it endlessly, offering sometimes facile reminders like “The only constant in life is that everything changes,” or “To improve is to change.” And those clichés—well-worn because they’re true—are certainly worth remembering.

But we know, deep down, that it’s not quite that simple.

We often write about change as it happens to others: our employees, our teammates, our family members and friends. It’s easy, then, to offer simple advice because, after all, it’s happening to someone else. But when it happens to you, then you remember the truth of just what change really is.

Change is hard.

Try to remember the last time a big change occurred in your life. Perhaps it was a relocation from a place you had lived for many years to a place much less familiar. Or maybe it was a job change, and the trepidation that came from walking in that first day, not knowing anyone at all and suddenly realizing that you were now surrounded by relative strangers with whom you were about to spend eight or more hours a day, every day. Or maybe it was a sadder, more personal event, like the occasion when your first-born left for college and you realized that a voice, a pattern of footsteps, which had become part of you had now wrenched free.

If you’re like the rest of us, then it didn’t much matter whether someone offered you a timeless homily, didn’t matter if someone suggested you plan out what you would do next. If you’re like the rest of us then a big change hit you in the gut, sparked a viscerally emotional response. That was what needed to be dealt with before you could move forward—the feelings sparked by a major change in your life.

I sometimes wonder whether we, as consultants, as professionals, as experts, take the few needed moments to recall that when we help our organizations deal with change, there are very real people dealing with those changes, and most of those people are not thinking about denial and bartering, or Bridges’ famous model, or the precise ways in which communications are flowing from one group to the other. What most of them are probably thinking about—and quite justifiably—are What does this mean to me? and Will anyone listen to me? and What comes next?

We’ve all immersed ourselves in the how of helping organizations cope with change. We need, equally, to remember the how of helping people cope with change. In fact the latter, I would argue, is far more important, for it’s the people that create our organizations. It is always crucial—in any “change project”—that we take the time to talk to people, to find out what they are feeling, to let them know that it’s okay, and to help them through it. Only then can organizations effectively manage change.

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Leading Leaders Can be Harder Than it Looks

At some point in the not-to-distant future, Renee and I will likely have the honor of becoming grandparents. (Children heading to the altar, after all, anticipates a certain inevitability!) Thinking about it brings up some interesting questions: What kind of grandparents will we be? Are we supposed to have any role in discipline—in managing our grandchild’s development?  And how will we manage the delicate balancing act of being both loving and firm, yet still make sure that we don’t interfere with role of the child’s parents? After all, don’t we know best? Haven’t we’ve had a lot of practice raising our own kids?

Put another way, the question is this: How do we learn to let others take over for things we’ve done ourselves for so many years?

In our coaching and consulting we run across all types of changing situations—everything from departmental or organizational restructurings, to acquisitions, to shifts in senior leadership. One of the situations that has some very unique and important challenges, however, is the situation in which someone is managing managers for the first time.

Managing direct reports can be difficult (though nearly always rewarding!), but someone with that responsibility is directly involved in nearly every facet of subordinate work. At the other end of the spectrum, members of senior leadership teams predominately immerse themselves in strategy, finance, and higher-level operations, often having very little “touch” with the kind of day-to-day working activities that make up the majority of most employees’ work. The second tier manager (often carrying the title of Senior Manager or Director), however, exists in a strange amalgamation of the two. On the one hand accountability for a group’s or department’s success is very clearly part of the job; yet on the other hand, a Senior Manager or Director is expected to see things from a higher, more holistic view, to take into account not only the workaday tasks, but the bigger picture.

Invariably what we find in such situations is an individual challenged to take a step back and to let his or her direct reports manage their employees as they see fit, while still insuring that those people two tiers below (i.e., “skip-level” reports) still feel part of the larger mission. They must fight the urge to micromanage but still recognize that they have a responsibility to lead and provide direction while maintaining employee engagement, morale, and productivity.

So how is a second-level manager supposed to work with the rest of the group? In our estimation there are three key points to remember:

  1. The second-level manager should focus on his or her direct reports, and on the development of skills that make those people better managers of their own staff members.
  2. The second-level manager should craft clear and measurable goals for his or her direct reports, insuring that they are outcome-based rather than task-based, and then review the goals of others to make sure they are aligned with the group’s overall responsibilities.
  3. The second-level manager should strive to have strong relationships with everyone at skip-level, but should always refer important conversations back to an individual’s direct manager. In other words, second-level managers should never undercut the authority of the managers working for them.

In much the same way that a grandparent needs to be there for the grandkids without undercutting the authority of the child’s parents, so, too, must a second-tier manager learn the skills necessary to empower their own direct reports to manage, while still maintaining a strong sense of mission and group energy. With the proper guidance, coaching, and development, a person’s first experience as a second-level manager can be the kind of success that promises further management growth in the coming years.

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Is “Conventional Wisdom” Wrong About Millennials?

We are, all of us, creatures of habit. We find our comfort zones and are wont to stay there.

