Monthly Archives: September 2013

Quote for Sept 25th

Business Team

I enjoy being given a certain amount of freedom in order to interpret or to come up with stuff, but I do enjoy collaboration. I seek and thrive on projects where I am going to learn from the people I’m working with.
William Kempe

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Leadership Seasons

White Birch in Front of Maple TreesAs I welcome the fall weather to the upper Midwest it strikes me that there are seasons to leadership as well.  Each year the world goes through a series of phases reflected in spring, summer, fall and winter.  As leaders we go through similar phases, over our career and even within a year.

The phases we encounter on a regular basis are:

Beginnings:  This may be a new project, a new position or a new team member.  In any of these situations the leader must help nurture the new growth in people and in them.  This phase requires more time and attention because it is important to set the proper tone from the start.

Growth:  During this busy stage, the team has come together and things are starting to roll.  During this phase it is important for the leader to keep tabs on what is going on.  Making sure people are focused on the right things, learning and developing their skills, and getting results.  High energy is needed to keep everything moving forward properly and each person is growing successfully.

Maturity:  This phase is best represented by high performance and well established teams.  People are growing into their potential and things are going well.  At this point leaders become more of a guide to help keep people on track.  For the leader things can actually become quieter and easier as the team acts more independently.  Now is a time to enjoy the rewards of developing others.

Renewal:  There is a phase in the leadership cycle where the leader has an opportunity to take a break and recharge.  This is a really important phase to recharge and regroup before a new beginning.  Possibly this is handled with a vacation where the leader gets away from it all to recharge their energy.

Each season has a purpose in the life cycle of leadership.  We would do well to remember that each phase is normal and a natural part of a leader’s growth.  Take the time to recognize which phase you are in.  Adapt your leadership approach to suit the particular phase and take advantage of the opportunities that each offer.

There is a reason and a time for every phase so focus on how the phase you are in right now will help you grow.  Look at the needs of your team and give them the leader they need for the phase they are currently in.

How do you celebrate the various leadership seasons?

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Quote for Sept 18th

Young people are fitter to invent than to judge; fitter for execution than for counsel; and more fit for new projects than for settled business. ~ Francis Bacon

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Are You Planning Your Communications?

Business Meeting NotesWhether you are a leader or not you need to plan your communications when you will be sharing ideas, changes or updates with others.  Have you taken the time to think about the message you want to deliver?

If you are involved in a project, particularly one that involves change, you need to stop and think about what you are going to say to people, how it will be shared, and how frequently you will update them.  Change is really difficult for the majority of people to accept so you need to pay attention to what you say to them and how you say it.

Here are 5 steps to follow to ensure your message gets through properly:

  1. Address WIIFM:  Each of us wants to know “What’s in it for me?” so address that is all your communications.  This may be the impact the change will have on them; it may be why the change is happening.  Helping them understand why they should care will help get them on board.
  2. Vary Delivery:  People need to receive information multiple times before they will really get the message.  Some people will want to hear it and others will want to see it, so mix up how you deliver the message, use presentations that include great visuals, send emails, use newsletter, send postcards, do posters, discuss it at department meetings, or have town hall type of meetings.  There are endless variations of how you can share the message so use a wide variety.
  3. Change the Message:  Make sure you change the wording of your messages.  Address questions is some, share vision for future in others, present information from different perspectives, give the business case, or share personal stories.  Change is often complex and breaking the information up into a variety of different messages will make it easier for people to absorb.
  4. Repeat Often:  Since it takes multiple times for people to grasp the entire message you will need to share information more often than you think is needed.  Keeping the lines of communication open means that you will need to be frequently sharing information with others.  You can enlist the help of your project team and early adopters to spread the word.
  5. Be Open for Questions:  There will be questions about what, why, how and when.  Make sure you have a forum for people to ask the questions and get answers.  Maybe it’s a meeting or series of meetings.  It could be a Q&A area on your company intranet.  Use a newsletter with FAQ’s.  Let people share their fears by asking question and honor their concerns by taking time to provide answers.

Take the time to craft a solid communication plan to help ensure a smoother project.  Address why this is happening, how it impacts people and what they should expect.  Find different ways to share information by using different media, different words, different pictures, and so on to make sure people get all the information they need.

The hardest part of almost every project is making sure the people involved or impacted understand what is happening and what they need to do.  Take the time to plan your communication well and your project will encounter fewer people issues.

How do you make sure your message is getting to all the right people?

