Six Things To Pay Attention To In Groups

We're always part of some group

You and I pretty much spend our entire lives in groups. We start off in a family, play with groups of friends, attend classes, and work in groups and teams. So, woudn't it make sense to learn as much as possible about the dynamics associated with groups?

Groups

 Some years ago, organizations spent a fair amount of time educating people on the fine points of group dynamics. The research was new and fascinating. New is good. Now that that body of work has been around for a while, it's no longer "what's happening." The human condition--and certainly the organizational mind--is always looking for what's new. The world of advertising slaps the word "new" on packaging and products for a very good reason: new is good. Old isn't bad--it just gets ignored even though it's valid and useful.

There's no ignoring the importance of understanding groups. So here are some things to ponder when you are leading, or part of, a group or team.

Pay attention to these

1. Whenever one person leaves or one person enters a group, the dynamics change. Why? We learn how to function in our groups based on the roles people play, how they play them, and the balance of power and influence that results. 

2. That means that each time the group composition changes, it's a signal to sit down and talk. When a new member enters, the first two things that person thinks about are:   

Why am I here? (Task/Role)

Who are you? (Getting to know more about the other members and vice-versa)

3. If you skip this step, it will only be a matter of time before you notice that something is not quite right with the group.  That's the indicator to stop, get together, and clarify #1 as well as spend time doing #2).

4. When a reasonable amount of comfort and trust is established, you enable the group to be able to make decisions together. The question then is: how will we make decisions? Which ones are left to the group, which are the purview of the leader, and why?

5. Now you are in a place to implement and actually get the work of the group done. That means  you need to agree on "how" things will happen. Note: "How" is important because implementation is the element of group work that allows individuals to use their talents and uniqueness. People lose interest and morale can plummet when they don't feel as if they are uniquely part of the "how."

6.  If you've attended to all of the steps so far, then high performance should be the result. That might mean a great performing team at work, a terrific volunteer organization, or a healthy, well-functioning family.

Food for thought: If you find your group struggling, go back one step and see if you paid appropriate attention to the relevant issue. Keep going back until you take care of the business at that step and then start moving forward again.

Groups are such a huge part of our lives, isn't it worthwhile to develop the related knowledge and skills that will make group life effective?

 

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What To Look For In Teams

You're always part of some group

You and I pretty much spend our entire lives in groups. We start off in a family, play with groups of young friends, attend classes at school, and work in groups and teams. In fact, most organizations value collaboration so highly that it's a critical component of the screening process when hiring and promoting.

Teamwork-mice  It would make sense, then,  to learn as much as possible about the dynamics associated with groups. Some years ago, organizations spent a fair amount of time educating people on the fine points of group dynamics. The research was new and fascinating. New is good. Now that that body of work has been around for a while, it's no longer "what's happening." The human condition--and certainly the organizational mind--is always looking for what's new. The world of advertising slaps the word "new" on packaging and products for a very good reason: new is still good. Old isn't bad--it just gets ignored.

There's no ignoring the importance of understanding groups. So here are some things to ponder when you are leading, or part of, a group or team.

Pay attention to these

1. Whenever one person leaves or one person enters a group, the dynamics change. Why? We learn how to function in our groups based on the roles people play, how they play them, and the balance of power and influence that results. Groups are about equilibrium.
 

2. That means that each time the group composition changes, it's a signal to sit down and talk. When a new member enters, the first two things that person thinks about are:

  • Why am I here? (Task/Role)   
  • Who are you? (Getting to know more about the other members and vice-versa)

3. If you skip this step, it will only be a matter of time before you notice that something is not quite right with the group.  That's the indicator to stop, get together, and clarify #1 as well as spend time doing #2).

4. When a reasonable amount of comfort and trust is established, you enable the group to be able to make decisions together. The question then is: how will we make decisions? Which ones are left to the group, which are the purview of the leader, and why?

5. Now you are in a place to implement and actually get the work of the group done. That means  you need to agree on "how" things will happen. Note: "How" is important because implementation is the element of group work that allows individuals to use their talents and uniqueness. People lose interest and morale can plummet when they don't feel as if they are uniquely part of the "how."

6.  If you've attended to all of the steps so far, then solid performance should be the result. That might mean a great performing team at work, a terrific volunteer organization, or a healthy, well-functioning family.

Food for thought: If you find your group struggling, go back one step and see if you paid appropriate attention to the relevant issue. Keep going back until you take care of the business at that step and then start moving forward again.

Groups and teams are a huge part of our lives; it's worthwhile to learn how they really develop. 


Photo found at Buckaroos

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Ooh, It's Time To Re-visit Team Building

"It's time for the human race to enter the solar system."

        --Dan Quayle, former U.S. Vice President

That has nothing to do with anything here. I just hated to see it go to waste.

______________________________________________________

After spending the past week immersed in a team building project, I decided that re-visiting this article might just be helpful to our ATW readers. Also: please check out the note at the bottom of the page.

______________________________________________________

OK, it's clear: based on the comments from We Need Team Spirit (So I've Set Aside Thursday), we've all had some strange experiences with team building. (Some stranger than others).

