Tag Archives: 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

team conflict

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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Top 5 Posts of 2013

Office party

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 Support or Cheer Your Team

Assistance (with clipping path)As part of a work team you often have several roles to play: instigator, critic, supporter, cheerleader, or ditch digger.  Most of these roles are pretty clear cut you know each is unique and can tell who is playing which role at any given time.  However, it can be a fine line between supporter and cheerleader.  There are times when we think we are providing support when all we are really doing is cheering someone on.  Maybe that is all the support they need, but what if they need more help.

The difference between supporting and cheering is in the meaning of the words and how they show up in teams.  Support means to advocate, assist, help, corroborate, or maintain.  Cheer means spirit, animation, welcome or something that gladdens.  So when you get down to it supporting your team means getting your hands dirty (figuratively) and helping get stuff done.  Cheering the team on can be a form of support when morale is low and people need some encouragement to keep going, however it may not be enough to really help move things forward.

Business cheerleader

My office was next to Judy’s and she brought a lot of life and fun to the department.  You could always count on her to find something to laugh about and her energy level was so high she brought the rest of us up whether we wanted it or not.  While she was great fun when we had projects to pull together and it was all hands on deck to help, she would be tied up with other duties or in meetings elsewhere.  At times it was maddening because another set of hands would have cut our time down significantly.  Another person in our group was Karla, who was a very positive person and would always look for the positive in any situation.  Karla’s energy wasn’t even close to Judy’s yet she was in many ways the rock of the department.  If you were tackling a big project, or working to figure something out you could count on Karla to show up and pitch in, often unasked.  There were more than one occasion where Karla would set aside her work to help out; just to make sure things got done in a timely manner. 

I can tell you I dearly loved working with both of these ladies, they were wonderful people and I learned from each of them.  I can also honestly say that I would work with Karla any day and often wish she was around to help me get unstuck now.  Judy was fun and enjoyable to be around yet I don’t find myself wishing she was on my team today.

Judy was a cheerleader first and foremost.  Karla was a supporter before she was a cheerleader.  While teams need some of both roles the supporters are the ones who are most valuable to the team.  Anyone can be a cheerleader when it’s needed, however it’s hard for some people to be supporters.  Thinks about your interactions with your team, do you support first or cheer first?  Offer your hand to help more often than you give pep talks.  That is just as encouraging and often more needed.

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It’s Summer – Are You Present?

Now that summer has officially started have you partially checked out of work?  It’s not uncommon for people to get distracted by the thoughts of time off, fun weekend activities, family events, etc. during the summer months.  However, as part of a team you need to be fully engaged to get things done.  When others are gone you might be covering their tasks in addition to your normal duties so you need to be on top of your game.

How do you get on top of your game when the days are longer and there is more to do outside of work?  Here are a few tips to help you stay focused at work, get done quicker and enjoy your time out of the office.

  1. Plan your work.  It’s always a good idea to have a plan for what needs to be done and when, but when you are covering for others it becomes critical.
  2. Work your plan.  Now that you have a plan, follow it.  Make sure you look at your to-do list each morning and at the end of the day to ensure you are on track.
  3. Block time.  Create blocks of time, could be 30 minutes or 4 hours, to get the important things done on time.  Schedule this time in your calendar so you know you need to focus and get stuff done.
  4. Stay flexible.  Allow time for the unexpected and the new items that are sure to come your way.  When you are covering for someone else there are sure to be surprises that need attention, so make room in your plan to handle those items.
  5. Know your limits.  Be aware of how much is on your plate already so when you are asked to take on more work temporarily you know how much time you have to give.  If you must cover and it will impact your own deadlines keep people in the loop.
  6. Get clarity.  When asked to take over for someone, be sure you know in detail what MUST be done while they are gone and what would be nice to have done.  Plan to handle the musts and if possible knock out some of the nice to haves.
  7. Be clear.  As you ask others to cover for you, be clear on what needs to be done and by when.  Focus on getting only the critical items dealt with in your absence.  If possible get things done ahead of time, so there is very little for people to handle while you are gone.
  8. Take lunch breaks.  When you are swamped it’s easy to skip lunch to get more done before quitting time.  This just leads to additional stress on your body and mind.  Take the break!  Even 30 minutes away from the computer, phone and your desk will help you recharge for the afternoon push.
  9. Have fun.  Remember getting away from work is a great time to relax, unwind and recharge your energy.  Make time to enjoy the important people in your life.
  10. Show appreciation.  Let the people who are covering for you know you appreciate it.  We all like to know our efforts are noticed and appreciated.

