Category Archives: Team Building

Are You Creating Boundaries or Constraints?

ConstraintsAs a leader you need to set boundaries of acceptable performance. This means defining what people’s roles and responsibilities are so they know what to do each day. Unfortunately there can be fine line between setting a realistic boundary for performance and creating a constraint that holds people back.

How do you know if you have crossed that line? Here are three questions to ask yourself to make sure you are not holding people back:

  1. Are you answering basic ‘how to’ questions? If experienced people keep asking basic questions about what they need to do then they are being constrained. When people are sure of their roles and responsibilities they understand the basic tasks.
  2. Do people constantly check with you on decisions? When people keep coming to you to check if they are making the right choices you have tied their hands or they don’t know enough to act independently.
  3. Is your team waiting for direction? If people are sitting around waiting to be told what to do next they aren’t feeling free to act.

The real difference between boundaries and constraints is linked directly to empowering your people to act independently. When people feel they are free to take action, make decisions, and get things done without the constant need to ‘check in’ they will be more productive, more engaged and generally happier with their work life. It feels great to know the boss trusts you to get on with your work without micromanaging you.

A couple of keys to empowering people:

  1. Clearly defined roles. People need to know what is theirs to do.
  2. Knowledge to do the job. Make sure your team has the training / knowledge they need to act independently.
  3. Tools to do the job. Things can only happen when people have the tools they need, be it software, computers, etc.
  4. Support from you. For people to truly go out and get things done effectively they need to know that you will support them when needed.
  5. Feedback on performance. Most everyone wants to know how they are doing, what is going well and what they can do differently so provide information on their performance.

Getting your team on track to perform well, without your hand constantly on the helm, will give you more time to get your own tasks done. If you have set clear boundaries of what people can and should be doing they can act freely. When you create constraints by setting the boundaries too tight you will be more involved in the day to day activities of your team which hinders both you and them.

There will be times when you have to limit the freedom to act, so be clear on what that limit is so people know when to check in with you. Up to that point give them the opportunity to work independently. If there is a check point required, explain what it is and why it’s necessary. Explaining it will help you be sure it is necessary and will help your team understand the need for it. It won’t feel like an arbitrary constraint designed to limit activity out of your control.

Creating boundaries will allow you team to move forward smoothly and efficiently. Constraints hold teams back form peak performance.

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End the Blame Game

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Over the years I’ve worked on a wide variety of projects and seen many times when things haven’t gone well.  At times the problems were due to unexpected issues, other times they were due to things that were overlooked.  There were even a few times when gaps were identified before they could wreck disaster on the project.  Unfortunately too often people get caught up in the blame game; before, during or after a problem occurs.

On one project a problem was found prior to the deadline and the root cause was a found to be a system design flaw.  Unfortunately the flaw was found right before our deadline so all we could do was implement a work-around initially.  Since the flaw didn’t impact the primary process it was missed because not all the processes that used this part of the system were mapped.  A couple of weeks before the deadline the gaps were found and the scrambling began.

At first there were a bunch of meetings about how this got missed and who was at fault.  Fingers were pointed and blame was placed.  This led the people who were blamed to spend time explaining how it wasn’t their fault and that they did their best.  We lost a week or more to these pointless conversations.  Negativity and defeat were prevalent.  Finally the emotions calmed enough for the team to focus on what needed to happen to meet our deadline.  In a few days we were able to identify fixes for all the gaps once the focus shifted to where we needed to go.  Sadly even as we started making progress a few folks would start to vent their frustration that these issues were identified sooner.  Negativity would start creeping in again.

Our project manager had to keep reminding everyone on the target – a successful implementation on our deadline.  Keeping the team looking forward and focused on the key tasks at hand was critical to our eventual success.  He set short-term and long-term priorities and kept us focused on what had to happen next and who could get it done.  He shut down the negative talk and kept us looking at the end goal.  As we came together to find solutions to the gaps we moved past the negativity and started to find the positive in an ugly situation.

We were able to be succeeded by following these three strategies:

  1. Shift the Focus: When you are looking at the problems all you see are problems.  As you start to focus on possible solutions it becomes easier to find the positive in the situation.  Success breeds success.
  2. Worry about Blame Later: It is important to determine what went wrong and how to avoid it in the future but solve the problems first.  Once the issues are resolved everyone can learn from looking at what could be done better in the future.
  3. Check Emotions at the Door: In the heat of the moment it’s easy to let our emotions get away from us.  When that happens, anger and frustration can take the lead side tracking progress and causing people to shut down.  Keep things focused on fixing the problems and not fixing people.

Problems during projects are inevitable; however handling them well is possible.  It requires the right focus and the skills to manage people well.  When a team hits a challenge, the more time they spend on placing blame the longer it will take to get to a satisfactory solution.  Identify the source, focus on the fixes and then worry about the lessons to be learned.  Taking valuable time to find someone to blame is futile and counterproductive.  Solutions aren’t found and people become defensive, overall the entire team can get stuck.  Focus on moving forward and setting a positive tone.  The results from your team will be astounding.

