Building a Strong Team – no ropes needed, just a BBQ

I read a great story today about a team that developed largely through the actions of the team members.   It is about the Michigan State University offensive line and what they did to build a more cohesive and higher performing team.   It resonated with me because it was done largely through two things that we can all afford:  attitude and time.  Highlights for me:

  • Leadership (the coach) set the goal to develop a more dominant running game.  (result was +30 yds/game in 2010 vs 2009)
  • Their time together off the field was spent around a barbeque – eating.  (ie.  no ropes course or expensive consultants were needed)
  • The quarterback provided leadership (via encouragement) by buying t-shirts for the linemen to help show their unity and pride. (ie. no $$ compensation was needed to motivate this group)
  • No significant individual honors were received by any of the offensive lineman.
  • The opponents recognize their teamwork, and the players use the word PRIDE to describe how they feel about what they have accomplished.  What great key measures.

It is not certain that their team will win their bowl game, but it is certain that this group of young men have shown us they understand how to build an effective team.   Here is the link  – http://www.tidesports.com/article/20101228/NEWS/101229701/1011?p=2&tc=pg

I care… really! TrustBUSTER™ #8

TrustBUSTER™ #8 – Shows little concern about me a person

When I stand in front of a room of leaders and ask the question “How many of you care about your people?”, 100% of the people raise their hands.  I believe that 99.9% of leaders care about their people.  (I will save a discussion about that .01% for later)

Recently, I led a group discussion around trust that divided 30 people into four groups based on personality type.  I provided them with the TrustBUSTER™ list and asked them to identify one behavior on the list they saw most frequently from the other three styles.  One group received feedback from all of the other groups that #8 was the behavior that tripped them up.  The group receiving this feedback was the task focused/achievement oriented group.  This is the same group that 60+% of executive teams fall into based on my past experience.

Why does this happen? A manufacturing supervisor once shared this wisdom with me, “Intentions without action equals SQUAT”.  In his book The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey makes the point that “We judge ourselves on our intentions.  We judge others based on their actions.”  Both quotes lead to the same conclusion, if people don’t see it they don’t believe it.

As a leader, how do you bridge the gap between your actions and the perception of the people reporting to you?  Here are three ways to keep this TrustBUSTER™ from tripping you up:

  • Self Assessment: Test your knowledge of your people by asking these questions.  What are the names of their spouse/children?  Where do they live?  What non work activities are most important to them?  What is the biggest event going on in their life right now?  Take a moment to evaluate how you answered these questions.  This is pretty basic stuff, so if you missed anything you need to spend more time with your people.
  • Monday/Friday rule:  Spend time on Friday connecting with people to hear about their week or upcoming weekend activities.  Spend Monday hearing how the weekend came together or what they are looking forward to during the week.  (take a few notes after each conversation if you are like me and forget things)
  • Find a partner to help:  If you are an executive chances are you have way to much to do and connecting with your people is not a strength.  Find someone around you that will remind of key dates for your people(birthday, anniversary) and keep a pulse on what significant things that are happening with those in your team or department.  Enlist their help to remind you of opportunities to connect.

Joy – 3 Steps to Create More as a Leader

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I participated in a panel discussion around the ‘new normal’ in Michigan business that was sponsored by CORP! Magazine.  If there is one message everyone is sure of it is that the economic recovery will be slow and the main thing individuals look for to measure improvement (jobs / income) might not get back to normal depending on your profession.  Regardless of the speed of the rebound, there are things leaders can do to create more energy in the workplace.  This also applies to followers.  We need to create more JOY.

What is joy?  Joy is not a superficial adjective, it goes deeper than that.  The Joy I am talking about is a noun, and the Merriam-Webster dictionary says it is a source or cause of delight.  Words are important, and the word source jumps out at me because it makes me think of a deep flowing spring that fills a lake or starts a river.  Something that we know is down there because we see it emerge and create something powerful and beautiful.  Thinking of that, as leaders we need to be a source for more joy in our workplace.  Here are three ways to make that happen.

1.  You first! Joy is a choice.  Being able to look at what we do, at whatever the situation is, and commit to being hopeful is the first step.  Jim Collins presented what he called the Stockdale Paradox in his book Good to Great, which was to “Confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be AND retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties.”  A first step, make it a habit to smile and greet people.  Another move is starting each speech by recognizing a couple of people for their attitude as well as a specific accomplishment in the past week.  

2.  Ask others to join: It has been a tough few years for workers.  At one point I saw a statistic that 69% of people had either taken a pay cut or lost their job. A simple first move for leaders, start every meeting with your executive team by asking people to share what they see is going right this week.  Cover the tough stuff, but start with the positive stuff.  For any name mentioned make a point to have people email them or call them after the meeting to congratulate them. 