Organizational success depends on people working together to get "it" done. So the whole working together thing is--well, huge. In an era where we deify leaders, none of them can get anywhere without everyone else. If you're one of those people "in charge" of something, here's a tip:

Every team meeting is team building

Family_dinner1_2

It is. The dynamics are like dinner at home with the family.

Ever time you come together, the interactions lead to some degree of increased satisfaction and performance or a sense of disarray and dysfunction.

The effectiveness of regularly-scheduled meetings is likely to impact the health of the group more than a "one-off" to get things back on track. (Although if you need to get back on track, do it).

Here's a shopping list of what people are looking for:

1. Clear sense of direction.

In an era of misunderstood "participative management," people are seeking direction and clarity. That's  the only way a group can understand and rally around a shared sense of purpose.

This is a leadership issue. If you are the leader, continually check your own clarity compass. If people are running in ten different directions that means that you are, too. Focus.

2. Talented colleagues.

I don't know how you operate, but my own commitment and performance is either lifted up or dragged down by the people around me. When I join a team I quickly check out two things:

  • Do we have depth and breadth of talent to accomplish what we want to do?
  • Are these the kind of people I want to do it with?

Note: "I have found the enemy and it is me." There are times when I'm the one that doesn't fit. When that happens, it's important to acknowledge it and either:

  • Make a physical change and move elsewhere
  • Make a personal change, if possible, and suck it up if the goal is important enough to me.

3. Clear, alluring responsibilities.

Who is supposed to be doing what, are they in their "talented" zone, and how do we make sure we pass the baton to each other at the right moment in the right way?

4. Procedures that work.

It's enticing to point fingers when something goes wrong. But the question to ask first is, "Do we have a systematic approach that works for everything from designing effective meetings to manufacturing our product?"

Good systems can allow talented people to use their talents. Bad systems cause award-winning landscape architects to spend their time fixing lawnmowers.

5. Healthy interactions.

Back to the dinner table. People want to know they can have a dissenting point of view that gets heard without getting stomped on. Likewise, when something really good happens, we want some kind of acknowledgment or celebration to follow.

Über-note: I've experienced much less willingness among some team leaders to "spend valuable time" celebrating than on arguing opposing viewpoints. It's ok to debate, because "that's work." It's not ok to celebrate: "They're already getting paid to do what they're supposed to do."

Maybe I travel in the wrong circles, but I can't begin to tell you how often I have this conversation with some clients. I can also tell you unequivocally that their upward mobility has been stunted (read, "halted") as a result of that attitude.

6. Noticeable accountability and related rewards.

This is different than #5.

You and I notice when someone who doesn't do their fair share ends up with the same goodies as everyone else at the end of the year. And if teamwork is so important, then it's important for team contribution to somehow be factored in to the organization's "reward" equation.

There's somewhat of a conundrum, too, when it comes to team performance. On the one hand, things get done by people working together. On the other, each person has a well-defined role to play in that. If the manager doesn't pay attention to the individual accountabilities involved, the genuine performance issues can be lumped inappropriately under the banner of "we've got a team problem."

Well, you do. And it's called Larry.

7. Good relationships outside of the team.

Ah, back to the whole "organizations as systems" thing.

It's tough to get things done when IT hates the Customer Call Center or if another department is using a software program that's incompatible with yours. It's a really good idea to ask the diagnostic question, "Where is the organization itself getting in the way of our success?" 

That gives the manager one more thing to deal with when the meeting is over:-)

Did I say manager?

If you look closely at #1 and #7, these are areas where the team leader really has the most "juice" when it comes to addressing the item.

Thought for today: When it comes to effective teams, the leader has both the responsibility and position power to pull it all together. Groups get things done in organizations. It's just as important for a manager to know how to orchestrate and respond to group dynamics as it is to interpret the quarterly financials.

I contend that anything with such an impact on performance isn't a "soft" skill if it's so directly related to generating "hard" currency.

_____________________________________

Note: Deepest thanks those of you who have sent comments and emails of support for my father. Update: He was diagnosed last month with cancer of the larynx and has completed two weeks of radiation therapy. At the age of 89 he is a pretty tough dude. However, beginning last Thursday, the impact of the treatments began to take their toll on other parts of his system. He is now taking oxygen, his heart is weakened, and he has developed an infection. As I write this, he is undergoing an exam to determine whether or not to continue or suspend the treatments for some period of time. 

He is in good spirits and insisting that I head out to California to speak at the Naval Leadership Symposium later this week. (Dad is a Navy vet). 

Although I will post as often as possible, I may not comment as quickly as I should and ask for your understanding. The discussions often take on a life of their own without me and I really think that's part of what this medium is all about. 

Thank you all again for your continued good wishes.

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Do You Know How Your Group Works?

We're All Part of Some Group

You and I pretty much spend our entire lives in groups. We start off in a family, play with groups of young friends, attend classes school, and work in groups and teams.