What tips do you have for overcoming the blame game to move forward to success?

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Responsibility – Do You Pass it On?

Teamwork passing the batonEach of us has responsibilities, to ourselves, to our families, to our jobs, and so on.  It’s one of those facts of adulthood.  With freedom comes responsibility.  The real question is how well we handle all of those responsibilities.  We also have choices on what we take on as a responsibility.  This is very true as leaders.

When we assume a leadership role we are being placed in a role with responsibilities.  We are accountable for our team’s performance as well as our own.  We become responsible for guiding, directing, and correcting the behavior of those around us.  How much we take on ourselves will often determine how well we perform as a leader.

The challenge of being responsible for the performance of others is how much of their success or failure do we really own?  When is their failure ours and when is it theirs?  What is our responsibility as a leader for those who are on our team?  Here are 6 questions to help determine when it’s your responsibility and when it’s not:

  1. Have you given clear direction, and checked for understanding, on what is required?
  2. Have you provided the training and coaching needed for success?
  3. Have you given feedback on their performance, including corrective ideas?
  4. Are you letting them act independently and not micro-managing?
  5. Are you available to them for support and guidance?
  6. Have you created an environment where people can innovate, act on ideas and questioning is welcomed?

If you answer yes to all of these questions then you are doing all that you can reasonably do to help your team succeed.  Some team members will flourish and grow in this kind of environment.  There will be some who aren’t well suited for the tasks at hand.  It could be that they just don’t have the abilities or capacity to meet the demands of the position.  They may not have the right attitude for the role they are in, or they may not want to grow in the direction needed. 

When someone can’t or won’t gain the skills needed to do the job assigned and you as their leader has worked with them to help them get there it becomes your responsibility to help them move to the right position.  This may mean leaving your organization or it may mean transferring to another area.  Your responsibility is to the entire team and the organization so you have to make sure the right people are in place to accomplish your goals and mission.

Responsibility is part of our lives, at home and at work.  When we take our responsibilities seriously and act on them with integrity and compassion we help our teams become the best they can be, together and individually.  Remember while we as leaders are responsible for the team’s results each person is also responsible for their performance and their results.  We must coach, train and guide them towards success but we have to let them succeed or fail on their own.  If they can’t succeed in the given role we must be responsible to the team and make a change.

You have to pass on the responsibility for personal performance to each person on your team.  Along with that you must share the responsibility for the overall team’s success with each member.  Build trust and collaboration by passing the baton of responsibility to your team.  Get them engaged in their individual and joint success.  Everyone wins then. 

Have you ever had issues related to passing responsibility to others?  Share your experiences below in the comments.

 

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If you would like help defining your responsibilities or learning to build your team’s abilities contact us at carol@delta-group-llc.com

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Do You Want More From Your Team?

Team MtgAs the year winds down leaders and project managers review the performance and progress of their teams.  If you find that your team is falling short of where you would like or need them to be it’s time to take action to correct it.  By making those plans now you can set the stage for a more successful 2014.

What can you do to get things moving in the right direction?  Here are 4 steps you can take now to build a plan for success.

  1. Assess & analyze:  Where is the root cause of the underperformance?  Is it lack of ability?  Lack of capacity?   Lack of commitment?  Look at the team overall, including yourself and look at each individual.  You may find that some members lack the needed skills while other lacks a commitment to the project/team which is leading to an overall lack of capacity to get everything done.
  2. Develop:  Once you know the cause of the underperformance you can create development plans to address the gaps.  If a particular person doesn’t have the skills they need create a development plan to help them build those skills quickly.    Sometimes a team member needs to develop the ability to do more work by learning time management skills or working more efficiently.  Look at what can be developed in each person to benefit the team.
  3. Trim the deadwood:  After you look at each person you may find that there is someone on the team who just is not the right fit.  They may not have the aptitude for the work to be done or they may not be able to develop the needed skills.  Cut them from the team to make room for someone who can help the team achieve more. 
  4. Encourage:  It’s most likely the team knows they are not hitting their marks and that is very discouraging to people.  Help them see that they can reach the needed performance and that you believe in them.  Taking the first three steps will help them see your commitment to their success and will help them become committed to improving.  A positive outlook will create a positive environment where people want to do better.  Spell out the facts of the situation and build hope for a better tomorrow.

This will take some time to do well and yet it can yield amazing performance improvements that it’s worth the time.  Underperforming teams can be turned around with time and attention.  You need to figure out what can be done to meet your targets and how you can help the team get there.

While looking at the team’s performance you have to take a hard look at your performance relative to the team.  Are you being the leader they need to achieve the project or team goals?  Ask them how you can better support them and then listen to their feedback.  Some of it may be hard to hear so just absorb the information.  Take the time to reflect on what you are told and implement the changes that will help you grow and help your team succeed.  Your willingness to change will help set the stage for them to change as well.  If you want them to change their performance you need to go first, so model what you want from them.  They will like you for it and will respond well.