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Quote for Sept 11th

Team IdeasDiscipline and unconditional support is earned by understanding and trust and inclusion. Not by isolation, not by nasty tricks.
Colm Keaveney 

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The Danger of Knowing

cautionAs a leader in any form there is a real danger to knowing too much.  That seems counter intuitive to most people.  However, when we fall into the trap of assuming we know enough we will be blindsided by the unknowns that sneak up on us.

There are four categories of known information (Donald Rumsfeld addressed this issue in 2002):

  1. Known Knowns – These are the things we know that we know.  This is clearly front of mind information.
  2. Known Unknowns – These are the things we know that we do not know.  This can be found in data we need to collect to understand a problem, but we don’t have it yet.
  3. Unknown Knowns – This is the information that has become so ingrained we no longer think about it, we just act on it.  Our unconscious mind controls this information.  Consider tying your shoes, do you really have to think hard about how to do it; no you just tie your shoe.
  4. Unknown Unknowns – Here is the scary part of things, this is the information we don’t know and have no idea we are missing it.

As a leader you have to recognize that there is information you do not have yet.  The trick is how you get that information.  Succeeding at this is the key to risk management and ironically team empowerment.

Here are some tips for you:

  • Understand your limits:  Be totally honest with yourself and your team on what you know and what you don’t know.  Remember there are things you are not aware of yet.
  • Ask for input:  The people on your team have different experiences and so have different knowledge.  Ask them what they know about the situation and what else they think they need to know to be effective.
  • Be open:  Keep an open mind and look for subtle indicators of things that you were not aware of yet.  This means that you must keep all your options open early on, do not narrow your choices too soon or you will limit the knowledge you gain.
  • Question everything:  Ask lots of questions.  Great ones are “what else?” “What could go wrong?” “What else do we need?” “How can this be better?” “Could we be wrong?”

If you adopt these tips into your team planning sessions, whether it is for a project or a new product or just working more efficiently, you will find out things you were not aware of and get better solutions and ideas.

The more information you can gather the better you can handle the risks involved in any activity.  You won’t eliminate all risks or even uncover all unknown unknowns but you will be better prepared when something happens.  Thinking about contingencies will not minimize every risk, yet people become more flexible when they have explored other options.  This allows them to adjust more quickly when a problem is encountered.  Avoid analysis paralysis – you will never know everything you could about a situation, so if you get to 80% of the information you are good to go.

Another benefit of these tips is that you are engaging and including your team in understanding the situation.  This is a critical component of effective teams.  People will do more with less if they feel they have had a part in creating the solution.  They will be more loyal and more responsive.

Remember that assuming you know enough is dangerous ground and will set you up for unexpected problems, your team will be less engaged and your risks are much higher.  The best leaders know that they don’t have all the answers and they need help to discover the risks and better solutions.

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Wait….What do They Really Mean?

Crack the Career Code

What do they mean by “You aren’t ready for that job yet”?  It can be hard to figure out what’s meant by a statement like that one.  You’ve been doing your best and working hard so you feel ready to tackle something bigger and better.  So why aren’t you getting that opportunity?

There could be several different things going that are beyond the scenes.  To learn more about what they are click here for a short video explanation.

If you feel you are ready to move up in your organization yet you are running into resistance or rejection take it as an opportunity to learn more about your career path options.

  • Have a conversation with your boss or a mentor about what you need to do to move up
  • Ask how you can prepare yourself for the next position by gaining experience or learning new skills
  • Be open to feedback about your strengths and areas for improvement (we all have both)
  • Create a plan to improve your skill set and gain experiences
  • Let people know you want to move up and are willing to prepare for that next role

You don’t have to get stuck where you are right now.  However, you have to take the initiative to find out what might be holding you back and then to act on what you learn.  Bosses like people who are willing to be assertive, make an effort to improve and are open to feedback.

It’s your career, take control of it.  Decide where you want to go and what you need to do to get there.  Get help from a mentor or coach to help you navigate the murky waters of career advancement.

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6 Secrets to Team Productivity

Teenagers - Whispering a SecretTeams are great for accomplishing projects or complex operations / tasks.  High performing teams can get more done more quickly than any one person.  However, keeping teams on task and on track can be a real challenge.  Even great teams can get distracted or pulled in the wrong direction.  So how do you keep your team’s productivity up?