One of the elements of any comfort zone is our reliance, to some degree, on the concept of “conventional wisdom,” sets of tried-and-true beliefs and aphorisms that help guide the way we make decisions and manage risks. One example is the saying that working hard is the path to success. It may not always be true, of course, but it certainly makes success more likely, and so is useful. Another is that education leads to a higher standard of living, an equally useful tidbit, as are many others.

Such conventional wisdom often serves us well, but not always.

Sometimes conventional wisdom can be annoyingly, devastatingly wrong. One has only to remember that there was a time when the conventional wisdom had most people believing that the earth was flat. As Mark from marksdailyapple.com writes, conventional wisdom can be “a lumbering beast: slow to move, but difficult to alter course once its big bullish head is set on moving in a certain direction. It’s the pigheaded, stubborn curmudgeon yelling at those darn kids to get off his lawn.” And often that’s true.

Why all this preface? It’s because we came across an article recently that challenges a very specific conventional wisdom—this one about millennials.

We’ve all gotten quite comfortable with the generational nomenclature by now. We recognize our GenXers and our Boomers and our Millennials. Theories have been written about generational differences, and we’ve incorporated a lot of that thinking into the way we hire, develop, and lead. In many ways we’ve internalized “conventional wisdom” about these generational classifications.

Now, a new study is asking that we take a hard look at what we think we know.

The study, conducted by the IBM Institute for Business Value (and reported in this month’s HR Magazine) reports that Millennials are much more like the rest of us than conventional wisdom suggests:

  • Millennials’ career goals are nearly the same as those reported by GenXers and Boomers, focusing on financial security and seniority to the same degrees as these other categories.
  • Millennials do not live in a world where “everyone gets a trophy,” nor do they expect it. What they want is transparency and a chance to be heard.
  • Millennials are much more interested in face-to-face interactions than supposed; though they are more versatile in virtual situations than older workers, they don’t always prefer it.

There are a few other example in the article as well, but the point is less about the specifics and more about this point: As leaders and HR experts, we must challenge our pre-conceived notions, challenge the “conventional wisdom” in order to create the best environment for our employees. This study brings home the importance of that message. All is not always as it seems.

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Why We Should Invest in Employee Development

As I sit here this morning it is once again snowing outside, and—even though I live in New Hampshire—I’m surprised and just a little bit frustrated by it. It’s been such a hard, hard winter, and with everyone I know anticipating the coming season with a fervor I’ve rarely seen, it feels almost like a step backward, one that’s pushing spring even further away. Still, this latest snowfall rapidly melts, and I know that it’s just another slow step in the move toward the greens and yellows that mark the first forsythia buds, now only just around the corner.

It may not look like it, but change is coming.

Thinking about the slowness of nature’s seasonal shifts reminded me that we, our co-workers, our leaders, and our organizations also change slowly. We invest in them through training and development, through coaching, through workshops and team-building experiences, and yet the next day—when everyone returns to their “real work,” nothing seems all that different. People still seem to talk to each other the same way while they perform the same tasks in support of the same objectives that drive the same strategies.

So if that’s true, why invest at all?

Because change is slow, sometimes too slow even to see.

While the snow falls my placid dog Zoe lies nearby, curled on one of the several beds we’ve scattered around the house for her. (Yes, I know: she’s spoiled!) She’s a wonderful dog, and the day we rescued her was one of our happiest. I’m trying now to picture her as she was when we first got her (as an eight-week old pup, newly weaned), and I find that the image easily leaps to mind. What doesn’t leap to mind, though, is seeing her grow day by day. Oh, I remember what she looked like when she was about six or seven months old, and I certainly know her as an adult, but I can’t recall ever seeing her change.

Yet she did. She does.

The same is true of ourselves and those we work with. Each event, each investment, each opportunity for learning creates a situation in which the tiniest of changes can occur. And while each tiny change may be unnoticeable, over time those changes accrue until, just like with my dog, (or your child, or that oak tree that you never realized was quite so tall) something shifts, leaving a person stronger and bolder and more confident than before.

People change and improve. Cultures change and improve. Leaders change and improve.

So keep providing those opportunities, encouraging people to go through that training and development, that coaching, those workshops and team-building experiences.

The investment is worth it.

P.S. I’d like to offer a shout out to Robin Eichert at PeopleSense Consulting, whose blogs about her own wonderful Grace inspired today’s post.

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Trust: It’s NOT About Falling Backwards…

In an earlier lifetime I worked with children as an after-school aide at an urban day-care center in Los Angeles. Needless to say, filling every afternoon’s three-hour window with activities both entertaining and educational was quite a task, a task that would have been impossible had we not managed to build the kids’ trust both in us and in each other.

So we fell into each other’s arms.

The exercise, commonly referred to as a “Trust Fall,” has become something of a joke in the arena of organizational training and development. However, the reason for it still holds: people need to build a fundamental trust in each other if a group, team, or organization is to have any chance at all of working to its fullest potential. Teammates must get comfortable being vulnerable with one another.

Building trust happens in a variety of ways, here we share four basic principles:

1) TRUST SHOULD NOT MEAN “LEAVE ME ALONE”

We often act as if truly trusting someone means you leave them alone to do what they need to do. Trust, in this context, equates to unsupervised. Organizational researchers Chris Argyris and Donald A Schön confirmed that this sense of “leave me alone” is part of the definition of trust in the workplace.

