Conflict Avoidance Hurts Teamwork

A great way to tell whether you have a strong team is by the amount of regular, healthy conflicts that occur in meetings when decisions are being made and if decisions are really being made at all. It is often said that if everyone agrees than someone is not needed. This may be true but the real issue may be that the team dynamics in the organization has been broken. This breakage may be causing key people that can be contributing to stop contributing.

There are many leadership missteps that may be killing and destroying teamwork and cause conflict avoidance. Here are a few examples of when a leader can destroy the team.

  • Stopped being curious and really does not listen to people when issues are raised in meetings.
  • Intimidating or threatening so subordinates have fear of reprisal so they do not want to speak up.
  • History of judging people in the room (and voicing those judgments) when opinions differ from theirs or are not strong and thus people do not want to be vulnerable.
  • Appears to only be self interested.
  • Tendency to interrupt other team members before their idea may be completed.
  • Makes personal attacks when they are not getting their way.

According to Pat Lencioni’s book Five Dysfunction of Team, “fear of conflict” is one of the five dysfunctions that are critical to teamwork.  The leader has to make sure that this behavior is not tolerated, and that topics focus on the issues that need to be resolved. If everyone is not weighing in and openly debating and disagreeing on important ideas at your meetings, look for passive-aggressive behavior behind the scenes or back-channel attacks. What organizations find is that healthy conflict saves them a lot of time and leads to better decisions. The role of the leader is to practice restraint and to allow for conflict and resolution to occur naturally.

Howard Shore is a business growth expert that works with companies that want to maximize their growth potential by improving strategy, enhancing their knowledge, and improving motivation. To learn more about him or his firm please contact Howard Shore at [phone link=”true”] or shoreh@activategroupinc.com.

Commitment Is Rare

Many people think that making a decision is the same as making a commitment. This could be the farthest from the truth. Actually, the hardest decisions oftentimes have the weakest commitments, particularly the larger the group size.

Does this scenario sound familiar to you? More than a year is spent thinking about something; maybe even a committee is created to evaluate it. Consultants are hired; friends and colleagues are conferred with. Money is spent for market research, and finally an affirmative decision is made. The project, system, process, or other decision is placed into action, and all of a sudden the inevitable happens – problems arise – big problems, little problems, and attitude problems.

What happens to most people’s level of commitment when faced with these problems? Rather than addressing the problems, they ignore all of the thought that went into making the decision and allow emotion to take over. Their commitment to the decision it took them a year to make crumbles, and with it the chance of following through on the decision.

Commitment is often missing in many organizations. Many times it results from a lack of healthy debate in meetings or because a leader or leaders discourage opinions that differ from their own. Many decisions are the result of false consensus and weak buy-in. By having productive conflict and tapping into everyone’s perspectives and opinions, everyone can confidently buy in and commit. Even those who voted against the matter at least know their issues have been heard and considered.

Another issue that arises and hurts commitment is consensus building. Great teams know the danger of seeking consensus and certainty and find ways to achieve buy-in from the rest of the team. The leader’s role is to demonstrate decisiveness and to communicate awareness and acceptance of the fact that some decisions may turn out wrong. He or she must push decisions around issues, as well as adhere to schedules that the team has set. The leader must cascade messaging to key people in the organization to support follow-through on decisions so that everyone is clearly aligned.  The leader must not show weakness in making decisions and take action when fellow leaders show a lack of support.  Particular attention should be given to those people that take passive-aggressive approaches to undermine decisions. I have low tolerance for this type of behavior, because for me, a failure to strongly support the decisions of your leaders is the equivalent of helping the competition and is a form of dishonesty. If these people want to help the competition they should go work for them.

IF YOU MAKE A DECISION, MAKE A COMMITMENT!

Howard Shore is a business growth expert who works with companies that want to maximize their growth potential by improving strategy, enhancing their knowledge, and improving motivation. To learn more about him or his firm please contact Howard Shore at [phone link=”true”] or shoreh@activategroupinc.com.