Here are 6 secrets to team productivity:

  1. Have fun.  When people enjoy what they do and the people they are doing it with productivity will increase.  Find small ways to break tension and stress by having some fun.  Laugh at yourself in a team meeting, take a lunch break together that is different than normal (go out or bring in picnic foods, whatever works), create funny rewards for participation or ideas, or something else that will bring humor to the team without poking fun at anyone else.  A couple of minute laugh break can get a meeting or work session back on track faster than pushing through it.
  2. Allow personal space.  Working closely together can become suffocating at times.  Create a way for people to step away and work independently for a while.  Unwinding and working alone can make coming back together to share results and progress more rewarding.  People need quiet time.
  3. Keep updates short.  While reviewing individual updates, limit the time people can spend sharing their reports.  Making sure this portion moves fast helps build a sense of momentum and eliminates boredom while others drag on.  Use a template if needed, drive the discussion of tasks and hold people to the agenda.
  4. Avoid the blame game.  Things will go wrong at times, instead of looking for people to blame focus on moving forward.  If people are worried about getting in trouble for an error they are not working on needed tasks or assignments.  Make it okay to make mistakes as long as people own their actions and bring solutions with them.  Always be looking towards the finish line.
  5. Pick 3 things.  Too often departments or teams have too many goals to focus on at any one time.  Pick the top 3 or 5 things you need to do this week/month.  Get these in the spot light and work towards them.  When they are done move on to the next items.  As the leader you need to set priorities for your team and help them know what is critical right now.  Limit the number of critical items so they can be accomplished.
  6. Believe.  If you believe your team can reach or exceed their goals and you communicate that often they will believe it.  Holding people accountable is important but holding people capable is empowering.  Show them that you trust them to get it done and they will surprise you with their results.

Some of these may be unexpected ideas, but creating an environment that encourages, supports and empowers people to perform well will get you the results you need.  You can use measures and metrics to ensure things are being done on time and with the right quality level.  Getting teams to consistently perform well requires the right environment and support.

What are your secrets to improving team productivity?

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Quote for Sept 4th

chairs between palm trees at the Virgin Island's beach“Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.” ~ Joel A. Barker

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5 People Every Team Needs

Team MtgIt’s clear that successful teams have diversity built in.  They have people with different skills and abilities needed to complete the project.   However, each team needs diversity in personalities as well.  Here are five key people every team needs to help them succeed:

  1. Instigator – This is the person who jumps in and gets things going.  Often they are the first person to offer up ideas in a brainstorming session.  They will tackle the hard tasks so that progress is made.
  2. Revolutionary – Here is the person who loves to challenge status quo and will offer up the off-the-wall ideas that can spark true innovation.  They bristle at “that won’t work” comments.
  3. Devil’s Advocate – This is the one who will question every idea and every suggestion, no matter who makes it.  While this can be annoying it helps identify risks and will improve the final solution.
  4. Cook – They are the key to pulling together all of these different approaches and personalities.  Like a great cook they can take all the different thoughts and ideas and mix them together to formulate a workable idea or solution.  As well, they will help calm the chaos and dissension in the ranks.
  5. Chief – The team looks to this person for wisdom, guidance and arbitration.  They are the ones who will resolve the conflict and make sure everyone is moving in the right direction at the right pace.

Team members may take on each of these roles at different times in a project.  On some teams there are one or two people who stay in one role the entire time.  It doesn’t really matter if people shift in their roles as long as things are progressing.

If not managed well, the revolutionary and the devil’s advocate can become problems within the team and derail the project.  They play critical roles in finding new, innovative ways of accomplishing the goal.  Unfortunately, since these personalities question everything and challenge every idea they can become a negative factor and create chaos.  The cook helps bring everyone together but the chief must insist on problem resolution to keep things moving.  If not balanced these two overwhelm the team and cause the instigator to start acting independently just to get something done.  Now the focus has been lost.

Interestingly the project leader may not be the Chief, often they are, however if they have not earned the trust of the team or are weak in some area another person can end up playing this role.  For the team and for the leader this is less than ideal, yet it will naturally happen.  To see who is acting as the chief look at whom people are asking for help and guidance.  The team leader needs to ensure that they are a safe place for people to share concerns and they must be willing to settle the disputes.  Building consensus is critical for team success.

Enjoy and embrace the variety of personalities on the team.  Encourage each member to assume one of these roles at varying times.  Manage the conflict that questioning behavior can trigger to ensure success.  By effectively managing and utilizing the strengths of each character you will help create a team that can achieve amazing results.

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