Tag Archives: Managing Teams

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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How Flexible are You?

Flexible business woman talk by phone

Leaders need some flexibility so they can reach their goals.  Whether you are leading teams or projects you will have a vision of the results, a plan to get there and the ability to adjust to circumstances that arise along the way.  The secret to being successful is having the right amount of flexibility.  There is a spectrum from very rigid to very pliant and we all fall along it in different places on each aspect of our lives.

A week ago my college aged son had shoulder surgery and he cannot use his left arm at all for the near future.  Many people would sit around, feeling sorry and do nothing because of the limitations.  He takes a different approach to it, he is very careful of his injured should but he looks at each situation in terms of what can he do not what can’t he do.  This is a great mindset for striking the right balance in flexibility.

As leaders there are things we must hold firm to like our vision, our passion and our integrity.  However, we need to be adaptable to new opportunities, new ways to reach our goals, and new resources that can help us move forward.  When we create a plan there must be room for change and adjustments.  Too often a leader builds a plan and will not deviate from it even when it is doomed to fail.  This is blind allegiance and there is no room for that in a leader’s world.

When moving forward towards a dream or vision leaders must be willing to listen and change based on the input of their team.  Others will see opportunities or come up with ideas that will move us forward quicker or more efficiently.  Allowing that change to take place is critical.  What a leader must avoid is giving up all control over the vision.  If the leader becomes too pliant then the group can pull the team in a new and different direction which may not meet the original vision.  Turning everything over without staying in control of the vision can lead to disaster.

Flexibility allows you to accommodate the needs of your team and adjust for obstacles or challenges.  When you are able to adapt your plan to the needs of the team, the team will buy into it because they now have a piece of it.  Obstacles and challenges require a change in approach where flexibility will lead to more innovative solutions.  Flexibility in methods builds buy-in and creates an environment conducive to innovation.

Here are some questions to ask to maintain your flexibility balance:

  • Is this idea/opportunity true to my vision for the results?
  • Could this be a better way to get things done?
  • Will this help us reach our goals while allowing the team to personalize their efforts?
  • Can this meet the goals of the vision as well as meet the needs of the team?
  • What would happen if this adjustment is made?
  • How can we work around this obstacle or challenge?
  • Will this make the end results even better?

SlinkyThink of a slinky, like the one pictured here.  They hold their over all shape yet to move forward they bend, twist and adjust to get to the destination.  As a leader that kind of flexibility will help you succeed.  Hold true to your vision, passion and integrity while adapting to the needs and ideas of those on your team.  Stretch yourself to learn more, do more and go places you never thought possible.

How do you work on your flexibility?  Share your best practices in the comments below.  I would love to learn new techniques.

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Top 5 Posts of 2013

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Thanks to everyone who stopped by, commented and shared my posts this past year.  Here are the top 5 posts from the year:

  1. 5 People Every Team Needs
  2. Defining Personal Productivity
  3. 10 Tips for Project Success
  4. A Leadership Parable
  5. Making Hard Choices

I’m looking forward to 2014 and sharing more thoughts with you as well as learning from your comments and feedback.

Let’s make 2014 the best year yet!  Have a great New Year!!

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If you would like help developing your project management or leadership skills contact me at carol@delta-group-llc.com.  I can help you create clarity around your goals, develop a strategy to reach them and support your during your efforts.

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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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Are You Managing, Leading or Doing Both?

See SawCareer development is a series of phases.  The first step is to learn to manage you.  This means learning to take control of your time, make good decisions and improve your communication skills.  The next phase is where you start to move into managing others.  In this phase you will start to take responsibility for building effective teams and managing multiple priorities for you and your team.  Then you move into leading others.  This is where you start to move beyond just managing tasks and responsibilities to setting a vision for others to follow.  As you advance towards this phase it is important to take the time to develop your leadership skills.

Peter Drucker says it best “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”  Yet you don’t completely drop managing as you start leading.  You still have to be in control of your behavior and you may still need to direct the actions of others.  Becoming a leader doesn’t mean you stop managing it means you add new responsibilities to your plate.

Too often managing is treated as an ugly behavior that adds little value to people or organizations.  This is maligning a much needed function in business.  All activities have quality levels that must be maintained and customer demand to meet.  Someone must keep an eye on the details of getting things done on time and on budget.  This is the role of a manager.  The title for this person maybe supervisor, project manager, manager, director or some other option.  Yet the role is critical to the success of the organization.

Leading and managing don’t have to be mutually exclusive and probably shouldn’t be treated separately.  Leaders need to set the direction and the vision for what people will be doing.  Part of that includes setting expectations for what success looks like for the team.  These are guidelines the managers and people can use to determine what needs to be done and when.  Leaders who ignore the importance of those parameters will leave their team struggling to meet the leader’s vision.

Managing people without paying attention to the needs of the team is a dictatorship.  To successfully manage it is important to take the time to understand the people on the team, what motivates them, enable them to see the purpose of what they are doing and help them achieve their goals.  This will drive engagement, improve quality and productivity, all things good managers want to achieve.  These are a result of leading the team more than just managing results.

Take the time to pay attention to the people and the business results improve.  If leaders focus solely on making the people happy it can lead to a decline in business results.  When you have more than one person working on something there will be complexity and complications that must be dealt with to ensure productivity.  This isn’t a bad thing; it’s just a function of human nature.  The trick is to balance an engaging and inspiring workplace with one that produces to customer expectations.  This means businesses need managers and leaders, and in particular people who can wear both hats at the same time.

How do you balance the goals of the organization with the needs of the people?  Do you find it difficult to lead people and manage results?

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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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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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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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