Accountability and Championship Teams

The true test of your team’s commitment and buy-in to its goals is accountability. Without accountability teamwork breaks down. Sports teams provide us with a great look at what happens when a team is working right. Have you ever noticed that the players on championship teams hold each other accountable? They will not stand for other members of the team not playing their role to win. Failure of one team member means failure of the team. As a result, they are all watching to make sure each other do their part to win.  The coach does not even need to get involved. Each player knows their job and so do their teammates if someone fail they know it and so does everyone else. It is not unusual for someone to apologize to the other team members when they fail to be in their position or a man gets by them. 

Are you creating enough clarity around roles and specific outcomes for each team member so that they can self police? It is essential that everyone knows what is expected of them and that this is public knowledge.  The more clarity and specificity the better! When someone fails to achieve their part of the plan they need to be held accountable and exceptions should be rare. If you create an environment where only some people are held accountable or goals are only sometimes achieved then you will not be able to create a championship team.

Thanks Steven Slater and Jet Blue

I have been reading about Jet Blue’s flight attendant’s meltdown, and whether or not Steven Slater started the affair or the passenger did, it still highlights something that we can all probably agree on. People in general have lost their manners, and society needs to get back to basics. Whether we are on the road, in an airplane, in the workplace, shopping, or at home, people are not treating each other properly and in many cases are just downright rude and disrespectful.

I could never talk to my parents the way I hear kids speak to theirs today. The quality of communications among people has declined thanks to e-mail, text, twitter and other reasons not to talk face-to-face. Texting and e-mails have caused more strife between people than ever could be imagined. People do a poor enough job expressing themselves in person.

Even without the messaging problems, the basics have just gone out the window. For some reason, it seems that as generations go by, people think that it is okay to be disrespectful. Common courtesies have gone out of fashion like clothing. For example:

  • How often do all the ladies leave the elevator first?
  • How often are people holding the door open for people or just rushing in?
  • In South Florida I do not think anyone is ever on time. When someone is late, they are showing lack of respect for the people waiting for them.
  • When someone cancels a meeting at the last minute, they are showing disrespect for the other person’s schedule.
  • How often does someone see someone else carrying something heavy and pretend not to see them instead of offering assistance?
  • People do not return phone calls, e-mail, or invitation responses.

So after pondering these thoughts, I was considering some of the companies in the world that are known for their customer service. These customer service techniques are rooted in good manners. Saying thank you and you’re welcome, holding open the door for people, and other basic good manners.

I recently visited Aruba and was amazed at how friendly everyone was. I do not care who it was. You could talk to anyone, and they were helpful. The Aruban economy is clearly dependent on tourism, and the small country totally gets it. Compare that to say, Miami, which also heavily depends on tourism, and I would say half the hotels are not nearly as friendly and helpful as some of the street people were in Aruba. There was no surprise that in Aruba they have 2% unemployment, low crime and what they call a “happy island.”

So maybe if our state and federal governments want to spend money on something useful to improve our economy, they should require every American to attend good etiquette and customer service training. This alone might put our economy back on track and give us a competitive advantage over other countries.

If the government cannot see the forest through the trees, business owners must. If your company does not have a large loyal customer base, take a look at how well the staff treats each other and its customers. If you do not think they are setting an example in how well they treat people as human beings, I am sure it is having a negative impact on your top and bottom lines.

Howard Shore is a business growth expert that works with companies that want to maximize their growth potential by improving strategy, enhancing their knowledge, and improving motivation. To learn more about him or his firm please or contact Howard Shore at [phone link=”true”] or shoreh@activategroupinc.com.

Trust is Essential For Teamwork and Maximizing Results

Does your organization, project, or next big deal depend on teamwork? Well, how strong is the trust within your team? Trust is essential to maximizing results.

Imagine that you are playing basketball. You are in the fourth quarter with 30 seconds left on the clock, and you are down one point. It is critical that you can count on the other members of the team. Imagine a team where you can count on any player’s ability to make that final shot versus another team where you do not have confidence in anyone to make the final shot. And if you need to stop the opponent from scoring before you get the chance to take that final shot, you must be able to depend on your team to play tough defense and get the ball back. What if you felt like someone on the team would not pull their weight?