So it would make sense to learn as much as possible about the dynamics associated with groups. Some years ago, organizations spent a fair amount of time educating people on the fine points of group dynamics. The research was new and fascinating. New is good. Now that that body of work has been around for a while, it's no longer "what's happening." The human condition--and certainly the organizational mind--is always looking for what's new. The world of advertising slaps the word "new" on packaging and products for a very good reason: new is still good. Old isn't bad--it just gets ignored.

Bau  There's no ignoring the importance of understanding groups. So here are some things to ponder when you are leading, or part of, a group or team.

Pay Attention to These 

1. Whenever one person leaves or one person enters a group, the dynamics change. Why? We learn how to function in our groups based on the roles people play, how they play them, and the balance of power and influence that results.

2. That means that each time the group composition changes, it's a signal to sit down and talk. When a new member enters, the first two things that person thinks about are:

Why am I here? (Task/Role)

Who are you? (Getting to know more about the other members and vice-versa)

3. If you skip this step, it will only be a matter of time before you notice that something is not quite right with the group. That's the indicator to stop, get together, and clarify #1 as well as spend time doing #2).

4. When a reasonable amount of comfort and trust is established, you enable the group to be able to make decisions together. The question then is: how will we make decisions? Which ones are left to the group, which are the purview of the leader, and why?

5. Now you are in a place to implement and actually get the work of the group done. That means you need to agree on "how" things will happen. Note: "How" is important because implementation is the element of group work that allows individuals to use their talents and uniqueness. People lose interest and morale can plummet when they don't feel as if they are uniquely part of the "how."

6. If you've attended to all of the steps so far, then high performance should be the result. That might mean a great performing team at work, a terrific volunteer organization, or a healthy, well-functioning family.

Food for thought: If you find your group struggling, go back one step and see if you paid appropriate attention to the relevant issue. Keep going back until you take care of the business at that step and then start moving forward again.

Groups are such a huge part of our lives, it's worthwhile to develop the related knowledge and skills to navigate them successfully.

What have you learned about groups that would be helpful to readers? Weigh in!

___________________________________

If you enjoyed this, you may also want to read:

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Team Leaders: Do You Do This?

Where Have You Experienced This?

When one person leaves or enters a group, the dynamics--and group effectiveness--change.

Why?

Groups--no matter how large or small--are about equilibrium. That equilibrium comes from a balance of power. Over time, we all learn where we "fit" in a group given the topic, our role, and how things operate. When someone comes or goes, our sense of influence changes. That's because new relationships and alliances begin form in order to establish a new balance of power.

 Note: When someone new joins a group, most of us at least recognize the importance of acknowledging the person and talking about the new role. However, a single person leaving a group will create the same disequilibrium and requires the same kind of acknowledgment and discussion. (That phenomenon is the rule rather than the exception right now). So. . .

Equilibrium What To Do?

1. Stop action.

2. Read the paragraph above to the group.

3. Re-visit why the group exists, make any necessary modifications, and ask for agreement from each person on

4. Clarify each person's role in light of the new situation. Whether someone leaves or someone new arrives, there has to be a change in responsibilities and how things will get done. If you talk about it now, you won't have to resolve the conflict about it later.

Groups and organizations are systems. Systems work the same way as our bodies (systems). If you pinch one place, you'll get a referent "ouch" someplace else.

The next time something is about to change in your group, go through the four steps above. You'll minimize the ouches and get back to equilibrium and productivity because you've taken good care of your system.

What About You?

You no doubt have made plenty of changes in your own life. 

What stories or insights do you have about organizational/personal change that could help another reader?

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Decision-Making: Remember "Z"

Everyday we make more decisions than we realize. Some are as simple as whether to super-size that burger and where to sit down to eat it; others involve choices that impact family, health, and finances.

Decision making can be tough enough when you do it solo. It becomes even more challenging sitting around the conference table with colleagues. When it comes to information, we each prefer to approach it from different starting points using our favorite questions. So the trick becomes to bring everyone together at the same starting point, then systematically move together until you've explored all of the important elements of sound decision-making.

Decision by Zorro

Zorro Some of you may recall the TV/movie character Zorro. His trademark was carving a "Z" with his sword as a reminder to his foes that he was alive and well, and ready for action.

Last week I drew this model on a flip chart during a decision-making meeting with a group of managers. If you follow the quadrants in sequence--just remember "Z"--you'll focus participants on the same elements of the decision process at the same time.

1. First, walk through the factual details about what you know, what you don't know, and any other verifiable bits of information.

2, Then, take a big picture approach to think long term, see opportunities, possibilities, and connections between cause and effect.

3. When you've handled the information, use objective thinking to logically deal with risk/benefit. What are the pros and cons? Are there other options that haven't been discussed? Does each option carry a consequence of some sort? How likely is it that it would happen? If it did, what would the seriousness be?

4. Finally, take the "people factor" into consideration.  How will this affect others in the work group? Where else in the organization would people be impacted?  How will you feel about the result? Will it gain support or meet stiff opposition?

 

Decision_z001_2

I've received a number of emails and comments from young managers who are looking for tips and hints to help boost their effectiveness. This is the kind of model that can help create focus and reduce conflict.