3.  Allow space for the opposite – but get back to joy: I worked with someone who used to ask for what he called a “Carnegie free zone” every now and then.  It was a break from the great Dale Carnegie’s mantra to never engage in the 3 C’s (criticizing, condemning, complaining).  This zone was 5 minutes of unloading the thoughts and frustrations of the day.  At the end, the goal was to ask a simple question – “So what can I do about it?”  Choose a positive step, a potential solution to some nagging problem, and then get after it.  A second move is to purposefully create this space in your one on one time with each team member.  Accomplish this by inserting the following questions into the one on one agenda (that you should be doing at least monthly).

  • What is your biggest frustration right now?
  • What can I do to help make it go away?
  • What move can you do to help make it go away?

Remember that joy is not ignorance.  We need to face realities, both personally as leaders and in the presence of our teams.  Joy is more about attitude.  So Leader – you first!

TrustBUSTER™ #7 – Values individual success over team goals

TrustBUSTER™ #7 – Values individual success over team goals

I facilitated 30 people from a department doing a basic what is your behavioral style activity that divided the team up into 4 styles.  I made the comment that it is not uncommon for a senior leadership team to be almost 100% concentrated in the more task focused groups in an exercise like this.  I asked the leaders in the room to raise their hands.  The count was 5 task focused to 1 people focused.  Surprising to them, but not to me.

This TrustBUSTER™ is almost 100% focused on people who tend to put task (getting job done) before people (building relationships).  This happens for two reasons.  First, executives have been rewarded for getting work accomplished.  Their talents for achievement, problem solving, and energy to overcome obstacles helped bring them to the c-suite.  They are used to winning.  If you are on their team it works.  If you are on another team it often looks like TrustBUSTER™ #7.  Secondly, communication and change management come after the debate and decision-making has already happened within the executive team.  Unfortunately, it is the communication plan and ensuing change management that gets overlooked because all the energy has gone into the decision.  Without providing the reasons why this is a good move for the overall organization, teams will fill in the blanks.  This is where people begin to assign reasons for the change that are based on what they perceive is important to the leaders.  Is it reality?  Without any other information, perception becomes reality.  Enter TrustBUSTER™ #7.

How do leaders avoid this?  Here are three steps to making this TrustBUSTER™ less of an issue:

  1. Be diligent about establishing goals and resolving conflicting goals as part of the planning process.  This team should leave this process ready to support the decisions that were made.
  2. Communicate WHY a decision is made when rolling out a change to your teams.  Be transparent about the reasons and get their input during the decision making when possible.
  3. Focus on building relationships and trust all the time.  There will be decisions you have to make where you cannot share the entire WHY.  Having built trust will make forgiveness available when it is needed.

TrustBUSTER™ #6 – Criticize decisions AFTER the team made them – How to handle the 3 most common situations

TrustBUSTER™ #6 – Criticizes decisions AFTER the team has discussed them and the decision has been made

I still remember the situation vividly.  Early in my career I went to a meeting, listened to the discussion, and heard the decision.  I went back to my desk and did some more analysis(things I should have done before the meeting), realized that I had a different opinion, and went back to the leader with my concerns.  He was visibly frustrated and let me know that we had already discussed it.  It was a lesson in being present for a discussion vs being engaged in a discussion.  I had been there, but not contributing like I should.

Later in my career I heard a different story from a senior executive.  He shared a decision that had been made by his peer that he did not agree with.  His comment was “It was his decision so I will give him some rope.  He will run into problems eventually, then we can discuss bailing him out.”  His strategy was to let his peer fail (without giving him the right kind of help) so that his plan would ultimately prevail.

In both cases it was not a lack of discussion, but a lack of open and honest dialogue by all the parties involved.  The result, people leaving the table with individual agendas that trumped the team agenda.  Nothing erodes trust faster than failure to listen, failure to share opinions, and failure to support decisions made by your team.  Here are the three standard situations you will see happen on a team, what the issue is, and what the leader should do to ensure the person stops doing this TrustBUSTER™.

  1. Openly criticizing people/decisions after the fact = criticizing = character issue = Action:  Direct warning (job loss)
  2. Questioning decisions after the fact = criticizing = character or self-confidence issue = Action: Need more info . . .
  3. Bringing more(new) data after a bad decision = criticizing = takes guts = Action: Thank them for finding the information, then explore – Why did we not have this information?

This is one of those behaviors that highlights something Stephen M.R. Covey shares in his book The Speed of Trust, which is “We judge others based on their actions and we judge ourselves based on our intent.”  This is an especially critical message for the kind but timid person on your team that does not speak up.  Their actions create trust issues with their teammates.