This is essentially what goes on in the workplace every day. If trust-building is not dealt with, you cannot maximize the performance of your organization.  “Trust” starts with the premise that one’s peers’ intentions are good, and that there is no reason to be careful around group members. Once trust has been broken, its absence is hard to overcome.

In most teams, too much time and energy – and too many good ideas – are wasted trying to protect one’s reputation by managing behaviors, comments, and interactions because of a lack of trust that was created in previous interactions. People are reluctant to ask for help and to offer assistance to others, causing lower morale and unwanted turnover.

In addition, absence of trust in others causes people to create poor work behaviors. Instead of addressing the trust issue, they choose to do things themselves instead of delegating. Or, when others display a behavior they do not like or seem to not be delivering on promises, they take work away instead of addressing the issue at hand. Worse, they may even set lower goals so that they know they can achieve them without the assistance of others.

To address this lack of trust on a team, a leader must demonstrate vulnerability first, and make sure they are authentic and use good timing when doing so. Leaders must encourage open dialogue in meetings, look for situations where people engage in behavior that demonstrates lack of trust, and bring it out in the open. They need to have everyone openly discuss the strength each team member brings to the team. They also need to describe the behaviors that lead them to be distrustful and get them to address those behaviors. No one, including the CEO, is immune from this exercise. One bad apple will spoil the batch.

Howard Shore is a business growth expert that works with companies that want to maximize their growth potential by improving strategy, enhancing their knowledge, and improving motivation. To learn more about him or his firm please contact Howard Shore at [phone link=”true”] or shoreh@activategroupinc.com.

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Lead Your Team Meetings

Not many of us look forward to meetings. Whether you have them weekly, monthly, or quarterly, they are bound to be accompanied by groans and complaints. This is a problem. These negative responses towards team meetings may be because performance and contribution are down. Your meetings are lacking substance and people are no longer interested in what the team leader has to say. Is this because the team leader is no longer taking into account what the team has to offer?

It is often said that if everyone agrees than someone is not needed. This may be true, but the real issue may be that the team dynamics in the organization have been broken.  There are many leadership missteps that may be killing and destroying teamwork and cause conflict avoidance. Here are a few examples of when a leader can destroy the team.

  • Stopped being curious and really does not listen to people when issues are raised in meetings.
  • Intimidating or threatening so subordinates have fear of reprisal so they do not want to speak up.
  • History of judging people in the room (and voicing those judgments) when opinions differ from theirs or are not strong and thus people do not want to be vulnerable.
  • Appears to only be self- interested.
  • Tendency to interrupt other team members before their idea may be completed.
  • Makes personal attacks when they are not getting their way.

There are times in our lives when we must revert back to that old childhood adage of “play nice with others”. These team meetings are essential to the core of your company. Meetings give us the opportunity to not only remain up to date on the progress of the business, but to view the progress of those responsible for it. Inhibiting ideas and squelching brain-storming will cause a fall in production from the employees and result in an eventual loss in profit. If everyone is not weighing in and openly debating and disagreeing on important ideas at your meetings, look for passive-aggressive behavior behind the scenes or back-channel attacks. What organizations find is that healthy conflict saves them a lot of time and leads to better decisions. The role of the leader is to practice restraint and to allow for conflict and resolution to occur naturally.

Howard Shore is a business growth expert who works with companies that want to maximize their growth potential by improving strategy, enhancing their knowledge, and improving motivation. To learn more about him or his firm please contact Howard Shore at [phone link=”true”] or shoreh@activategroupinc.com.

Team-Building

team building

STOP…wasting money on team-building exercises and retreats that, in the end, fail to bring about the desired results anyway. A significant reason that team-building initiatives fail is that too much emphasis is placed on the misconception that team-building should be fun. The purpose of team-building is to improve the performance of a work group, thereby creating better outcomes. This requires change, and for most people change is not fun … it is hard work. Team-building can be fun… if the members of the work group enjoy the learning process and relish the opportunities that change will bring. This is where a business coach plays a vital part in successful team building that brings results.