Note: For those of you who are intimately familiar with the MBTI®, this may prove useful:

Mbtizigzag001_2


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Working With Groups: When Someone Enters or Leaves

When only one person leaves or enters a group, the dynamics--and group effectiveness--change.

Why?

Balance_2 Groups--no matter how large or small--are about equilibrium. That equilibrium comes from a balance of power. Over time, we all learn where we "fit" in a group given the topic, our role, and how things operate. When someone comes or goes, our sense of influence changes. That's because new relationships and alliances begin to form in order to establish a new balance of power.

Did You Say Power?

That's exactly what I said. If you think groups aren't about power, try taking power away from someone.

Regardless of what you would like to think, everyone in every group has a need when it comes to power and influence. Some people want a lot, some a little, and some want to just blend in with the wallpaper and disappear. That's why every time a new person enters a group or a regular member leaves, the balance of power needs to be re-established.

The important point: Armed with this knowledge you can do it intentionally. This accomplishes two things:

  • The unspoken (but known to each) is brought into the open and legitimized.

What's the best way to neutralize a potentially tense issue? Call it for what it is, make it perfectly acceptable, and have a process to move through it.

  • Everyone will breath a sigh of relief--even if it's a silent one. Once the unspoken tension is reduced, people are more relaxed and able to help create the new group.

Here's How To Do It

1. Stop action.

2. Read the paragraphs above to the group.

3. Re-visit why the group exists, make any necessary modifications, and ask for agreement from each person.

4. Clarify each person's role. Whether someone leaves or someone new arrives, there has to be a change in responsibilities and how things will get done. If you talk about it now, you won't have to resolve the inevitable conflict about it later.

Groups and organizations are systems. Systems work the same way as our bodies (human systems). If you pinch one place, you'll get a referent "ouch" someplace else.

The next time membership is about to change in your group, go through the four steps above. You'll minimize the ouches and get back to equilibrium and productivity because you've taken good care of the system.

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What To Look For In Groups

We're always part of some groupAn2

You and I pretty much spend our entire lives in groups. We start off in a family, play with groups of young friends, attend classes school, and work in groups and teams.

So it would make sense to learn as much as possible about the dynamics associated with groups. Some years ago, organizations spent a fair amount of time educating people on the fine points of group dynamics. The research was new and fascinating. New is good. Now that that body of work has been around for a while, it's no longer "what's happening." The human condition--and certainly the organizational mind--is always looking for what's new. The world of advertising slaps the word "new" on packaging and products for a very good reason: new is still good. Old isn't bad--it just gets ignored.

There's no ignoring the importance of understanding groups. So here are some things to ponder when you are leading, or part of, a group or team.

Pay attention to these

1. Whenever one person leaves or one person enters a group, the dynamics change. Why? We learn how to function in our groups based on the roles people play, how they play them, and the balance of power and influence that results. Groups are about equilibrium.

2. That means that each time the group composition changes, it's a signal to sit down and talk. When a new member enters, the first two things that person thinks about are:

  • Why am I here? (Task/Role)   
  • Who are you? (Getting to know more about the other members and vice-versa)

3. If you skip this step, it will only be a matter of time before you notice that something is not quite right with the group.  That's the indicator to stop, get together, and clarify #1 as well as spend time doing #2).

4. When a reasonable amount of comfort and trust is established, you enable the group to be able to make decisions together. The question then is: how will we make decisions? Which ones are left to the group, which are the purview of the leader, and why?

5. Now you are in a place to implement and actually get the work of the group done. That means  you need to agree on "how" things will happen. Note: "How" is important because implementation is the element of group work that allows individuals to use their talents and uniqueness. People lose interest and morale can plummet when they don't feel as if they are uniquely part of the "how."

6.  If you've attended to all of the steps so far, then solid performance should be the result. That might mean a great performing team at work, a terrific volunteer organization, or a healthy, well-functioning family.

Food for thought: If you find your group struggling, go back one step and see if you paid appropriate attention to the relevant issue. Keep going back until you take care of the business at that step and then start moving forward again.

Groups are a huge part of our lives; it's worthwhile to learn how they really develop. I hope this adds to your thinking today.

What would you like to add to the conversation that would be helpful to others?

P.S.: If you want to know what people are looking for in HR, here are 36 different HR Writers that will bring you up-to-date.

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Leadership by Crane. Really.

Working forces you to get down to what's practical. That is, what "works."

Since this is a busy travel week, I'm doing some synthesis when it comes to writing. That's good, because it leads to simple ways to view and apply what can become unwieldy and complex.

So, I offer up:

Sandhill Cranes as LeadersSandhill

These are large birds that fly unbelievable distances that span continents. While doing this, they exhibit three remarkable traits:

1. No one crane stays out in front the entire time.

2. The ones who do get to lead have demonstrated some instinctive ability to handle turbulence.

3. While one bird leads, the rest honk affirmation and encouragement.

Is there a better model out there?

Note: It is not advisable to be directly under the cranes while observing their leadership pattern.

And a big honk of encouragement to young Patrick whose online gallery made the photo possible.

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Every Time You're Together It's Team Building

"It's time for the human race to enter the solar system."
        --Dan Quayle, former U.S. Vice President

That has nothing to do with anything here. I just hated to see it go to waste.

