Posts Tagged leadership

413 — Collaboration, Teamwork and Cooperation

People like to be valued and appreciated, and involved, in decisions that affect them. Involvement, teamwork and collaboration are basic human desires. To get them, invite them.

Here are two examples. The first is a manager, deep within the organization, who created a new collaborative setting with her peers. The second is how a top leadership team decided to change its collaboration message to those below.

Example I: Initiating Collaboration as A Mid-Manager

Jo-Ann, a second-tier manager in a major manufacturer, had a special assignment: to better coordinate the functions across R&D, marketing, sales, manufacturing, shipping and service. Jo-Ann and I carefully planned an approach that included “Interviewing” key people, together with carefully practiced group facilitation techniques (see Make Better Decisions).

At the first meeting, the managers, directors and VPs she invited, were suspicious. Some had wanted to send a subordinate in their place — she took this to mean that they were not on-board. It took Jo-Ann three, very carefully facilitated meetings, where she stood thoroughly neutral on all issues, before attendees trusted her enough to put their real concerns about collaboration on the table.

It was several more meetings before members allowed the group to make decisions that affected their functions. The group liked their experience and the positive results so much that they continued, expanding the topic to include other cross-functional issues. The Executive Committee applauded Jo-Ann’s success, rewarding her with a significant promotion.

The Lesson; You can invite collaboration from any level in the organization

Hidden behind much of people’s initial resistance to collaboration is the common human longing for teamwork and good relationships. If you have a project that affects others, talk with each one personally. Build a relationship. Take your time explaining how your project will affect them or their people. Stay open. Be clear that you don’t have the answer. Say something like, “I’d like to pull together everyone affected so we can all find a way to make it work for everyone. I’m planning on inviting . . . . . . . . . If I find a time that suits everyone, could you join us?” This way you can take the lead on collaboration.

If you persevere, most people will eventually join you. Don’t be fooled by people’s sometime gruff initial response. That usually just a defensive reaction to being burned in the past.

Example II: Upper Management Encourages Collaboration by Cutting the Criticism

This was the leadership group of a 5,000-person company located in the southwest. We met for several hours monthly, discussing how to build a more productive company culture. At one of these morning meetings, a manager complained that at lower levels of the company, divisions were not working well together.

In my role as their company culture consultant, I frequently reminded the group, “Nothing occurs in a vacuum. What you do as leaders sets the stage. People follow your example. What happens below is partly because of your actions here at the top. And in any case, to be practical, that is the part you can most easily change.”

This time I did not give them this full spiel, but I did ask, “What might you be doing that inadvertently supported this lack of cooperation? For example, in the last six months have any of you criticized another person in this room or another department or division?” Immediately a manger shot back with, “You mean since breakfast this morning don’t you?” Another manager chimed in, “You mean since the coffee break!” As the laughter subsided, I hardly needed to say it — but did anyway. “So here we are setting an example, by criticizing other people and divisions, and then wondering why they don’t feel like cooperating.”

This was one of those rare moments of insight for the group. At the next meeting they told stories of how they had stopped criticizing, and instead, were working together on visibly cooperative solutions. They also reported that people below had noticed the change and liked it.

The Lesson; To Understand Employee’s Behavior, Look at Leader’s Behavior

The cultural or system perspective says: “No event occurs in a vacuum. If you want to understand an event — in this case, why people aren’t collaborating — just look at the situation. It will tell you.” Ask yourself, “If people aren’t collaborating, how is our organization saying, ‘Don’t collaborate’?”

People don’t collaborate when leaders give the signal not to. This is rarely intentional. I have never found a leader who says he or she wants non-cooperation. However, I have seen many leaders whose personal actions do not demonstrate or invite collaboration. For example, they might be critical of people’s suggestions or actions, or they might make decisions without involving the people affected, or they might be generally distant. Whatever the reason, if leaders don’t show collaboration in their daily actions, people throughout the organization will follow their lead.

cc 413 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Topics and Issues — People

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425 — Quickly Build An Effective Work Team

When a new work team is formed, members look to the leader for guidance. If the leader provides too much direction, the group will become passive, frustrated, and eventually disband. With too little direction, the group will flounder like an infant, becoming frustrated with itself and its inability to settle down to work.

