All posts by pdonehue

Team Leadership

leadership

Continuing with the theme of our previous post, one of the most prudent steps you can take to maximize the impact of a team or a team improvement initiative is to appoint a strong leader.

An effective project team leader moves the team forward and inspires team members to do their best work. They also manage many of the organizational systems needed to keep a project on track.

The roles of a team leader include the following:

  • Manage the team toward accomplishing tasks and maintaining focus
  • Take a vested interest in solving the problem
  • Build commitment to the team charter and objective
  • Develop, with the members, the project plan
  • Lead activities such as problem solving, progress monitoring and team building
  • Interaction between meetings, offering help with action items
  • Meet with the facilitator between meetings to review the previous meeting and to plan for the next meeting
  • Keep the necessary people (sponsors, functional management) informed of progress, barriers and roadblocks and provide guidance to the team based on management direction
  • Maintain documentation of the team’s efforts
  • Behave in a way that contributes to team effectiveness

An effective team leader must also possess a range of skills if they are to fill these roles, such as project management skills, communication skills, and the ability to understand problem solving as well as the differences between team members.

A Closer Look at High Performing Teams

high performing team

Spring boarding off of recent posts that focused on workplace relationships, and building on a point made in our previous post that nothing brings to light the quality of relationships more than in the workings of a team, today’s focus is on building high-performing teams.

Building high performing teams can bring about significant gains – gains that go beyond those typically achieved by individuals — and for good reasons:

  • It is nearly impossible for a single person to possess the same amount of knowledge and experience that a high performing team possesses
  • The exchange of ideas leads to new thinking and innovation
  • The involvement of multiple people in decision-making strengthens commitment levels
  • A team environment provides mutual support and a sense of belonging

Yet virtually every organization we’ve encountered struggles with developing teams. Many teams are dysfunctional; they take too long to accomplish tasks, the work is filled with errors and waste, the costs are excessive and turf wars abound.

Based on our work with thousands of teams, there are eight key attributes associated with high performing teams:

  1. Work on what matters
  2. Create the “right” structure, including sponsor, leader, facilitator and members, all with clear roles
  3. Create a team charter
  4. Manage team meetings effectively
  5. Follow a defined methodology for problem solving and continuous improvement
  6. Monitor and improve teamwork skills
  7. Share accountability
  8. Recognize and publicize accomplishment

Teams & The “R Factor”

team

While the quality of relationships can be observed and evaluated within one-on-one interactions as discussed in our previous two posts, nothing brings to light the quality of relationships more than in the workings of a team.

Teams have become the primary and core structure for getting work done and it would be difficult to find an organization which does not have “teamwork” as a fundamental value.

This is highly logical when you consider that it is nearly impossible for a single person to possess the same amount of knowledge and experience that a high performing team possesses, and that the involvement of multiple people in decision-making strengthens commitment. The exchange of ideas that takes place in a team environment, (as opposed to a setting in which people work in individual silos), promotes new thinking and innovation as well.

Yet, it is interesting that although the value of teams is readily accepted, it is rare to find teams that have truly reached their potential. In team language, this means they have yet to reach a level of high performance.

What is often missing is the realization that creating high performing teams is not just about implementing the basics of team structures. Going from an effective team to a high performing team requires additional skills, practice, commitment, and most importantly, in the words again of Mike Morrison, “It’s the relationship!” Teams seeking to become high performing must have strong relationships at their very core.

Consider the following key areas when measuring the strength of your organizational or team relationships:

  • Mutual Accountability
  • Trust and Loyalty
  • Esprit de Corps
  • Commitment to Results

These characteristics are exemplified by the preeminent model for high performance — The Navy SEALs! Their creed, actions, and success solidly point to their reputation of high performance.

Observe any high performing team and you will find these same characteristics evident — and not just “some of the time.” A high performing team reflects these characteristics in every way and at all times.

You might also take a look upward, or a more reflective look depending upon job function, because a concerted, focused effort needs to take place. And as is most often the case with any change or improvement initiative, it needs to happen at the top. Hence it is an absolute requirement that the Senior Executive Team “walks the talk” of high performing teams. It is not enough to accept a “do as we say, not as we do” attitude. Failure to model high performing team characteristics at the executive level is a sure path to mediocre team results throughout the organization.

In actuality, high performing executive teams are less plentiful than high performance workforce teams, and possibly for good reason. Many executives got to the top by their individual ability to be the best; and many successful executives have not necessarily had a track record of either leading high performing teams, or even having been a part of a high performing team. In addition, because of the rotating door of management (one of Dr. Deming’s “deadly sins”), many executives aren’t around in one position long enough to develop the skills and most importantly the relationships required for high performing teams.