Key Elements For Driving Team Performance

If you want to improve teamwork and performance in your organization you have to look at the four core elements to driving team performance: relationships, goals, roles, and rules. All four of these elements must be executed well for the organization to flourish.

Focus on Improving Relationships LAST

Ironically, improving relationships is probably the last area you should focus on. Yes, the area that most leaders spend most of their time addressing is usually the symptom, not the problem. Almost every organization that has team-building issues will find their root of their problems in goals, roles, and rules. In my experience, when we address goals, roles, and/or rules, many of the relationship problems disappear.

State Your Goals

The first step toward achieving success as a team is to state your goals properly. You know your goal is well stated when anyone who reads it knows exactly what you are trying to accomplish and in what time frame. The better a person states the goal, the easier it is to create the action plan. An acronym commonly used for stating a goal properly is SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistically High, and Time-based).

Understanding Your Roles

In order for a team to function properly it is important that every member of the team understands specifically the actions and/or activities assigned to them. This is not as simple as some make it out to be, which is why this is usually an issue for team. There are two different types of roles: task and maintenance. The “task” roles relate to driving the desired outcome of a team. The “maintenance” roles relate to managing team processes and relationships among people on the team.

Rules Must Apply to Everyone

Rules are a very important component of teamwork. This is one of those areas many leaders, particularly in entrepreneurial and family-owned businesses have the biggest concern with. Everyone is fine with rules as long as they apply to others. You cannot have one set of rules for some people and another set for others.

Contact us if you need team-building ideas.

Howard Shore is a business growth expert and business coach who works with companies that want to maximize their growth potential by improving strategy, enhancing their knowledge, and improving motivation. To learn more about him or his firm please contact Howard Shore at 305-722-7213 or shoreh@activategroupinc.com.

4 Ways to Create Linsanity on Your Team

Do you have a Jeremy Lin on your team? You might. You may think you understand the potential of every person on your team but the truth is, you could have unbelievable, untapped talent sitting “on the bench” just waiting to be discovered by you—or your competitor. As company leadership we must think like championship coaches and learn to recognize and develop game-changing talent.

Jeremy Lin had been passed over, cut and underutilized his entire career. Yet, he quietly kept practicing and getting better. When the NBA lockout was going on, he used that time to practice harder and get better. When the season started, they kept him on the bench, and he kept practicing and getting better. And when they had no one else to put in, they put in Jeremy…and he blew everyone away. But what if he never had the chance to play? He would have been one of the best talents in the NBA, gone to waste.

So how do you identify your hidden Jeremy Lin? And when you find raw talent on your team, how do you develop it?

1. Use Talent Assessment Tools

Having great talent on your team starts with the hiring process, and that process should start with using assessment tools early in the candidate screening process. Talent assessment tools are keys to understanding the natural talents of your candidates. You can also use them post-hire to identify employees’ hidden qualities and talents that may have gone unnoticed. Every person has natural abilities—skills that cannot be taught—and areas that they have the capacity to develop. Things like strategic thinking, vision and data analysis capabilities cannot be taught but are an enormous asset to the team. Folks with these abilities should be coached and put into a leadership development track that builds on those talents. Assessment tools like the OMG Assessment and TopGrading are extremely effective in discovering these traits.

2. Ask the Right Interview Questions

Again, having great talent means finding great talent during the hiring process. After you have the results of your assessment tools and begin to understand what the natural talents of the candidates are, you need to make sure your hiring managers are asking the right questions to identify the people who are best suited for the team and the company’s strategy. As experienced leadership development coaches, we recommend asking the following about the candidate’s key past job experiences:

  • What were you hired to do?
  • What were your accomplishments?
  • What were your low points?
  • Tell me about your team…
  • Who was your boss and what would they say about you?
  • What were they like to work with?
  • When I talk to him/her what will they say were your greatest strengths and your areas for improvement back then?
  • Why did you leave?
  • What are your future goals?