The skillful leader avoids this apparent dilemma between too little and too much direction, by taking firm control of the group’s decision process, while insisting that members contributed their skills and knowledge to the group’s task. One way of doing this is spelled out in the paper titled, “Make Better Decisions”. Another example is described in “Selecting The Best Candidate for Promotion”.

Groups Can Be Scary

Members of new groups are apprehensive. They need a secure and dependable leader. Over the years I have heard many “tough managers” deny that groups are scary places. But they are. If you think that’s not true just imagine yourself entering a new peer group. You don’t know:

    •  Who knows who and what existing relationships and commitments exist.
    •  Who is going to do what—participate, dominate, attack, undermine.
    •  What effect your actions will have on your career.
    •  What covert agendas exist with members and with the leader.
    •  If you will inadvertently make a fool of yourself in front of everybody.

If there are people from many levels of authority present in the group, the problems are compounded. In these groups, particularly when trust and relationships are weak:

    •  People in power will behave to assert their rank.
    •  Subordinates will attempt to show their competence, or try to out-do their peers.
    •  Others will posture, showing they’re not afraid of authority, or they will try to demonstrate their independence.

For these and many other reasons, it is very difficult for a group, with many levels of authority, to become a smoothly functioning team. Usually it requires a skilled and experienced facilitator, and ideally at some point, a frank discussion by the group of how it will manage these all-too-dominating authority issues. But eventually, if all goes well, over time, our personal questions about the new group are answered enough so that we can settle down to work. This process quickens if the leader takes firm control of the group process, so that members feel productive.

Each of us has probably been in a group where an inexperienced leader allowed the group to wallow for too long in uncertainty. Is one of life’s most frustrating experiences, and it can happen even if everyone in the group is highly competent and experienced. Few want to tell the leader he or she has no clothes. Don’t take a group’s failures personally. Group issues are about the group psychology and dynamics, which are not necessarily connected to the competency of individual members.

First—Solve an Easy Problem

Experienced managers and professional facilitators often settle the new group by asking members to list their favorite meeting ground rules. The group then decides if the list is one they will work towards and follow, to better manage themselves. This simple exercise is probably familiar to visitors of this site.

    •  It’s an ice-breaker.
    •  It gets everybody to speak out.
    •  It shows the meeting will be run democratically, that the leader is open to people’s ideas.
    •  It shows that the leader respects members as competent.
    •  It provides a quick win, i.e. the group immediately solves a problem and makes a decision.
    •  It helps people get to know each other.


cc 425 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Topics and Issues — People

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114 — Some Company Culture Maxims

    • There is no event in a vacuum. To understand an event, look at its context.
    • The event is not the problem. The person is not the problem. The system is the problem.
    • What people do reflects the culture. Culture is established by its leaders. What people do is information about the culture and about the leaders.
    • A company’s culture is the context for all that happens in the company.
    • Because the culture determines productivity and profits, it is the real bottom line.
    • The purpose of human systems is to serve people. If people are the subject, not the object — if people are put first — enthusiasm and high productivity will follow.
    • Don’t involve people just to solve problems. Use problems and problem-solving to involve people.
    • You can’t have a safe workplace if you don’t have safe meetings.


cc 114 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: About Company Culture — Definitions

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328 — Promotions and Transfers

Use this process to pick the best candidate, satisfy everyone involved, and develop the culture. This is a variation of the process described in 327.