Yet, in spite of the inherent challenges for executives to truly create high performing teams, it is a challenge worth overcoming.

This need is particularly strong, not only because of the clear advantages of a high performing team anywhere in an organization, but also because of the need to model such behavior at the executive level. When any value is proclaimed by an organization (in this case teamwork), the first and constant litmus test of the value is evidence that the value is demonstrated at the top levels.

The “R” Factor Part 2: Show Me the Money!

Our previous post focused on the importance of relationships within the workplace and the impact on people.

It has also been well-documented with facts and data that the cost of poor relationships in the workplace is significant; and in contrast, improving relationships improves the bottom line.

For example, a Watson Wyatt Worldwide study found a direct correlation between trust and profitability. Where employees trusted executives, companies posted returns 42% higher than those where distrust was the norm.

In a different study, they found that of the 7,500 employees surveyed only half trusted their senior managers. So imagine the impact of improving the relationships with the ‘other’ half!

Another study on trust in the workplace conducted by Leadership IQ, which involved a database of 7,209 executives, managers and employees, revealed that 44% of participants’ responses ranged from not trusting to strongly distrusting their top management, and that trust significantly predicts employee loyalty and their inclination to stay or leave the organization. Having employees “go” is costly and especially so at the managerial and executive level. As once cited in the Orange County Business Journal, the cost of losing one executive who underperforms or one who chooses to join another executive team is an average of $1.5 million per executive hire. Calculated another way, the cost can reach 400% of the yearly salary of a high level employee.

Along the same lines, in his book The Speed of Trust, Covey quoted Professor John Whitney of Columbia Business School, who said “Mistrust doubles the cost of doing business.”

In addition to the obvious and direct costs of attrition (recruitment, severance, training, etc.), there are other costs associated with dissatisfied employees at any level. There is the pervasive, though
often not measured, cost of wasted time and lowered productivity — the unproductive time spent in unresolved conflicts, complaining about management or co-workers, lack of engagement and not putting forth best efforts. It follows that reducing wasted time, like reducing other forms of waste, can contribute to improved profitability.

Imagine how much better-off we all might be if we could better manage our relationships; as noted above, the improvements could be staggering!

The “R” Factor

In a past newsletter, Senior Associate Ellen Kendall shared some thought-provoking perspective on the importance of relationships in the workplace – a perspective that has proven to be very accurate over the past two-or-so years.

Somehow along the evolutionary path of business and commerce, it appears some of us became increasingly enamored with the efficiency that a mechanistic and impersonal focus could bring us, and concentrated on using the “hands” of employees at the neglect of
employing their hearts and minds.

We created command and control hierarchical organizations and an emphasis on functional competency and silos. In the process, we lost sight of the human need for connection and interaction and minimized the importance of productive and meaningful relationships.

Or, said another way, in the words of Don Corleone in the movie, The Godfather, “It’s not personal, it’s business.”

But for many the pendulum is swinging back, as more of us are finding that the old attitude about separating business from personal issues no longer serves us well.

In fact, there is increasing belief that becoming more personal in the workplace might actually work to the advantage of organizations; and topics such as trust, interpersonal relationships, engagement, coaching, mentoring, and values-based leadership are now critical in an increasing number of organizations.

Similarly, it is becoming more evident that relationships, and the quality of relationships in the workplace, do matter. For example, Mike Morrison, VP and Dean of Toyota University in an interview went so far as to boldly say, “My message to leaders is actually quite simple: It’s the relationship… stupid!”

He went on to suggest that human capital is useless without relationships — particularly in our fast-paced, global economy — and that leaders can be best measured by their ability to create social capital or the sum total of all their relationships.

“It is through this network of relationships that their work is conducted,” Morrison stated. “As leaders, we need to be relentless relationship-builders and be 100 times more deliberate about relating to people.

“Work is much more relational than it was twenty years ago, when you could have narrow, clearly defined jobs. Those jobs don’t exist anymore… today we get work done through others… in today’s world we achieve results primarily through relationships.”

Morrison concluded that relationships are truly the most effective pathway to the highest levels of commitment, creativity, and performance within organizations. The reason is that positive
relationships have a transformational impact on the individual. They draw out the best in each of us.

Management guru Peter F. Drucker also commented on the need to focus on workplace relationships.

“Increasingly, command and control is being replaced by or intermixed with all kinds of relationships,” he said.