If you show up and are engaged each day at work you will get more done and it will be easier to take time away to enjoy all the fun things summer has to offer.  Avoid mentally leaving the office before you are physically gone.  Be there for your team and they will be there for you.

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When You Are Grateful Do You Show It?

Thank you noteThis past weekend was Memorial Day here in the US which is a time for our country to stop and say thank you to all of our military, past and present.  It’s a wonderful way of acknowledging the gift of service these men and women give to the rest of us.  We also have many other, less formal, days of recognition throughout the year like boss’s day, admin assistant day, grandparent’s day, etc.  Why limit our thanks to a handful of days a year?

This past Saturday my son’s scout troop place small flags on the graves of veterans in two of the local cemeteries under the direction of a gentleman from the American Legion.  As the boys finished up he thanked them for their help in recognizing our veterans.  Before we left my son went over to him and thanked him for his service to our country.  The look of surprise and appreciation in his eyes was worth the moment it took to nudge my son into action.  To have a teenager go out of his way to say thanks obviously meant a lot to him.  This happened during a time when, as a country, we go out of our way to say thank you to the military members.  It reminded me that sometimes the small gestures mean more than grand events.

As leaders we should be looking for ways to appreciate the people around us.  Saying thanks for a good job, thanking someone for their extra effort, congratulations on a project well executed, complimenting someone on a good idea, recognizing that a person stepped up to solve a problem, the list is endless.  Often our organizations have formal methods for rewarding and recognizing people.  While these are great and needed, the simple human contact of personally looking someone in the eye and saying “Thank You” means more to them.  I still have a hand written thank you note a senior manager wrote to me after a project I worked on over 15 years ago.  It made me feel good to receive that acknowledgement of my contribution.

Studies show that people will do the things that are recognized.  If all we notice and comment on in our daily interactions are mistakes, problems, and challenges then we will get more mistakes, problems and challenges.  If we spend time recognizing the often quiet work well done, problems solved without help, challenges met then we will get more work well done, problems solved and challenges met.  We get what we focus on most.  This is also the time for a personal touch, not an electronic one.  If possible thank the person face-to-face.  It doesn’t have to be in front of a group or a big production, just stop focus on them and share your appreciation.  If you are dealing with people who work remotely from you, make the phone call and only discuss your appreciation.

Also, make sure to do this as close to the time the event occurred as you can.  This amplifies the meaning of the thanks.  It is possible that you will not learn of it for a while, that’s okay as long as you jump on the chance to recognize the behavior.  You can say “I just heard about what you did … Thank you.”  It will still carry enormous power.

Simple acts of gratitude will earn loyalty from your team.  They will know that you appreciate them and they will respond in kind.  Take the time to recognize the good in your team.  As well, look for ways to say thanks to your boss and your peers.  All of us could use a kind word, and the further up the ladder you go the less often you hear them.  Go first and show your gratitude.


Filed under Communication, Leadership, Team Building

Celebrate Different Ideas

Team CelebrationOdds are that the people on your team have very different ideas and opinions of various topics.  If so, celebrate it!  This is a key to having a high performing team.  When everyone thinks exactly the same way there are no new ideas and innovation fades away.  The challenge is to find ways to keep the conflict of opinions from becoming negative or destructive.