Imagine that you are filling a vacant position by making either a lateral transfer or a promotion. You have advertised the vacancy throughout your organization, and have eight internal candidates. How can you choose the best candidate in the best way? Try this well tested process. It:

•  Guarantees a good decision, i.e. a highly qualified candidate.
•  Gives all the applicants feedback on their strengths and weaknesses.
•  Clarifies to everybody what is required to do the job.
•  Leaves all the applicants satisfied with the process, whether or not they were selected.
•  Develops the company culture, by demonstrating good values.
•  Ensures the person selected will be supported, i.e. it builds success into the position.

Begin by Announcing The Selection Process

Tell the candidates that you want them to be involved in the selection process. Schedule a meeting with the eight candidates and the people who would traditionally make the selection, e.g. the Superintendents, Department Manager, and HR manager. At the start of the meeting, describe the selection process, e.g. “We will ask you to develop the selection criteria for the job. Then we will ask you to secretly rank yourselves, and any of the other candidates that you know well, against your criteria. Then we will look at the results and decide what the next step should be.”

Agree On The Selection Criteria

First ask the candidates. Using a flip chart or whiteboard, go around the group and ask the candidates to brainstorm selection criteria, “What should be considered when judging applicants for the position. What qualities should the successful candidate have?” Allow one criteria from each person. Write down just what the person says. Number each item and do not allow discussion. Go around and around the group, until everyone is finished. (You will probably have between ten and twenty items.)

Now ask the managers, “Are there any criteria you would like to add? Any significantly different criteria that aren’t on the chart?” If they have any, add them to the list.

Ask the applicants to group similar items. Do this by starting with the first item and saying, “Are there any other items similar to this one?” Mark similar items with a color, symbol, or letter. Go to the next unmarked item and repeat the process. This step will generate discussion, and build a common understanding of the criteria. The list will now be reduced to between five and twelve criteria. Ask the group to give a descriptive word, or name, for each group of criteria. This will probably mean highlighting one or two words that are already in each criteria group.

Rank Order The Criteria

Now ask the applicants to rank order the grouped criteria. You might begin this by writing the new grouped criteria “titles” on a fresh sheet. “Which of these is the most important?” Allow discussion. It will help build consensus. Rewrite the criteria in the new rank order.

“Now we you have the criteria rank ordered let’s give each a percentage that will total 100%. What percentage, goes to the first? . . . . . and the second?” The total should be 100%. Again, allow discussion. You want consensus.
Now ask the managers, “Any comments on this list? Does it look OK to you? Can you go along with this as the basis for the selection?”

Prepare a Criteria/Candidates Matrix

Take a piece of notepaper. Write the ranked criteria in a wide column down the left side. Draw a horizontal line across the page separating each criterion. Draw narrow vertical columns to the right of the criteria, one for each candidate. Put candidates initials at the top of each narrow column. Write “Criteria” at the top of the wide criteria column. You now have a grid, or matrix, with criteria as rows, and candidates as columns. If any of the criteria have factual or answers, e.g.”EE Degree”, or “Years on the job.” ask each candidate to say what is the correct answer or number for their name. Now make a copy of this page for everyone in the room.

Rank Order The Candidates

Hand a copy to everyone in the room and say, “For the people you know well, rank order them, 1 high through 8 lowest, by how you see them on each of the criteria. Take your time. We will tally the results. This is a secret ranking. Your individual rankings will not be discussed. The tally will not necessarily be a decision. After we tally the results, we will all decide the next step.”

Make a separate tally for the applicants, and for the “management” group. Because people may not know everyone well enough to have ranked them on every item, you will have to decide how to fairly tally the results. This may take several minutes.

Take the two scores and draw each on the easel pad so everyone can see. Say, “Look at the results and see what you make of them. Take your time.” . . . “When you are ready I would like to hear from each of the applicants and after that, from each manager. Then we will have a general discussion.”