“Alliances, joint ventures, minority participations, partnerships, know-how, and marketing agreements… these are all relationships in which no one controls and no one commands. These relationships have to be based on a common understanding of objectives, policies, and strategies; on teamwork; and on persuasion — or they don’t work at all”.

Spring boarding off of these respected viewpoints, we’ll take a deeper dive into the value of the “R” factor in our next post.

Leadership Best Practices Too: A Simple Solution?

Continuing our previous post’s theme of leadership, a recent Gallup article cited the fact that approximately 70% of the US workforce is either detached from their work or “miserable” during their workday!

The solution is, as the saying goes, simple but not necessarily easy: managers need to be better listeners, coaches, and collaborators.

“Great managers help colleagues learn and grow, recognize their colleagues for doing great work, and make them truly feel cared about. In environments like this, workers thrive.”

The question then posed refers to shareholder capitalists, and asks if they would embrace this perspective?

“How does this impact the bottom line?” they’d ask.

Well, as it turns out, “it pays to have thriving workers!

Based on Gallup research and several of our posts on the topic of workforce or employee engagement, business units with engaged workers have 23% higher profit compared with business units with
miserable workers.

Additionally, teams with thriving workers see significantly lower absenteeism, turnover and accidents; they also see higher customer loyalty.

As the article points out, “Wellbeing at work isn’t at odds with anyone’s agenda. Executives everywhere should want the world’s workers to thrive. And helping the world’s workers thrive starts with listening to them.”

Leadership Best Practices

Leadership is getting people to want to do what needs to be done, and it provides the energy for change and the commitment to sustain it. It requires a range of activities, including empowerment, motivation, communication, listening, and providing both direction and feedback to team members.

But in a recent article, Gallup reported that only 21% of U.S. employees strongly agree that they have received meaningful feedback in the last week.

The piece goes on to list the following guiding principles:

  1. Make feedback timely and futuristic. It’s important for managers to address issues as they come up, but rather than looking “backward” it is best to focus on the future. “Be specific and timely with suggestions so the employee can implement them immediately, but don’t criticize the person as a person — that’s looking backward. Instead, emphasize specific improvements to look forward and get results faster.” In other words, instead of telling people what “not” to do, share the actions they should take going forward.
  2. Promote strengths. Highly engaged workers say that they use their strengths at work. In addition, the article notes that positive reinforcement helps people recognize their potential. As noted above, giving people feedback based on weaknesses simply alerts them as to what they shouldn’t do. It’s possible to work on weaknesses, but the learning process is significantly more frustrating, progress is slower and the result tends to be average instead of excellent. Telling employees how to succeed — not how to stop failing — is more effective.
  3. Explain the fallout. Actions have consequences, but not all consequences are punitive, and people may not know what they are. “Managers should share with people the downstream effects of their behavior on other team members, the company and their own potential for advancement.”

Read the full article…

The Right Way to Communicate?

risk

We have regularly shared the reminder that the most important choice people make each day is “deciding what to work on.”

Further, Bill Conway always said that “Fifty-percent of continuous improvement is working on the right things.”

In addition, in a past post we shared the importance of a strategic communication plan and how it is a necessary component of successful improvement efforts.

But just like it’s important to “work on the right thins,” it is also important to choose the “right method” of communication.

Over the past five-years-or-so we have observed that many people have a tendency to over-rely on email as a means of communication. It would seem like a good choice, as it is quick and easy to implement.

A Risky Choice?
But as suggested in the image above, with each step we are removed from our audience the risk of miscommunication escalates!

Consider that when interacting face-to-face we are able to interpret other people’s non-verbal communication (i.e., facial expression, eye contact) and voice tone. Numerous studies have found that these factors contribute most to accuracy in interpretation and understanding.

When we move to communicating by telephone we lose the visual cues. Fortunately we can still make judgements based on voice tone and pose clarifying questions to ensure greater levels of accuracy.

But if we opt to communicate via email, we lose not only the visual contact, but also the ability to interpret voice tone, to assess how our audience reacts to what we’ve shared, to clarify our message when necessary, or to ask clarifying questions.

It is also very easy to “assume” the tone associated with the written word, but passing judgment in the wrong way results in misunderstanding. Plus the problem can be further exacerbated if the sender has used improper punctuation or words!

For example, consider the difference in actual meaning between the following two sentences:

  • Let’s eat, granny!
  • Let’s eat granny!

The absence of a comma results in a significant difference in meaning!

Finally, due to the increased frequency of uncertainty associated with interpreting the written word, many “simple” emails require a response that seeks clarification. This, in turn, requires a second email from the original sender, which sometimes brings about another request for clarity. At this point, one might wonder if it would have actually been quicker to communicate by phone in the first place!