While we fundamentally agree that trust implies giving (and receiving) certain levels of autonomy, the “leaving alone” of others with whom you share a deep dependency is ultimately counter-productive. We need each other as customers and suppliers; only by not leaving each other alone can we know that we are working to the organization’s benefit.

2) TRUST IS RARELY UNIFORM

Trust can mean different things in different contexts. The way we trust our peers varies from the way we trust our subordinates, for example, and the trust we have for a silo (“I’m not sure about what they’re doing over in Marketing.”) varies strongly from the way we might trust an individual (“That new web designer really knows her stuff.”).

The customer—supplier relationship requires a unique form of trust, one that says each person will work with candor, regardless of role or position, in ways that ensure each person gets what they need.

3) TRUST AND CREDIBILITY GO HAND IN HAND

It’s hard to imagine a situation in which you would find someone highly believable yet at the same time highly untrustworthy.

The need for credibility as a component of trust suggests that, as a foundational element underlying our customer—supplier relationships, we want (and need) to know that those on whom we rely are up to the task with respect to their skills and knowledge—and they need to know that the same is true of us.

4) TRUST COMES AND GOES, SOMETIMES LIKE LIGHTNING

Perhaps the definitive (or at least most widespread) comments on trust come from Stephen M. R. Covey’s The Speed of Trust. “Trust impacts us 24/7,” he writes, “365 days a year.”

The key point Covey makes is in the title. Trust, it’s true, moves at speed. But it is wrong to assume that the speeds are constant. It takes time to build trust—the building process moves at a slow speed, sometimes inordinately so. But the speed of trust can also be much, much faster when we’re talking about the other direction—the direction of loss. Losing trust can happen as quickly as lightning splinters a towering pine during a summer thunderstorm.

In whatever ways your organization chooses to build trust among and across your employees and teams, we also urge you to keep in mind the particular kind of trust required for Mutual Relationship Mapping.

Mutual Relationship Mapping requires a sense of trust that is based on individuals supplying what others need in a timely manner. It does not require an overriding trust in all of the various intentions, beliefs, values, or credos of others (as some other definitions of trust would argue). It is, quite simply and directly, a trust in the accountability of others to maintain and honor their commitments.

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A New View of Working Relationships: Part Three—Knowledge Sharing

Last week we introduced the idea of customer—supplier relationships at work, relationships based on the idea that everyone both gets and gives important things to others.

This idea of customer—supplier relationships is a fundamental foundation for taking a new view of working relationships, one of five such foundations we have identified. We introduce the second one today, and it is this:

We must relearn how to share.

We don’t much share at work, really share. Our knowledge is valuable to us: it protects our job, makes us feel important, and creates respect in others. But for companies to work really well, knowledge sharing is critical. And we’ve forgotten how to do it. Why? Because it’s been trained out of us.

Even before you reached kindergarten, it’s likely that you had some exposure to the “rightness” of sharing. Perhaps you had a sibling or a cousin close in age that you played with frequently. If so, your parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles probably all told you more than a few times that you needed to “play nice” with someone or to let “your little sister take a turn.” Sharing is what we were taught to do, what we were expected to do and what we needed to do. Sharing, we were told in many different ways, is a cultural norm.

But then we graduated from kindergarten into the mainstream environments of our elementary grades, and slowly the ideas of sharing and independence slip into competition, as if you can’t really do one and also the other. And it’s this dichotomy that continues into our adult lives and into the workplace. But how does it happen?

It begins very early, during the time we transition from a sharing-based play/learn environment to a more learning-centric environment in school. As we move through the grades, each progressive world we are led to relies more on individual measurement, usually in the form of grades. We are tested on what we learn, study, and know for ourselves. And slowly, as we move through our school years, what used to be sharing is given a new name: cheating.

For those of us who go on to college, that training becomes even more intense. Despite the study groups and the joint projects, despite the way students may take notes for each other in order to skip a class or two, there is now an even stronger emphasis on independence, on that individualized grade. Now, in college, you’re not just going to be graded on what you know, you’re also going to be graded on what other people don’t know. It’s called the curve, and it means, simply, this: To score well, to get a good grade, you must be better than the average within your class. Inherently that means that you must know more than other people around you in order to truly succeed.

And so there we all stood at one time or another: on the threshold of our working lives, degree in hand, gladdened (or not) by how we’ve scored throughout twelve or sixteen or twenty classroom-filled years, and ready to move forward into hopefully fulfilling and interesting careers. Eventually we find that door and begin, bringing with us all the training and learning worked into us over the entirety of our educated lives. And one of those things we’ve learned, that is now practically bred into us, is how not to share.

But sharing our knowledge with others (and having them share theirs with us) is a critical component for creating the customer—supplier environment we want and need for our organizations. As leaders we must learn to recognize the importance of encouraging and enabling sharing whenever and wherever we can.

Photo courtesy of: otnaydur / 123RF Stock Photo

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