Learn to be a coach that helps their team achieve more and accomplish great things.  As you develop or refine your coaching skills you will grow as a leader and become capable of leading teams in any situation.  You can become a better coach by working with a coach to grow your skills and abilities.  Again, you will be modeling the behavior you want from your team and developing yourself at the same time.  Win-Win

To get more from your team you must be aware of the gaps and be willing to help close those gaps by developing the team’s skills or getting the right people on the team.  It’s up to you as a leader or project manager to make sure your team is set to deliver as required.

If you are curios on how a coach could help you click here for information on a special offer designed to help you get more out of your team in 2014.  We can help you do more personally and help you prepare your team for a fantastic year.

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Give Directions not Directives

Man's hand pointing on street mapWhen working with your team do you give them direction or directives?  There is a marked difference between these two that will show up in the results of your team.  Understanding that difference and knowing how to move towards direction will help you be more successful as a leader.

If you are giving directives you have taken on the role of dictator.  This is where you tell people what they need to do to accomplish the team goals and objectives.  Dictators take away creativity and initiative from their followers.  People learn to blindly go where they are told to go.  They will do just what they are told and nothing more.  Engagement will drop to all-time lows, the team stagnates, and creativity stops.  This is a path to obsolescence.

When you give directions to your team you are enabling them to find the best way forward.  This creates an environment that fosters creativity, confidence and high engagement.  People are excited to work for a boss who believes they can reach the goals without being micro-managed.  In team meetings more and better ideas will be brought to the table resulting in new and more innovative solutions.  The team will be more collaborative and will work together to get things done because they all know where they are going.

A benefit of setting direction for the team and letting them achieve the goals independently is that you will have more time to get your own work done.  When you dictate every step each person takes, you are doing their job along with yours.  There will not be enough hours in the day to get it all done.  Free up your time by letting others solve their own problems.

To make this work you must:

  • Set clear goals:  Let people know what they need to accomplish and where the team is headed.  Show how their goals align with the department and organization goals.  Make sure everyone is clear on what is needed.
  • Invite ideas:  Be open to the ideas and solutions your team bring to the table.  Ask people what they would do to solve a problem or get around an obstacle. 
  • Trust your team:  As the team shows you that they can come up with solutions to problems let them act on their own ideas.  Give them the freedom to make things happen without you when appropriate.  Show them you trust their abilities.
  • Be a sounding board:  Make sure you are available to your team to work out their ideas and find the best solutions.  They will still need a sounding board to make sure they cover all the bases.  As they gain experience they will need less guidance.
  • Have their backs:  Your team needs you to be a safety net for them.  Help them make good decisions and then have their backs if something goes wrong.  That demonstrates your trust in them more than anything else.

Moving towards a leadership style that focuses on setting direction for the team as opposed to dictating actions will create an environment of creativity and growth.  Your team will be more productive, more effective and they will grow beyond their current roles.  There may be some who never manage to act independently so they may need a different role or they may need to move elsewhere. As a leader part of your job is to nurture new leaders.  This is a great way to start identifying the future leaders.

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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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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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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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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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10 Tips for Project Success

Business woman leading a teamAt one time or another we will all be responsible for managing a project at work.  Often we get these assignments without really having any authority over the people on the team.   This means to succeed we need to create a collaborative, welcoming and mutually beneficial team environment.  It’s not as hard as it might seem.

Here are my top 10 tips for creating success:

  1. Solicit Input:  Actively engage each team member in brainstorming ideas and options.  Participation is a must not an option.
  2. Hold People Accountable:  Require updates and hold people to due dates for tasks.  Address performance issues quickly and professionally.
  3. Communicate Often:  Provide progress reports to stakeholders often.  Share status within the team.  Let people know what’s happening and why it’s happening.
  4. Make Decisions:  As team leader the final say is yours, so make the decisions.  Even if your choice is not popular you must decide and act.  Seek to get commitment, consensus is not required.
  5. Believe in Success:  Show you believe the team will succeed to EVERYONE!
  6. Give Credit:  Share the credit with the team, place them above your personal recognition.
  7. Celebrate Milestones:  Take a moment or two to celebrate reaching key milestones.  Long projects need the small wins to maintain momentum and enthusiasm.
  8. Track Progress Closely:  Know the status of the project at all times.  Regular updates will keep people moving forward.
  9. Lend a Hand:  Help destroy obstacles, pitch in if someone is overwhelmed.  Have your team’s backs.
  10. Learn to Say No:  If the project scope is creeping up as team leader you must say NO.  If someone is attempting to dodge work or bail on an assignment you must say No and hold them to it.

Project management can seem really difficult and it can be, however, mastering these 10 items will help you set the stage for a successful project.  Keep your team engaged, support them, hold them accountable and celebrate the progress you are making and you improve the odds of success.  If you can get your team to work well together it will be much easier to navigate the rough patches that will happen.  They will know you are there for them and they will be there for you.  Success is sure to follow at that point.

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