As a rule of thumb, lean toward face-to-face or telephone/remote platform communication if the subject matter is complex, of dire importance, or sensitive in nature.

If you do, you’ll likely save a lot of time and avoid many potentially costly misunderstandings.

Risks of Quick Wins

risk of quick wins

Our previous post focused on the benefits of quick wins, which are many! But going after Quick Wins is not a sure fire strategy.

Without effective leadership, an organization may end up with quick failures instead. Here are some of the potential pitfalls of Quick Wins: To get a solution implemented quickly a team might skip over the analysis.

This is fine in situations where it is easy to quickly determine if the solution worked. If trying the solution is cheap, and it is quick and easy to determine if it solved the problem, just do it! In such a situation, measuring the results is all the analysis you need. But if the results are not likely to be quickly visible or measurable, it is better to do more analysis up front to make sure that the solution you want to implement will actually yield improvements.

For example, if an organization is concerned about employee morale, there are many quick changes that could be made in hopes to improve morale. But organizational morale cannot be measured daily or even weekly. It could take many months to know if a change was actually for the better. In a situation like this, more analysis up front is essential to choosing the right solution.

Sometimes, when you aim for speed, you get a rush to judgement resulting in sub-optimization; the first idea becomes the only idea, when a more thoughtful consideration of the alternatives would surface a substantially better solution.

An organization may simply resort to a band-aide or patch or work-around rather than a solution that addresses a root cause. These band-aides can accumulate until they represent a pretty big component of waste in themselves.

Often a Quick Win is really just an idea someone has “on the shelf” — that is an idea they have been carrying around for a while. When an organization is introduced to Continuous Improvement, a flood of these ideas may be surfaced. But an off-the-shelf idea doesn’t provide a real “cycle of learning” in systematic process improvement because eventually people run out of ideas “on the shelf”. Unless an organization really internalizes the search for waste, the study of facts and data, the search for root causes, and the testing then standardization of the solution, they don’t know how to keep improving once these “on the shelf” ideas get used up.

Speed, however, does not necessarily mean a team must take short cuts in the process improvement methodology. Thoughtful exploration of alternatives can be bounded by time. Even 30 minutes of brainstorming alternatives or improvements to an idea can make a difference. Allowing 24 hours for feedback and improvements on the idea can identify ways to make it even better — with minimal impact on speed.

Leveraging Quick Wins!

When it comes to Continuous Process Improvement, action is what it’s all about. It matters not a bit what training you provide, slogans you use, or posters you post if you do not promptly move into action to get things done, measured, and stabilized so the solution sticks.

‘Quick Wins’ is a powerful tool for moving teams into action.

But it is more easily said than done.

What Is A ‘Quick Win’?
The key elements are right there in those two words: it’s got to be quick and it’s got to be successful. A Quick Win must be completed in 4 to 6 weeks at most, but many are implemented much faster such as in a “kaizen blitz” where a small group focuses full time on an improvement for a day or two, or half-time for a week.

Because of the speed imperative, if a solution requires a significant capital investment, it is not going to be a Quick Win.

If it requires a large team or cross-functional buy-in, chances are it will be a slow win if it succeeds at all.

Many Quick Wins do not require a formal team; often a natural work team can identify the problem and implement a quick solution. For a solution to become a Quick Win it is almost always an improvement that can be completed with the people closest to the work and with the resources close at hand.

Sometimes a Quick Win is a high value improvement executed with speed. But even an improvement with small dollar impact can have a great ROI — because the time and expense invested is so low and the organization begins reaping the benefits so quickly.

Why Do They Matter?
According to John Kotter, author of Leading Change and The Heart of Change, creating Quick Wins builds momentum, defuses cynics, enlightens pessimists, and energizes people.

In addition, and as depicted in the image above, when involved in any type of improvement or change initiative, education, promptly followed by action, yields motivation, and success inspires success. Theoretical opportunities and methodologies are meaningless until a person starts to see the possibilities through real-life hands-on process improvement.

Conclusions?
So a Quick Win is a shot of adrenalin for a Continuous Improvement culture. The people involved get a great deal of satisfaction from making the work more effective, more efficient, or lower cost. Their effort pays off, and pays off quickly.

Plus, they are more inclined to look for another such improvement. The people who see or hear about the Quick Win are often inspired to begin looking for their own Quick Wins as well!

Ultimately, the motivational value of a Quick Win makes the return on the effort even higher.