How much time do you, as a leader, spend on the strategic work of your business?
Wondering what strategic work is? First, here is what it’s not:
- Simply being in a room with your peer leaders and your team leader: Harvard Business Review (Stop Wasting Valuable Time by Michael Mankins) did a study on leadership teams and found 65% of them focused on talking at each other with information and not with each other to solve the biggest issues for the organization.
- Building an agenda with what the team wants to talk about: When studying leadership teams and how they structured meetings, the outcome was 3 hours per month spent on strategic issues. Ever been in a meeting where ‘input into your area’ or ‘issues being raised about your team/group’ ended up in you defending your team with the outcome being low trust, no decision, and multiple people leaving feeling like ‘that was a waste of time’? Be honest – given the choice, we build agendas that keep people ‘out of our business’ and don’t invite their input and help.
The solution is actually pretty simple, and yet not easy because too many leadership teams don’t fit the description of healthy (a cohesive, functional, open and honest, fun-loving team that enjoys working together).
Here is what strategic work is:
- Getting into a room each week to do a quick review of the health of the business (metrics and people/customer stories)
- Providing an open and honest update to peers on the status of the big work for that quarter (we call them Rocks in EOS) and closing the loop on all the things people committed to doing after last week’s meeting
- Picking 1 to 3 big issues the team feels need to get addressed and fixing them
- Leaving with a clear idea of things to do, messages to cascade, how effective the meeting was, and what we can do next week to make it more effective
- Spending a day together reviewing the long-term plan, getting on the same page around the progress to the plan for the year, updating the biggest issues/obstacles/opportunities for the year, putting a new 90-day plan in place for what has to get done, and solving a few big issues
- Doing a fun activity together where work is NOT the topic, but connecting with each other on a more personal level is
- Getting away to do the quarterly work in a longer term way
It is always about spending time on the important things, and it begins with a commitment to spending 10% of your time being more strategically focused as a team. This quote showed up today in my inbox and I hope it challenges the excuse I hear most often from leaders when I share a picture of strategic time:
“I don’t have the time.” …almost always means, “this is not a priority.”Seth Godin – sethgodin.com
If your team is spending too little time on strategic stuff or you want to step back and really look at your time, here are two great lenses to help you:
- Stop Wasting Valuable Time by Michael C. Mankins
- Read pp. 165 – 198 in Traction: Get a Grip On Your Business by Gino Wickman
Time is a gift, so use it for the most important things. I hope this helps start a great conversation with your leadership team.
Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often!
It was one of the many moments of an EOS® session where a big question was in the room which everyone has a chance to answer. Today the questions were: What are the problems, obstacles, barriers, ideas, opportunities you see as you look around your business? What’s frustrating you?
The Ops leader broke the silence: “Our sales are struggling and it looks like we will be faced with layoffs this quarter unless something changes. And we don’t have a plan.”
A hard conversation ensued, and before our next break a tired leadership team looked at me. The Integrator spoke up with the observation, “We must be one of your most messed up clients.”
My response was easy. “We are right where we need to be in this conversation, and I know this team can get to some action plans after break. As for what I see when I look at you? I see a group of people becoming a leadership team.”
One of the things EOS® has taught me is to celebrate when the team goes into what we call entering the danger. It’s a place with risk to egos, relationships, and outcomes; it is also a place where groups become teams. This is where respect and trust are built, which are foundations for great teams and teamwork. Nobody loves to enter the danger, and yet healthy teams who want to leave with a meaningful plan go there sooner rather than later.
Some teams head to a ropes course or a team-building event, but actually there are danger zones to walk by or walk into every time they get together.
As you go through your next leadership team meeting, do you see your team going through the motions or entering the danger and emerging with action plans that the whole team is behind? If you want to work on this with your team in 2019, a good place to start is with Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable.
One final thought: stop calling it team building and always refer to it as TRUST building – because all leaders and leadership teams need more of that.
Lead well . .
Last week, I was leading an EOS® (Entrepreneurial Operating System®) session and this word came out of my mouth. I did not know I did it. Within a minute, one of the leaders I was working with said “Scott, what is documize? You just said it.” As I paused, another leader spoke up and said he heard it too.
Have you ever said something stupid, or uttered words that in hindsight did not accurately represent what you really meant?
That’s exactly where I was. One of the desired outcomes of my work with teams is to help them become healthy and smart together, which requires a high degree of trust. Since I teach it, I challenge myself to model the things that are the big contributors to trust and safety.
So, I held back the urge to say “I did not say that . . ” or “Yeah, but . . . . ” and just smiled and thanked them for making me aware of that. I then made up a fictitious definition that conjoined ‘document’ and ‘systemize’, and asked the team for the intellectual property rights. Then we moved on to a productive day of learning and planning.
In a world where people are increasingly attacked for what they say, and less emphasis is put on conversations around “What did you mean?” or “Just clarify and apologize and move on….” – safety is a gift. This leadership team provided it for me, and I accepted it.