OK, it's clear: based on the comments from yesterday's post, we've all had some strange experiences with team building. (Some stranger than others).

Organizational success depends on people working together to get "it" done. So the whole working together thing is--well, huge. In an era where we deify leaders, none of them can get anywhere without everyone else. If you're one of those people "in charge" of something, here's a tip:

Every team meeting is team building

Family_dinner1_2

It is. The dynamics are like dinner at home with the family.

Ever time you come together, the interactions lead to some degree of increased satisfaction and performance or a sense of disarray and dysfunction.

The effectiveness of regularly-scheduled meetings is likely to impact the health of the group more than a "one-off" to get things back on track. (Although if you need to get back on track, do it).

Here's a shopping list of what people are looking for:

1. Clear sense of direction.

In an era of misunderstood "participative management," people are seeking direction and clarity. That's  the only way a group can understand and rally around a shared sense of purpose.

This is a leadership issue. If you are the leader, continually check your own clarity compass. If people are running in ten different directions that means that you are, too. Focus.

2. Talented colleagues.

I don't know how you operate, but my own commitment and performance is either lifted up or dragged down by the people around me. When I join a team I quickly check out two things:

  • Do we have depth and breadth of talent to accomplish what we want to do?
  • Are these the kind of people I want to do it with?

Note: "I have found the enemy and it is me." There are times when I'm the one that doesn't fit. When that happens, it's important to acknowledge it and either:

  • Make a physical change and move elsewhere
  • Make a personal change, if possible, and suck it up if the goal is important enough to me.

3. Clear, alluring responsibilities.

Who is supposed to be doing what, are they in their "talented" zone, and how do we make sure we pass the baton to each other at the right moment in the right way?

4. Procedures that work.

It's enticing to point fingers when something goes wrong. But the question to ask first is, "Do we have a systematic approach that works for everything from designing effective meetings to manufacturing our product?"

Good systems can allow talented people to use their talents. Bad systems cause award-winning landscape architects to spend their time fixing lawnmowers.

5. Healthy interactions.

Back to the dinner table. People want to know they can have a dissenting point of view that gets heard without getting stomped on. Likewise, when something really good happens, we want some kind of acknowledgment or celebration to follow.

Über-note: I've experienced much less willingness among some team leaders to "spend valuable time" celebrating than on arguing opposing viewpoints. It's ok to debate, because "that's work." It's not ok to celebrate: "They're already getting paid to do what they're supposed to do."

Maybe I travel in the wrong circles, but I can't begin to tell you how often I have this conversation with some clients. I can also tell you unequivocally that their upward mobility has been stunted (read, "halted") as a result of that attitude.

6. Noticeable accountability and related rewards.

This is different than #5.

You and I notice when someone who doesn't do their fair share ends up with the same goodies as everyone else at the end of the year. And if teamwork is so important, then it's important for team contribution to somehow be factored in to the organization's "reward" equation.

There's somewhat of a conundrum, too, when it comes to team performance. On the one hand, things get done by people working together. On the other, each person has a well-defined role to play in that. If the manager doesn't pay attention to the individual accountabilities involved, the genuine performance issues can be lumped inappropriately under the banner of "we've got a team problem."

Well, you do. And it's called Larry.

7. Good relationships outside of the team.

Ah, back to the whole "organizations as systems" thing.

It's tough to get things done when IT hates the Customer Call Center or if another department is using a software program that's incompatible with yours. It's a really good idea to ask the diagnostic question, "Where is the organization itself getting in the way of our success?" 

That gives the manager one more thing to deal with when the meeting is over:-)

Did I say manager?

If you look closely at #1 and #7, these are areas where the team leader really has the most "juice" when it comes to addressing the item.

Thought for today: When it comes to effective teams, the leader has both the responsibility and position power to pull it all together. Groups get things done in organizations. It's just as important for a manager to know how to orchestrate and respond to group dynamics as it is to interpret the quarterly financials.

I contend that anything with such an impact on performance isn't a "soft" skill if it's so directly related to generating "hard" currency.


photo source: daysofourlife.wordpress.com

 

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We Need Team Spirit! (So I've Set Aside Thursday).

Team Bonding: Would you prefer a masked hijacking or a walk on burning coals?

Managers at Ericsson, the Swedish telecom company, were apparently hard pressed for a memorable team-building exercise for their international sales conference in Athens this February. They probably wanted something more than the standard fare: ropes courses, white-water rafting, and other extreme sports. So they turned to...hostage taking.

Unbeknown to salespeople on a corporate bus headed for Corinth, Ericsson had hired two men with masks and weapons to stage a hijacking. The exercise was reportedly designed to test the employees' cool under stress. But the performance was cut short by a meddling passerby with a cell phone who called the authorities. "Definitely, this was very unfortunate," says Ericsson spokesman Lars Ostlund. "The mistake was not giving notice to the police."

