Posts Tagged teamwork

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.

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411 — Morale

High morale is a key to success. But what is morale? How can you build it? Here are some facts and suggestions.

What is Morale?

Morale is that special feeling you share with others of trust, usefulness, purpose, team loyalty and support, pride in your achievements and those of the group, and faith in the organization’s leadership and in the organization’s ultimate success.

High morale inspires people to be self-sacrificing and courageous, to go way beyond what is normally expected, to take extraordinary responsibility for their own work, and be totally dedicated to the work of the team.

Curiously, studies show that some apparently negative job factors, such as a safe working environment, are not necessarily connected with morale. For example, prison guards, firemen, and policeman, all work in dangerous jobs, but often have high morale. Even interpersonal difficulties between employees and line managers may not affect morale. Other factors related to individual job satisfaction, such as personal gratification around the tasks, or moving forward with a career plan, may not connect with morale.

To Build High Morale

High morale is closely connected to teamwork and confidence in the leadership. There are many things leaders can do with the team to build teamwork and morale.

    • Make decisions as a team.
    • Hold regular team meetings.
    • Encourage team activities such as:
          • Hold team celebrations for individual or team achievements at work or elsewhere with a BBQ or party.
          • At the team level this could celebrate meeting a tough deadline, responding well to an unusually difficult situation, or reaching a new level of productivity.
          • At the individual level this might recognize a marriage, a new baby, or a community or scholastic achievement.
          • Establishing a (softball) team or other outside group activity.
    • Encourage team members to work with others on solving problems.
    • Encourage everyone to take responsibility for, and initiation of all of the group’s actions, including the above items.

The goal is to have the team know they have real power and are in control of themselves as a team. You serve as their resource.

Build Faith In The Leadership

    • Be there for the team when they need you.
    • Be clear to the team about the overall direction, goal, and purpose of the organization and the team.
    • Bring the team’s relevant concerns and issues to the next level of management, and get back to the team with management’s response.
    • Don’t take the team’s problems away from them. Be a good coach.
    • Take the moral high ground during emergencies, such as:
          • Really put safety before productivity.
          • Voluntarily recall sub-standard products.
    • Give everybody information on the big picture, particularly anything that might help people make better, more informed decisions.
    • Let everybody know of successes in other parts of the organization, and make sure that their successes are known in other parts of the organization.
    • Invite senior managers to visit your department and talk with team members, perhaps even sitting in on a team meeting. This shows openness and cooperation and support of your efforts to build morale. Everyone likes to meet senior managers.
    • Share financial information with the whole group.
    • Foster their relationships with other parts of the organization, which might include:
          • Smoothing the way for them to invite a member from another department to a team problem-solving meeting, when the subject affects the other department.
          • Encouraging team members to work on company-wide problem solving teams.

Believe that high morale and personal pride are possible in large organizations.

cc 411 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

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125 — When Competition Is Destructive

 

Internal competition often works against a good culture, against open communication, against success. No senior manager deliberately wants to close down communications, but competition in a leadership team can stifle openness throughout the company.

Most executives are unaware of the effect of their driving competitiveness. For example, you have probably experienced the well-meaning suggestions from an executive, that quickly turn to a shower of unwanted directives; or seen executives criticize another department, that unintentionally stifles cross-functional cooperation.

Aggression Above, Defense Below

Aggressive competitive behavior at the top of any organization sets the stage for aggressive, protective and defensive behavior below — such as mistrust and rigid, rule bound, and “siloed” communication. While these cultural patterns are understandable they are bad for morale, productivity, customer service and corporate success.

In the public sector, the politically appointed or elected officials compete for their share of public opinion, often criticizing each other openly. This is true in all levels of government, and in state and federal agencies. As long as organizations have combat at the top, they’ll have dysfunctional patterns below.

In every organization managers and supervisors try to protect their people from the often destructive environment they see above them. This is easier to do if your offices are physically removed from corporate headquarters. If you are in the same building it may be impossible.

One Solution — Put It On The Table For Discussion

Sometimes a good discussion about competition and communications among the members of the executive team is enough to begin changing this cultural pattern. The discussion can be fairly straightforward. One opener might be, “I’d like to hear from each of you about a situation you were in recently where communications really worked well. After that I’d like us to discuss what qualities made these situations work so well. Then I’d like to see what we can do, as the leadership group, to demonstrate more of these qualities throughout our organization. Who’d like to begin?”

Example — How One Leadership Team Changed from Combat to Cooperation

This company has 5,000 employees. I met monthly with the senior leaders to discuss building a more productive company culture. At one of these morning meetings, a manager complained that several divisions were not working well together in the field.

I had often reminded the group, “Nothing occurs in a vacuum. What you do as leaders sets the stage. People follow your example. What happens elsewhere is partly because of your actions here. And in any case, to be practical, what you do as leaders is what you can most easily change.”

This time I asked, “What are you doing that contributes to this lack of cooperation? For example, in the last six months have any of you criticized another person in this room or in 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!”

Once the laughter died down, I hardly needed to say it — but did anyway. “So here you set an example by criticizing other people and divisions and then wonder why they don’t feel like cooperating.” This was one of those rare moments of insight for the group.