The Group Agrees On The Final Action

Perhaps one or two candidates are obvious leaders, or something else appears. Wherever the group seems to be headed, encourage them to discuss where to go with the results. There may be an obvious decision, they may wish to pass the results to managers to decide, or something else may emerge. You are seeking a consensus from everyone on an appropriate next step. This is somewhat like step four of the Four Step Decision Process.

Do a “Plus/Delta” on the meeting. Thank everyone for participating.

Getting the Customer Involved

If the customer for your team’s work is another person or another department you can ask their opinion on selection criteria. For example, in manufacturing the customer for Maintenance is Operations. At one Texas chemical plant the maintenance manager decided to ask the operators for their opinion on what was important in a maintenance supervisor. To the maintenance manager’s surprise the operators did not rank technical maintenance skills highly at all. What the operators valued was a person who could quickly bring together the right people to solve the problem. When the maintenance manager used this new criterion it caused the selection and promotion of the first female mechanic to supervisor. She was a great success in what until then had been an all male supervisor group.

cc 328 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Company Culture Leadership -- Specific Tools

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144 — Can You Change Your Company’s Culture Yourself?


You know you need to change your company culture. You know some ways you could begin, e.g. choosing one or two items from the list of 25 Actions, beginning the Interviews or diving off the deep end by starting down the full culture change path. But you’ve never done anything like this before — you’re walking in the dark. Can you do it yourself or should you bring in skilled professional assistance?

Easy or Hard?

With your last acquisition and merger you brought in a Wall Street banker. Surely culture change is a lot easier? It isn’t. Changing a culture is the hardest thing a leader can ever undertake. Nothing else gets close.

In some ways leading culture change change is a little bit like being a family therapist, but on a vast scale. Just as a skilled therapist can help a family change its ways, a skilled experienced business leader who is familiar with changing a company culture can do it. However a business unit manager who has not gone through the trying experience of changing a culture will probably fail when confronted by the brilliantly skillful ways all cultures have to keep things just the way they are.

It’s not as if the culture doesn’t want to change. They do. Everybody wants to enjoy work, feel productive, be appreciated for their contribution, and go home knowing they have had a good day and will have another good day tomorrow. That’s not the problem. The leadership problem in culture change is getting to know the culture as if it were that ambivalent person and gently nudging it, by working closely together, to the better place — of greater maturity, openness and trust — while the culture tries too stay just where it is. Doing that is a learned skill. It doesn’t come naturally.

Not an Analytic Problem

Leading and changing a company culture is not an abstract academic skill you pick up in business school. It is very much like “emotional intelligence”, something you learn by living. A company is the collective mind of hundreds, perhaps tens of thousands of people. It has a powerful memory and enormous inertia. It is very comfortable doing things in familiar ways and is very skilled at resisting efforts to change it (unless of course it is involved in and feels the necessity for the change. Then it can change rapidly.)

The Odds of Success

You may have come across the statistics on the success of “Change Management” efforts. They are dismal. Most start with good intentions, few succeed.

There are very few specialists with the necessary skills to assist leaders in culture change. Most consultants are trained in analysis and project management. They approach culture change as if it were a project. It’s not. When it comes to culture, analysis and reports can actually make things worse. A company’s culture is its personality — the way it is in the world. You don’t understand a person or a culture with analysis and reports. You get to know a culture, and how to influence it, just like you get to know a person — by doing things together, by watching how it reacts in different situations, by seeing how it responds to your requests, your attention, your needs, your urgings. Learning to do that takes years of specialized experience.

If You Have Not Done It Before, Get Help

To summarize; if you’re the business unit leader and have not been coached or mentored through a full culture change experience, don’t try it by yourself. It’s just too strange, too unfamiliar, too difficult. In addition, the first time around you probably want to be part of the team, not standing out in front where you’ll definitely take some arrows in your back. It’s just not worth it. The odds of do-it-yourself success are slim, while the potential payoff of successful culture change is enormous.

cc 144 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: About Company Culture — Why is Culture Important?

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