How safe is the environment in your leadership team? Creating it takes some diligence, but the open debate and unmeasured/unedited comments that people share could be the difference between a successful year and a cash or quality emergency that takes months to fix.
Documize – It is my constant reminder that I get to work in special, safe places. Are you creating such spaces with your actions?
Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often!
I was listening to a webinar from a seasoned OD/Leadership professional and she threw out a word that made me smile. Her statement was – The #1 hobby in the office is boss watching.”
I was once reminded that people watch leaders. After one of those month-long stretches of dealing with several difficult situations in a row I met one of our team members in a hall and greeted him with a smile and a “Hello Charlie”. He provided a similar reply, and then added “it is good to see you smile. I have not seen that from you in 3-4 weeks.” It had been a tough month for me, and he had noticed.
Remember that 90+% of communication is nonverbal. Leaders that are in a hurry provide information to the people around them in sound bits and actions. It is also natural to gather information and fill in the blanks. I think back to a game played with children where we make a circle and start by wispering a message in the ear of the person next to us. The message returning is always different. Our actions and non verbal cues are like little whispers to our teams.
Here are three purposeful ways to deal with boss watching:
- Onboard well: Tell new people up front what your nonverbals are around busy/buried with work, and when it is okay to interrupt. If people know your habits and you know theirs it will be easier to understand/interpret messages.
- Meeting Habit: Weekly updates with your team should include a quick around the room What is on my plate this week? to address what stressors everyone is dealing with.
- Make it clear – ASK! If you hear a rumor that could have been generated from boss watching, address it openly. Your script should sound like this: “I have heard . . . . . . . . and know that I have been acting like . . . . . this week, so I can see how my actions could feed that. Here is what is happening . . . . . . If you ever wonder about such things please ask.”
What story are your actions telling?
Here is a way to have some fun with this. At your next team meeting ask three questions: How do you know when I am having a good day? How do you know I am having a bad day? What are my habits at work? Just blame it on a leadership blog that talked about boss watching. 🙂
I have a friend who is very skilled at creative play. I always like to see how he translates that skill into the workplace without getting into trouble. He is successful at that most of the time.
His team likes to laugh so they came up with a game that allowed words or phrases to be banned by the team and then use of those words/phrases cost the individual a one dollar fine. The process is pretty simple – individuals present the word/phrase and the team votes. New words are added an others are taken off the list. As he told me the stories the joy was overflowing. I was laughing uncontrollably.
So far, here are a sample of the words that have been banned: brutal, very nice, baby, and whatever.
Any other simple ways to create a little laughter in the workplace?
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
This is a reprint of the monthly publication called trU Tips – Strategic People Reminders for the busy executive. To subscribe to receive a monthly trU Tips, click here.
What I’m hearing
Forming teams is not a new concept. It can be, however, a new experience for many entrepreneurial organizations entering their next phase of growth, and for industries such as financial services. Teams can help raise revenue, keep relationships connected with service, and reduce the risk of having one person dictate the success of the organization. While the process of team building is simple, doing it effectively is a bigger challenge when the people being asked to join a team are successful largely because of their individual drives.
What it means
“There is no ‘I’ in team.” Great slogan, but it’s wrong. When bringing people together who have been successful largely because of their personal drives to succeed, there has to be room for “I” somewhere, or the team won’t work. It’s unrealistic to ask someone — a top sales person, a driving entrepreneur, a teacher — who has basically worked independently for the first decade of his or her career to change overnight and become a great team member. Bringing independent-minded people together requires an open and honest conversation focused on defining both individual needs and team goals, then deciding if a balance can be achieved.
Building trust is the basic component of performance. In my experience, trust comes before the other three pieces in a four-step process I call trUPerformance™: build trust, build focus, build confidence and build rhythm. While the last three parts are essential for a great, high-functioning team, trust is the key. Allowing people to process through their individual needs, as well as those of the team as a whole, will promote an understanding of how the team can meet its overall goals while allowing its members to have their own needs met. In the end, individuals might decide that being part of a team won’t work for them. Sharing truth allows for good choices to be made.
What you should do
The key in all of this is having a series of conversations with potential team members to identify:
- A list of what they bring to the team, including strengths and weaknesses
- A list of things they want or need from the team
- A list of personal reasons for joining the team, including what they see as the group’s goals or potential
Process these pieces by sharing openly, identifying common themes in both individual needs and team goals. Challenge people to identify needs that are purely “Me” goals (e.g., keeping one’s top 20 clients) and those that are “We” goals that benefit the entire team (e.g., offering a more complete service solution to customers). By systematically going through these conversations, it will become evident whether or not potential team members are compatible, and whether joining the team is the right move for an individual.
Need a partner in effectively forming a team that will have a huge impact on your business? Contact me. Scott@thetrugroup.com