Coals While most companies stick to torturing their workers by forcing them to hold hands and accomplish pointless tasks--preferably while blindfolded--others have gone to extremes. Unfortunately, these exciting games have put some team players on the disabled list. In England in 1998, for example, insurance company Eagle Star sent 13 salespeople walking across a bed of hot coals on the advice of a management consultant. Guess what? Seven burned their feet, two badly enough to require hospitalization. Eagle Star says it has learned its lesson and now sticks to more conventional bonding exercises.

-- The above story is Copyright Time, Inc., 2000

ATW public service: Tips for walking across burning coals at your next team function.

Focus, People. Focus!

Building business teams is about business results. The assumption is that if people can find ways to work more smoothly together, better results will follow. That's usually true, especially when reducing conflicts involving lack of role clarity (who should really be doing what) and process (how do things get handed off and when).

Here's where it begins to fall apart:

1. The team leader wants to "improve morale and cooperation." So she hires a consultant to "do something" that will boost morale and cooperation. The problem: Morale is usually a function of leadership and organizational policies and procedures. Cooperation is, in part, what the manager is getting paid to produce.

2. The team leader may not understand the distinction between building effective work groups and having a "group event."

3. The team leader may not understand the array of "help" that's out there: Here are a few examples:

    a. Genuine business team consultants who work closely to understand the immediate issues, interview the team members, then work with the team leader on a design that will address what's really happening so that things will be different afterward if people choose to address them  honestly. This requires an experienced consultant/facilitator, a leader who is also willing to look at his/her part in the team's performance, and a group of people who believe they can improve with some focused help.

    b. "Event" consultants who do the rafting/paintball/trust walk sort of thing. Leaders need to understand--and be clear with their people--that an event is being staged with the hope that some lessons will be transferred back to the job. It's possible to have these work well if the specific activities are designed to be "processed" after each one in the context of an on-the-job issue. The consultant also has to have done a real-life diagnostic and know how to direct an activity toward the "live" business issues.

    Note: Absent the organizational expertise, these activities can still be fun if they are framed as just that. When everyone agrees beforehand that it could be good to blow off some steam together and swing from trees and mountains, it probably beats karaoke. If it's a big surprise and participation is required in activities that are uncomfortable at  many levels, the best result might be a lawsuit settled out of court.

    c. "Team Therapists" who work their mojo. It's pretty amazing what is sold--and bought--as "team building". These types usually have their favorite intervention, jargon, and model of "being" that they bring into the workplace masquerading as team building. What I've learned from seeing these people appear on the scene is that they view the "group" as an entity with a "problem." They are the doctors. But there is often a twist with this crowd. They are often "doctors" who haven't performed a diagnosis, don't understand the business issues, and don't offer a cure. Instead, they opt for a reflective approach, tossing a verbal bone to the group every so often with the assurance that "you are the experts and architects of your own lives...you can figure this out." Without context and a  structured group task focused on real-life team performance, participants wonder where they are and how they got there.

Too Important to Stop Now...

Work gets done through people collaborating. That makes legitimate group development a high priority item for every business. In my next post I'll highlight what team leaders and team members need to do to boost their chances of being more successful at the team building process.

In the meantime, share your favorite team building story with a comment. All contributions gratefully accepted.

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Virtual Teams, Real Relationships & Organizational Reality

Virtual The fact that you're reading this probably means that the idea of Virtual Teams doesn't affect your blood pressure too much.

People who read blogs are, for the most part, relaxed about the technology surrounding them and their related social networking platforms.

But how about the manager who sees the need for connecting a global workforce without physically bringing them together?

What happens when (s)he reads Business Week's "A Guide for Multinationals" and realizes that there are people doing deals internationally with 18 chat windows open simultaneously on a laptop outside of a convenience store?

Virtual Teams are a Real Change

Managers are running their operations every day and are concerned about profit and loss. They also care about tools that will help manage those. What they don't have is the time to research and figure out what's going on "out there" as far as technology and application.

This creates real change for the managers and lots of education for all involved.

I just had a conversation with a long-time client who knows it's time to put together a global virtual team. Since I'm at least familiar with a lot of the technology involved, I began talking with him about how easy it would be to do what he wanted to do.

I spoke when I should have kept listening. He knows that the technology is there and figures he can get what he needs with a few phone calls and demonstrations.

What really nags at him is:

1. His model for teams involves physically coming together, doing some familiar things to build a sense of small community, and then meeting regularly.

2. He won't be able to see everyone all the time in real-time. His question: "How do I facilitate the group?" This is a manager with very well-honed group skills.

3. His model for teams also involves relationships. Trying to imagine relationships without physical presence is a difficult mental task.

4. How does the whole thing work? He knows the answer conceptually. He needs to see it and touch it.

Involved in a "Virtual" Change? Read These

In Face to Virtual, Harold Jarche talks about how he recently found "face time" limiting compared with virtual space. Since All Things Workplace is about learning, I always enjoy Harold's insights.

He mentions a quote from Jay Deragon that underscores the real reason for virtual teams:

The number one reason that professionals want to participate in virtual teams more frequently is simple: increased productivity.   As the size of the virtual workforce in America today is growing, so is the likely impact on productivity and profitability for organizations. More than 90 percent of those surveyed agree (35%) or strongly agree (56%) that virtual meetings save time and money. “We used to think that meeting face-to-face was the only way to build trust and teamwork. Armed with new technology and new best practices, we’re learning new ways to connect on a human level with people anywhere, anytime,” said Dr. Jaclyn Kostner, author of Virtual Leadership.