Here are five strategies to help you celebrate the differences:

  1. Be Open.  Keep an open mind and listen to their point of view.
  2. Show Respect.  Remember that they have a right to their opinion as do you.  Respect each other.
  3. Value Them.  Tell them that you value their ideas and opinions, particularly when you disagree.
  4. Seek Commonality.  Look for areas of agreement, even in the midst of differences.  They will exist.
  5. Be Thankful.  Thank teammates who are willing to disagree and look for new ideas or options.

If you follow these five strategies you are showing those around you that you value them as individuals with individual ideas and opinions.  Giving them the freedom to express opposing thoughts will open doors to higher levels of creativity, trust and performance in any team.  As well, if you are the team leader or boss your creditability increases because you include the team in the process.  People will be more likely to admire and support you if you include them and their ideas.

Recently I had a conversation with someone whose thoughts were basically the exact opposite of mine.  I’m comfortable with my take on the situation and he is highly committed to his position.  In reality the topic does not affect our ability to collaborate, but if we couldn’t reach some level of understanding it would be out there as a possible sore spot.  We both shared our thoughts and why we felt that way.  At the end I told him that I admired his commitment to his position.

Be willing to listen to other’s ideas and opinions with an open mind.  Take in their thoughts and then share your position without judging theirs.  Keep it to facts and your feelings or opinions.  This allows room for their position to be heard.  Once the information is out there you can look for ways to reach some form of agreement so you can move forward.  It maybe you agree to adopt their position, they agree to adopt yours, you find a new option that works for both, or you agree to disagree.  All of these are viable solutions and keep the lines of communication open.  As well you are celebrating the differing experiences, ideas and opinions within the team.

How do you celebrate different ideas with your team?

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3 Keys to Better Teams

Work TeamWhen you work on a team you want it to be the best ever, accomplish the goals and be a success.  Reality is that most teams are average, a few are failures and a few are spectacular successes.  This is a normal distribution of all things in life, teams included.  The secret is to move the bar up on what is average or typical.  The better teams perform on average the better the experience is for everyone.

How do you improve the quality of a team?  Here are three key behaviors that anyone, at any level, can apply to improve their team’s quality.

  1. Inclusive.  If you are open to including the others into your work and ideas they will be open to including you and your ideas.  This is a cornerstone of collaboration.  Encourage inclusion and model it.
  2. Supportive.  Be supportive of your fellow members’ goals and efforts.  Help them achieve more by assisting them.  They will return the favor.
  3. Accountable.  Hold yourself accountable to the team, its goals and your promises.  Ask others to hold you to your word and hold them to their word.  Never wait for the boss or team leader to address performance issues.  Tackle it yourself in a professional and supportive way to help people do more.

When you practice these three behaviors people will trust you and will want to work with you.  In a team environment this means that you will be sought after to be on teams because you are someone who helps make teams succeed.  This can be a very rewarding position to be in.  If you are early in your career it will help establish your ability to get things done by working with others, which is critical to your ability to advance.  If you are already in a leadership role being a good team player and being able to manage successful teams continues to build your credibility and value to the organization.

These three behaviors are trust building which is the first step to getting a team to work together.  If people trust each other they are more willing to work with each other and commit to the team’s goals.  Without trust people will not commit because they will not believe others are committed.  When everyone is committed to the success of the team it will succeed even when things go radically wrong.

If your team is dysfunctional and you want to see it change go first.  Lead by example and model the behaviors you want the team to have.  It will be hard and at times frustrating.  Yet with perseverance you can make a difference.  Be the change you want to see in your team.

What have you done that has helped your team succeed in the face of adversity?


photo from iStockPhoto.com

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Infectious Attitude

ConcentrationThe attitude you bring with you to work infects those around you.  This can be a great thing or it can be a horrible influence.  How people see you and how they respond to you is directly related to the attitude you present.  So how do you show up?