3. Manage by Walking Around

Are you really noticing people for who they are or are you judging them with personal bias? The goal of executive leadership should be to capture all the positive energy that occurs when someone is working at high levels of performance. When employees are in the right role for their talents, performing work that is satisfying, they are happy and energetic, and it’s infectious. Learn to spot this energy, develop it and use it to motivate others. People who are challenged with tasks they enjoy breed positivity.

So how do you encourage this energy?

4. Assign Special Projects

As you are walking around and noticing your energetic employees, ask them questions and try to get a sense of what they want and love to do. Then give them opportunities to excel at those things. All leaders, from executives to managers, need to do this.

Jeremy’s special project was to play point guard when there wasn’t anyone else to jump in. He excelled and he became the “A” player that changed the team.

Howard Shore is an executive leadership coach who works with companies that need leadership development and business management coaching. Based in Miami, Florida, Howard’s firm, Activate Group, Inc. provides strategic planning and management coaching to businesses across the country. To learn more about executive leadership development coaching through AGI, please visit activategroupinc.com, contact Howard at (305) 722-7216 or email him.

Is It Time to Bring on a Business Partner?

How do you know when it is time to bring on a business partner? I just brought on an executive leadership partner, and am so excited for the great opportunities this will bring to AGI. My new partner, Lou Partenza, brings amazing business expertise, new business development experience, and will help me expand the capabilities of AGI and take it to the next level.

Until Lou came aboard, I was spread pretty thin, which was preventing me from growing the business the way I envisioned. We all have our capacity limits and I was reaching mine. I have an amazing team, but I was carrying too much of the load myself. The sheer volume of accounts and potential new business demanded I bring another executive-level person into the fold. I brought in Lou as my partner, and by doing so I immediately increased my company’s capacity.

Define Business Partner Needs

Besides increasing capacity, there are other very good reasons to consider bringing in a partner. Maybe you want to enter a new geographic market or start selling in a new community with a culture and/or language barrier. The long-term goals of your company should weigh heavily in your decision to bring in a partner and the type of partner you seek.

The first step is to decide what role you want the partner to play. Do you need someone for an executive leadership role for business guidance, or do you need someone with a total focus on new business development?

Based on the desired role, define the skill set for this person. The search process should be similar to bringing on a full-time employee. You want to look for a partner that has a set of complementary skills—skills that you may not have but really need in your business. The difference between a partner and employee is your partner will be someone who will assist you in making key decisions for the company, so they should be someone with whom you really mesh. You need to be able to bounce ideas around and have equal amounts of commitment to growing the company.

Define Success

Once you identify your potential partner, be careful to clearly define the role that you want them to fill, and define success metrics and expectations around that role.

Finding the right partner isn’t something that happens overnight. My advice is to start looking passively now. Even if you aren’t sure you need a partner (or a full-time employee for that matter) you should be in a constant state of recruitment. Great talent—especially at the partner level—is not easy to find. Talk, ask around and always be looking for great talent for key areas of your company.

Don’t Rush Into a Business Partnership

One caution: don’t make the mistake of bringing on a business partner too soon. Make sure you are eating well before you bring someone in. It takes energy and money to bring someone in as a partner. It’s important to be able to recognize where you are in your company’s evolution and know that you are financially stable before you commit to that extra executive salary.

Howard Shore is an executive leadership coach who works with companies that need leadership development and business management coaching. Based in Miami, Florida, Howard’s firm, Activate Group, Inc. provides strategic planning and management coaching to businesses across the country. To learn more about executive leadership coaching through AGI, please contact Howard at [phone link=”true”] or email him.

Recruiting Talent: Unusual Yet Effective Approaches

When Dietmar Petutschnig needs to find great engineers for his manufacturing company, ISD Limited in Whangarei, New Zealand, he heads to the docks. ISD is focused on innovation in the agricultural sector. One pursuit, for instance, is turning effluent from dairy firms into drinkable water. Recruiting people who fit into the company’s culture is crucial to its R&D efforts–yet that’s not so easy, given the country’s remote location. “How do you find engineers when all of the engineers want to leave the country?” asks Petutschnig, who acquired ISD in 2010 through Minerva Reef Fund, a venture fund he started with a partner.