And Lisa Haneberg has a podcast with authors of Managing Virtual Teams: Getting the Most from Wikis, Blogs, and Other Collaborative Tools.

There's a lot of organizational reality that needs to be impacted before Virtual Teams can come into being and operate productively.

What has your experience been with virtual teams and virtual work? What are the personal managerial, and organizational issues you wrestle with?

Take a moment to add to the community's knowledge; weigh in with a Comment below!

Related posts:

Initiating A Change? Think About This

Leaders: Do You Align Yourself Before You Try and Align Everyone Else?

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Decision Making: Confused or Conflicted?

You and I go to meetings where the decision-making can
seem unbelievably confusing.Decisionsdecisions_fmn

And how about those decisions where we just can't seem to arrive at a peaceful conclusion?

After giving it some thought and observation, I think I've got a way to look at this that I hope will be helpful.

Confused or Conflicted?

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines the two this way:


Confused:
 being disordered or mixed up. 

The result is not being able to think at your usual speed.

Conflicted: (a feeling of) mental struggle resulting from incompatible or opposing needs, drives, wishes, or external or internal demands.

The result is inaction, over-reaction, or both.

Yes, both are possible. We can react strongly to the conversation around the decision, but still not be able to make the decision.

Note: Each of these phenomena apply to individual as well as group decisions. Those self-conversations in our heads can get every bit as frustrating as the ones across the table!

What To Do?

1.Stop and diagnose.

(Please remember Steve's rule for everything: "Prognosis Without Diagnosis is Malpractice").

2. If the issue is Confusion, ask:

    a. Are we clear on the goal of the decision?

    b. Do we have the right information, and all of it--or as much as possible?

    c. Do we have the information organized in an understandable way?

    d. Does everyone involved have the same understanding of the goal and the information?

    e. Do we have a structured process for making our decision?

When you are clear that all of the above have been satisfied, then you're probably dealing with Conflicted-ness. (My spell checker is definitely conflicted trying to deal with that one).

3. If the issue is being Conflicted, then you'll probably experience silence or overt argument. You're  seeing the result of deeper issues--perhaps even at the personal values level--that need to be resolved. Whether silence or argument:

    a. Talk straight immediately. Say, "We've got a good understanding and a good process. But there's something else stopping us.What's really getting in the way?

    b. Don't speak again until someone offers a comment. After the first person responds, don't evaluate the remark. Thank them. Allow for everyone to respond without evaluation.

Principle: Until the real issue is named out loud, it will silently undermine the decision process. Once it's named and acknowledged, it is neutralized. When it comes out into the light of day, it can be seen clearly for what it is and discussed accurately. This is the most difficult thing for groups (and individuals) to deal with. Why? There's always the fear that "my issue" will be discounted, misunderstood, or seen as a blockage to "good teamwork."

Yet the person who offers the first bit of truth is the one who leads the group to a more satisfying decision.

    c. After 'b', you will know exactly how to proceed because the substantive issues will be out there in clear view. You'll see both an increase in both energy and collaboration.

Note: Organizations are usually pretty good at organizing. And even those of us with a more casual approach to life still have our own method of organizing it.

If you are really stuck on a decision, go with "Conflicted." In fact, I'll go out on a limb here and say that more often than not, we aren't confused. We usually know the right thing or best thing to do. It's facing up to our conflicting wants and needs that get in the way. "Having it all," whether in a business meeting or personal life, is a decision criterion that can only lead to internal conflict.

Thought for Today: Clear priorities offer the soundest foundation to decision making.

Related bonus for today: Check "What Do Peers Say About Your Smarts"  by Dr. Ellen Weber at Brain Based Business . The questions that she poses for self-development are really the kind of  "self-clarifying" questions that ultimately lead to better decision making.

 

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Flatter Organizations Mean Competency plus Collegiality

MatrixI had dinner last night with Mr. Matrix.

His real name is Jim, and he is VP of Manufacturing for a global company; Jim has been both a client and friend for 12 years. We share a common trait: the desire to turn a plausible theory into a practical solution.

Jim's Matrix Insight

Somewhere between the second and third Tapas serving, I heard this:

"You know what really drives the success of a flat, matrix organization?"

Competency. A whole lot of competency.

(If you're a bit unfamiliar with matrix organizations, click here ).

Knowing what happens when Jim has an epiphany, I did the only reasonable thing under the circumstances and ordered another glass of Cabernet. Jim has made the matrix work for a lot of years in a number of different manufacturing and operational assignments. So I was inclined to listen.

Why Competency?

You probably know the pitfalls of matrices: serving two bosses, conflicts over priorities (and a whole lot more), fuzzy roles, and the paradox of increasing complexity while decreasing the hierarchy. So I've always focused on strong leadership and decision-making between the functional and executive managers. That's consistently proven to be a highly productive path.