Here are several attitude types we experience at work:

  • Pollyanna:  Everything is perfect and everything is wonderful.  This gets exhausting if things really aren’t going well.
  • Debbie/Danny Downer:  Nothing will ever go right, everything is a disaster.  This brings down the energy and effectiveness of everyone around them.
  • Helping Hand:  Everyone can use a helping hand.  This person get irritating because they are too quick to jump in to help.
  • Critic:  There is something wrong with every idea/option.  Perfectionism is hard to achieve on a good day and impossible on a typical work day.
  • Lone Wolf:  Wants to be left alone and stays away from everyone.  This is frustrating because they have knowledge that will help others if it can be pulled out of them.
  • Fence Sitter:  Waiting to see which way things will go before committing.  Getting them to step up and decide to act is painful and time consuming.
  • Hopeful Realist:  Recognizes that not everything is perfect or horrible, focused on getting things done.  By focusing on making things better this person is the easiest to work with because they are excited about what comes next.

If you aren’t sure which of these types’ best represents your work attitude, think about how you describe your day.  Do you use negative terms to describe everything?  Do you paint a positive picture even in the darkest days?  The words you use will give you a clue as to how you are looking at your work world.  If the terms “nightmare”, “disaster”, or “failure” are often in your vocabulary then you are being very negative.  Most people will avoid highly negative people.  No one wants to be pulled down into the sad abyss that is typically portrayed.  Things are hard enough, why focus on the really ugly parts all the time.

Likewise people who are falsely positive can be exhausting.  They refuse to look at what is wrong and that can prevent them from addressing issues.  Most places have things that can be improved.  Focusing on the good and addressing what can be better is more realistic.

If you jump in to help others all the time you aren’t letting them grow and learn for themselves.  People want help, but they also need a sense of accomplishment.  Give them a chance to do things on their own and let them ask for help.

If you are a realist, focus on being hopeful.  Some realists focus on all the things that can go wrong so if you focus on the good and look for ways to make the problems better people will be drawn to you.  Finding solutions and ways to make things better is highly valued by companies and people want to be around those who celebrate success and work towards a better and brighter future.

Each of these types will infect the people around them.  Make sure your infection is one of positivity and hope for a brighter tomorrow.  Your team will thank you.


Filed under Team Building

Accountability on Teams

Business peopleWhat level of accountability do you have on your team?  Do people raise a red flag when they see someone going off track or do they duck and run?  As a team leader do you hold your team accountable for results and behavior?  It’s so much easier to define results and measure performance in those terms only.  Unfortunately, behavior can be a hugely disruptive force in any team.  So address it, quickly and effectively.

To effectively address behavior issues and hold people accountable to a standard a few things must be in place first.  The team must trust each other and their team leader, everyone must be willing to share conflicting views and ideas, and the team must be committed to their team success.  If these three things are in place, or are improving, then it is easier to hold each other accountable for results and behavior.  As well, the team leader must be willing to step up and step in when behavior is out of line.

Here are four tips on addressing problem behavior:

  1. Observation:  State what you have observed.  This focus the conversation on what people see and the impact it has without saying someone is “wrong” or “bad”.
  2. Improve: Talk about what can be improved instead of what they did wrong.  Most people want to get better at what they do.  Saying something is wrong is a judgment which will get them entrenched in the behavior you want changed.
  3. Success:  Point out what they do well and encourage them to continue doing that behavior.
  4. Impact:  Focus on the impact their performance has on the team and its members.   Using team goals will help you demonstrate how they are hurting the overall team’s success.

When you as a team leader steps into having these kinds of conversations with people it makes it easier for other team members to hold each other accountable.  If the leader won’t hold team members accountable there is no reason for them to do it.  Set the example for how you want to have behavior addressed, be consistent with it and the team will start to hold each other accountable.  Make trust and commitment are in place and that its acceptable to offer differing opinions are all present and part of the team culture.

What is your favorite method of addressing problem performance or behavior?

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