Know the values that matter in your culture

His answer is to show up at coastal ports in late October and early November, when sailors navigating the globe tend to take shelter here from Caribbean storms.  The incoming vessels are full of people who have been successful enough in a previous business career to afford to buy sturdy enough craft to cross the ocean. Moreover, folks drawn to long-distance sailing tend to be mechanically inclined, since there’s no one to phone for repairs. “In the ocean, you have to fix things for yourself,” he says. And they’re resourceful and tough. “These are people who have made it across very challenging circumstances,” he says. They’re not easily rattled, he says, if a company hits a bump. People with this set of qualities have tended to thrive at ISD.

Not all growth companies face the same geographic challenges to recruiting as ISD does. But even those based in engineering hotbeds like Silicon Valley or the Boston tech corridor face competition from around the world for talent. And Petutschnig’s innovative methods carry lessons for every company, whether you’re located in dairy country or a big city. (I’ll get to another example of really creative recruiting by the tech firm Atlassian later in the column).

Tap informal networks for talent

One crucial part of what ISD does is show up in the right place at the right time. In some cities, that might mean hanging out at a particular Meetup where the tech talent tends to gravitate. At Petutschnig’s previous firm, Nunet AG—a tech company that serves broadcasters that got acquired in 2006—that would have been a practical approach. But at ISD, he, instead, keeps in touch with other sailors, whom he considers his “recruiting agents,” to find out when new arrivals are coming in–and shows up at the waterfront, ready to strike up a conversation.

“Docks are very social platforms,” says Petutschnig, who owns a 44-foot catamaran and sailed here with his wife, Suzanne DuBose, from the U.S. on a trip from 2008 to 2009. “You tend to know of people before they even come. Someone will meet them and say they’re coming next year.”

Ease into long-term work relationships

If Petutschnig hits it off with a new arrival, he’ll offer coffee or a drink to continue the conversation “You find out about their dreams, where they’re at,” he says. Then he might throw out the possibility of staying in New Zealand for a while by working at ISD. Sometimes, the right candidates will get interested. “They’ll postpone their day of departure from next season to a few seasons down the road,” he says.  And with three-month trial periods of employment typical in New Zealand, both ISD and the candidates know they will have a chance to try out the arrangement before it becomes a permanent one.

So far, ISD has hired four candidates this way: a director (who’s Petutschnig’s business partner) and three engineers. That’s brought the total headcount to 20 people.  “Our goal is to be a $10 million-revenue company in the next three years,” says Petutschnig. With innovative hiring practices like this, he’s on his way.

Don’t wait for candidates to come to you

Another company that’s gotten really creative about getting the right people on the bus—literally—is software firm Atlassian, which has offices in Sydney, Australia, and San Francisco. It’s more than doubled its head count to 550 over the past two years. A few months ago, it launched its “Europe, we’re coming to steal your geeks” recruitment roadshow, traveling around European cities in a bus to find 15 developers in 15 days. “We had a unique opportunity with the European economy not going as well,” says Joris Luijke, vice president of human resources/talent. Atlassian’s bus tour—a great idea for a company known for doing unusual and creative things—picked up interested candidates, where company representatives offered them a beer and told them about life in Australia. The company publicized its day-by-day progress on Twitter. Attracting press coverage everywhere from Spanish TV to the Wall Street Journal, Atlassian got 1,000-plus applications—and found 15 great developers willing to move to Australia.

A couple of crucial takeaways: Atlassian realized that recruiting is, as Luijke puts it, “a numbers game” and made efforts to generate enough buzz about its hunt to attract a large pool of talent. And once it found amazing people, Atlassian didn’t waste time. It offered them a job on the spot. “We cherry picked the best of the best,” says Luijke. That’s how creative—and aggressive—you have to be in today’s economy to snag tech talent, before your competitors do.

Call Howard Shore for a FREE consultation at [phone link=”true”] to see how an executive business coach can help you run a more effective business or become a more effective leader.