Jim agrees. With this addition, however.

He has found it easy to work with and coach the leaders in that way. He's also discovered that when that doesn't lead to the right outcome, the issue is competency in the matrix. Here's why:

A matrix depends on highly collegial relationships within the organization. People need to inherently trust the expertise of others to get things done and to hand off tasks. Influence power vs. position power is the byword. In technical disciplines, it's nearly impossible to influence others without professional respect. And that comes from a recognition of professional competency by one's colleagues.

Take-away number 1: Spend time putting highly competent people into flat organizations. Or hire them. You'll have to backtrack and do it later so you might as well do it right the first time.

If Speed Is One of Your Goals, Then Slow Down

Competent people working on individual parts of a project will run with their piece of the action. But it's only a piece. As a result, you need to have brief check-in meetings regularly with the two leaders present in order to solve potential functional/executive conflicts in real time. If you don't, the problems will surface later when they are bigger; ownership and tempers begin to get in the way; and  you'll have to backtrack again. One step forward and two back don't help us with the speed thing.

Take-away number 2: Slow down and meet so you don't have to stop and argue.

What are your best tips for flat organizations? A lot of readers either work in, or consult to, companies that want less hierarchy and more speed. Here's an invitation to add your own "best practices" from personal experience.

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Consulting and Coaching on the Cote d'Azure

Life is good when it's Winter at home and the professional gig is on the Cote d'Azur.Images_9

I'm spending the week here with a group of nearly sixty people who manage one of my client corporations in Europe. The sixty are middle managers and above, and represent a cross section of functions and disciplines.

Their goal: to develop new and/or improved strategies for market penetration as a result of getting more specific about all of the factors impacting the value chain--for them and for their customers.

The method: Brief presentations by key managers followed by break-out sessions of cross-discipline groups. Each session has a well-defined goal.

Their desired outcome: Specific, thoughtful follow-up actions that will provide a common and  energizing approach to business in the months ahead. And yield results that matter.

My Role: Process designer and consultant to VP; Real-time coach for selected managers; Speaker on specific issues of organization effectiveness.

Daily Updates and Insights all Week

I was trying to figure out the best way to make sure there is a meaningful and useful post every day. So you'll be hearing about the real-life dynamics of the sessions. In addition, I'm going to share what I'm learning and re-learning about  large and small group processes, as well as  the nature of business--and business meetings.

This March will mark my 30th anniversary as a consultant, coach, and speaker. I'm always astounded at the newness of things that could easily be discounted as "been there before." Maybe that's the first truth that's emerged. People--and groups of people--are never exactly the same over time. The predictability with which many of us behave becomes less predictable in the face of new challenges and opportunities.  When the task and the process to get there are both clear and meaningful, great things can happen.

The idea is to post here multiple times each day. I hope you'll stop back, and together we'll see what we can learn and discuss.

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Some Things to Remember About Groups

We're always part of some groupAn2

You and I pretty much spend our entire lives in groups. We start off in a family, play with groups of young friends, attend classes school, and work in groups and teams.

So it would make sense to learn as much as possible about the dynamics associated with groups. Some years ago, organizations spent a fair amount of time educating people on the fine points of group dynamics. The research was new and fascinating. New is good. Now that that body of work has been around for a while, it's no longer "what's happening." The human condition--and certainly the organizational mind--is always looking for what's new. The world of advertising slaps the word "new" on packaging and products for a very good reason: new is still good. Old isn't bad--it just gets ignored.

There's no ignoring the importance of understanding groups. So here are some things to ponder when you are leading, or part of, a group or team.

Pay attention to this in groups

1. Whenever one person leaves or one person enters a group, the dynamics change. Why? We learn how to function in our groups based on the roles people play, how they play them, and the balance of power and influence that results. 

2. That means that each time the group composition changes, it's a signal to sit down and talk. When a new member enters, the first two things that person thinks about are:

   

Why am I here? (Task/Role)

   

Who are you? (Getting to know more about the other members and vice-versa)

3. If you skip this step, it will only be a matter of time before you notice that something is not quite right with the group.  That's the indicator to stop, get together, and clarify #1 as well as spend time doing #2).

4. When a reasonable amount of comfort and trust is established, you enable the group to be able to make decisions together. The question then is: how will we make decisions? Which ones are left to the group, which are the purview of the leader, and why?

5. Now you are in a place to implement and actually get the work of the group done. That means  you need to agree on "how" things will happen. Note: "How" is important because implementation is the element of group work that allows individuals to use their talents and uniqueness. People lose interest and morale can plummet when they don't feel as if they are uniquely part of the "how."

6.  If you've attended to all of the steps so far, then high performance should be the result. That might mean a great performing team at work, a terrific volunteer organization, or a healthy, well-functioning family.

Food for thought: If you find your group struggling, go back one step and see if you paid appropriate attention to the relevant issue. Keep going back until you take care of the business at that step and then start moving forward again.

Groups are such a huge part of our lives, it's worthwhile to develop the related knowledge and skills.

What would you like to add to the conversation that would be helpful to others?

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Steve Roesler, Principal & Founder
The Steve Roesler Group
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