The key question for a leader when this happens – How can I lead differently so this TrustBUSTER™ never becomes an issue?  The key action is to deal with it quickly and directly because it will grow like cancer in your team.  Secondly, look also at your meetings and evaluate if you are creating time for key debates to happen or if decisions are just being unilaterally made and not discussed.  Finally, if you see this happening between two departments in your organization, examine the relationship of the leaders of those groups.  Likely the departments are mirroring the leaders.  In any case, address it directly and be willing to change the leaders if it does not stop.

Listening at growth companies . . . avoiding TrustBUSTER™ #5

Here is another perspective on TrustBUSTER™ #5 – Tells a lot, listens very little – for the growth oriented companies. (read the previous post on this topic to get the whole picture on the TrustBUSTER™ list

While I am not a fan of using employee surveys as replacement tool for solid management of people, I do believe in them.  For the company that has lots to do because of their growing business, growth company guru Verne Harnish offers and interesting perpsective in his book Mastering the Rockefeller Habits.  His perspective is covered in a chapter, and the subtitle to it is De-Hassle Your Organization

The basic message is that the #1 demotivator for people is problems/hassles not getting resolved.  His solution for listening, asking three questions to start:

  1. What should we start doing?
  2. What should we stop doing?
  3. What should we continue doing?

The follow-up is key in any gathering feedback effort, and he covers it masterfully in his book so I will not recite it here.  Harnish markets to growing companies, but any organization could leverage his wisdom.  I love these questions. 

Any questions you would like to add to the list?

Here is what I think. . . TrustBUSTER™ #5 – Tells a lot, listens very little

TrustBUSTER™ #5 – Tells a lot, listens very little

A study was shared with me once that calculated the average time a doctor listened to a patient before making a diagnosis was 23 seconds.  For many of my visits that number has actually proven to be long enough.  But for a complex medical issue, Twenty-three seconds is not long enough.  In my experience working with the results of employee surveys, not enough listening is always a root cause of the top issues.

Here are some broad generalizations on listening. 

  • As people become experts at doing something, they become less adept at listening. 
  • When individuals are rewarded for being great at doing and made a leader, most feel the need to talk louder to make sure things happen.
  • A high salary has to be justified by knowing everything and never letting people see your mistakes.

I will let someone else to worry about the issue of twenty-three seconds for doctors, lets talk about how this applies for leaders. 

LEADERS:  The ability to hear what people need and understand what is going on in an organizations is probably the most important skill a leader will need as they move up the organization.  Recently a client shared with me that they were concerned about the statistic that 60% of people currently in jobs are open to moving to another job as the economy improves.  Their response?  Begin to provide the CEO time to meet with small groups of people so he can hear what they are thinking about.  Listening for leaders is about slowing down.  The cost? Free!

ORGANIZATIONS:  The top three ‘listening’ processes in an organization are performance evaluations, one on ones, and staff meetings.  Why do I say this?  Listening to individuals requires face time in a setting where they are comfortable and the agenda is about them.  Ken Blanchard offers guidelines for one on ones of meeting every other week for 15-30 minutes.  How many organizations do that?  As for performance evaluations, how many managers see this as listening time vs “I have to get through this and get their signature so I can turn it in and get credit for it” time?  Then there is the staff meeting.  Does the agenda promote open listening or lots of talking with no questions or debate?

Do we need to do employee surveys?  They do serve a purpose and there is always benefit in asking people’s opinion. The mistake is leaning on the surveys as the primary way that listening happens in an organization.  It is supposed to be supplemental data to ensure that good listening is happening.

How effectively do you use the ‘big three’ listening times mentioned above?  How would you grade yourself on this TrustBUSTER™?  How would others grade you?

Leadership Time – Chronos and Kairos. Which one guides your day?

I heard something from the pulpit a couple of weeks ago that really got me thinking.  In Greek there two words for time: chronos and kairos. 

Chronos refers to time as we measure it.  It is a quantitative measure.  As a western civilization, we put a great focus on chronos time with productivity tools, phones, emails, calendars, and multitasking.  As leaders we focus on keeping on schedule, preparing as we walk between meetings, and leveraging the help of others to make sure our days are productive and time is well spent.

Kairos refers to time as a right and opportune moments.  It refers to the space in between the chronos or sequential time when something special happens.  It is a qualitative measure.

What are these Kairos moments?  What about someone saying hello and asks us about our weekend?  Maybe it could be a voice disagreeing with something we needed to make a decision on yesterday, or our kids busting into the house to tell us about something exciting that happened to them today.  How about your elderly neighbor who cannot move fast enough to catch you at your mailbox, but is sitting on their porch waiting for a conversation.  It might even be inviting two people working through lunch to come out with you for a bite to eat.

Chronos will get taken care of because we are good at it, but sometime Kairos needs more of our attention.  What can you do as a leader to make Kairos more of a priority?  It is a good time of year to ask this question.