What They Changed

At the next meeting they told stories of how they had almost entirely stopped criticizing. Instead they were working together on cooperative solutions that could be easily noticed by others. For example, they decided to travel as pairs on site visits to exemplify cross department cooperation. They prohibited negative comments from their own managers, instead, helping them face and resolve issues.

The managers said that people noticed the change and liked it. The problem of lack of cooperation had significantly disappeared. All this in four weeks! Impressive.

cc 125 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: About Company Culture — Structure

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327 — Selecting The Best Candidate for Promotion

When a group is involved in selecting its own leader, you get the best candidate and a motivated, committed team. This process also demonstrates desirable cultural values.

“My lead manager suddenly resigned and I am looking for a replacement.” In this top-down autocratic company my friend added that he didn’t know if the opening would be filled with somebody from his own team or from another division. I suggested that he could use this unexpected vacancy as an opportunity to engage the people most affected — his Department Managers — in the selection process. Done right, the process would reveal the best candidate and further develop the division’s culture. Here’s what we discussed.

Invite the Department Managers to a meeting, “To discuss the selection of your new leader“. In the meeting, outline this group decision process. With your leadership they will:

    • Develop and agree on the selection criteria for the new lead manager.
    • Rank-order their selection criteria.
    • Rate each other (everyone in the room) against the criteria.
    • Discuss the results.

Be clear that the results of their discussion will not necessarily be the final decision. But at minimum what they say will be an important part of the selection decision process. Ask for their agreement before using this process. It involves peer feedback. People will be apprehensive. You might hand out copies of this paper so they better understand the process before agreeing to it. Emphasize that what is discussed in the meeting is confidential—it must “stay in the room”. Get their commitment to this.

Develop the Selection Criteria

    • Ask everybody to think about the qualities they would like in their new leader.
      “Think about a leader you had when you felt motivated and productive- who make your work easier. With that situation in mind, what qualities would you like in your new leader?” Allow plenty of time for discussion. Then allow five or ten minutes for everyone to separately write down his or her thoughts.
    • Go around the group asking each person for one criterion. Record what they say on a flip chart. Continue until there are no more criteria. For more on this technique see Making Better Decisions.
    • Ask the group to consolidate the criteria into 6 to 10 numbered items.
    • Ask each person to individually rank order the numbered items on a separate piece of paper.
    • Collect their rankings, tally the results, and write it on the flip chart
    • Now ask the group to weight each ranked item so the total is 100. This can be done individually and the results tallied, or it can be done through general group discussion.

You can stop the process at this point with some valuable information to the group, or you can continue and rank the candidates.

Rank Order the Candidates

    • On an 8 1/2 x 11 inch piece of paper turned horizontally (landscape mode), draw a rectangular grid/matrix with the criteria written on the left as horizontal rows, and each candidate (everyone in the room) as a vertical column with their initials on the top. Make one copy for everybody. This might be done during a coffee break.
    • Have each person privately rank order everyone (except him or herself) against each criterion. 1 as highest. No ties. Explain that the consolidated results will be information for them as a group and individually.
    • After each person has completed his or her scoring you collect them all and privately tally the results. Make a copy of the tally sheet for each person in the room. Destroy the individual ranking pages.

 

Discuss the Results

Each manager now knows how the group rates each person against the criteria they all developed. Some will rank high, others low. Sometimes one person stands out as the group’s clear favorite. Leave plenty of time for discussion. It may move in surprising and productive directions. For example an experienced team might decide that those scoring high in one area might coach those scoring low. Be open to developments.

Do a “Plus/Delta” on the meeting. Thank everyone for participating. Remind them of their agreement on confidentiality.

Caution

My friend the director was quite apprehensive about using this process with his managers. It is not for all groups. In a competitive or mistrusting group, the results might be used outside of the meeting as ammunition. This is dangerous and unfair. Because of the potential for misuse, discuss the process in detail with the group ahead of time. Get full understanding and honest agreement before using it.

In the right setting this process is exciting and informative. It identifies the person who can lead the team to new heights.

This process:

    • Involves the people most affected—in this case the Department Managers.
    • Demonstrates a new level of openness and involvement in a very sensitive area.
    • By opening the selection process to scrutiny, it reduces accusations of favoritism.
    • Shows the managers they are valued in new ways and encourages them to do something similar in their own departments.
    • Produces a clear set of selection criteria — what is important about the job to those most affected.
    • If the top ranked candidate is finally chosen, it almost guarantees his or her on-the-job success because he or she will have the support of the group.
    • Informs and simplifies the selection process for the Division Director.
    • Gives managers feedback from their peers on areas they should work on.

 

So what happened?

We worked through the process just as described. The managers were pleased and amazed at what they did and what it meant to them. Their rank ordering had no surprises, but doing it themselves built a powerful understanding and teamwork. It turned out that the corporation transferred in a new manager from outside the division. But that didn’t diminish the team’s work or the value and learning they gained from it.

More on Creative Uses for Group Decisions:

A very similar process is described in the paper Promotions and Transfers. You can use this process to pick the best candidate, satisfy everyone involved, and develop the culture. Here a volunteer group used a similar decision process to shrink itself to a workable size.

cc 327 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Company Culture Leadership -- Specific Tools

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