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February 2012 Archives

The Hidden Resources in Your Team

Published on: Feb 27, 2012 | Tags: General, Team Work, Productivity, Organizational Leadership, Management, Team Leadership

Companies stretch people to their limits today. I recently heard someone comment that he cannot get all of his work done for the first time in his career. In many companies, unanswered emails, missed deadlines, late projects, and stress grow. Most employees do not complain because they are glad to have a job. However, one might surmise there is a capacity limit that will eventually result in either less work completed or more people hired. Coupling the current economic realities with unemployment fear is one way to leverage all of the capacity in a workforce. This strategy will not work for long-term productivity. Even the casual observer can predict burnout and engagement losses.  When that day arrives, a significant shift will occur in how companies view “human resources.”

The question may be, when the shift occurs, how to grow productivity in a burnt-out workforce? Many companies will (and are) attempting to address this issue at the corporate level. This is appropriate as it creates an environment that supports change. The real change that has to occur, however, is at the supervisory level. If the leaders who directly manage a person maintain the same practices, no program from an organizational level will make any significant impact. The team is where individuals connect to an organization. The group leader can be the determining factor in both improving the work context and increasing productivity. If that is your role, there are real steps you can take.

 The goal is to tap into the hidden resources in your team. Passion is one example of the many personal resources that are available to the individuals you work with. Passion intrinsically motivates when brought to the workplace, becoming a resource. It results in activity that rewards an individual in ways others do not understand. When people bring passions to work responsibilities, both motivation and productivity grow. Take the time to guide your team through the exploration of individual passions to discover those interests that ignite a fire of motivation.

What is your definition of team?

Published on: Feb 20, 2012 | Tags: General, Management, Team Work, Team Leadership

I moved from Northeast Texas to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the spring and enjoyed a beautiful summer. As the year progressed, I experienced the difference between the Wisconsin October temperature and the Texas fall to which I was accustomed. When it began to get cold by my standards, I commented to a group that I was going to start wearing my toboggan. They looked at me with consternation as I continued my presentation. After I completed the meeting one of the participants asked me how I would wear my toboggan. As we discussed the use of a toboggan, it became clear to me that we were not talking about the same item. That day I learned that a toboggan in Wisconsin is a wooden sled: not to be worn on one’s head. In Northeast Texas, a toboggan is a knit hat (we did not need wooden sleds in Texas). This was a reminder that the meaning of words is, at times, influenced by context. This is true of many words we use in organizational life. For instance the words “team” and “leader” are defined different ways in different organizations.


I have asked many groups in different organizations to write a definition of team. The near universal answer I receive is: 

A group of people with a shared goal.

This appears to be a shared definition, but even this definition is interpreted differently by those who provide it. In those same groups, when I ask for further explanation, the opinions usually begin to diverge. In reality, there is no shared definition of the word “team” or the idea of teamwork in most companies. Even though many promote teamwork as a value, they do not define what it means. If you think about it, this definition above can be applied to about any approach to working together. It does not describe work group qualities nor does it imply that the people in the group work together. It is possible to share a goal with someone while approaching the goal from an independent perspective. If you lead a team, this lack of shared definition may be hindering your ability to build your team.

In our Foundation for Team Leadership training, we develop a shared definition of a team that becomes the common understanding of teamwork.

  • Group of connected people working together
  • Committed to a shared responsibility
  • Find meaning in sharing a purpose
  • Driven to achieve a shared vision
  • Exerting collaborative effort

 I provide this team definition to my clients and ask them to consider, in light of great group experiences they have had, if these attributes were present. To date, every one of them agrees that these descriptors define the group. Does this definition describe your best group experiences?  What would happen if everyone on your team shared this definition?

Action and Inaction

Published on: Feb 13, 2012 | Tags: General, Systems, Feedback, Decision Making, Management

If you kick a ball, you expect your action to produce a result, changing its position. If you observe the same ball but do not kick it you expect no result or no change in its position. You may have similar expectations as a leader of a group of people. You choose actions that you expect to produce a result. There are times when you choose not to take action expecting that everything will stay the same or you may believe inaction will allow a situation to work itself out.

While most of us think about the results of our actions, we may not consider the results of our inaction. For instance, you may have ignored a conflict between people, hoping your inaction would result in the conflict dissipating. There may be an employee whose behavior is unacceptable, but you choose not to provide feedback thinking he will recognize his negative influence in the team. As you have observed, this approach seldom has a positive ending. The risk of inaction can be understood from a systems perspective. In a system, both action and inaction have consequences. A team is a social system. There are three dynamics that you have experienced in working with people that are evidence of this reality.

 ·  Inaction produces a result.

 ·  The same action does not always produce the same result.

 ·  Different actions can produce the same result.

 As you become aware of these dynamics in your team you might give up on some common assumptions I have heard from managers and observed in groups.

 ·   If I/we ignore it, it will take care of itself.

 ·   Since this worked the last time I/we faced the problem it will work this time.

 ·   A new approach will ensure a different result.

 The assumption of inaction usually results in a crisis that is far more significant than the original ignored problem. There are times that inaction is the right choice, but not when it is because you hope a problem will resolve itself. When you consider the second assumption, the fact that you are using the same solution is evidence that it did not work last time. It might have provided a temporary fix, but you continue to solve the same problem repeatedly. Is that really resolution of the issue? I am aware of an organization that has reorganized four times in the last ten years only to end up in the same situation each time. Every time they reorganized, it was to rollout a new strategy. Each time they reorganized the result was the same. They assumed a change of structure would change their competitive position. They were obviously a victim of the second assumption, but beyond that, their new strategies did not produce a different result. The new approach produced the same outcome.  In this instance Alphonse Karr was right, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” 

Shared Responsibility

Published on: Feb 06, 2012 | Tags: General, Productivity, Team Work, Team Leadership, Management

Ask the people you work with to describe his or her responsibility. He or she will probably describe an individual responsibility. That is how we think about our work. It is my work. If you manage others, you may think about each person’s individual responsibility. You probably assign work to individuals who then take it as a personal responsibility. Even though each person’s work in some way intersects with others, it is still considered from an individual perspective. This can result in frustration for managers and work group members who need to produce a shared result. It is similar to everyone creating a puzzle piece when no one has seen the whole picture. Some groups and organizations operate in this scenario and call it teamwork.

 When a manager and workgroup members primarily focus on individual responsibility and then attempt to work together it can create conflict, stress, reworks, workarounds, and at times significant incompatibility. Project delays and missed deadlines can result in blaming that further divides the group. When this occurs, a harder push simply increases the dynamics. This scenario reinforces individualism, creating ongoing conflict. This describes the work environment you want, right?

There is an alternative to this scenario. It requires a shift in thinking about responsibility from the individual to the team. The manager who thinks about assigning individual responsibility must become the leader who sees his or her team’s whole responsibility. Secondarily define the individual responsibilities based on that whole picture. The individual contributor must see, understand, and accept the whole group responsibility. Then his contribution fits the bigger picture. This is a subtle but significant shift in thinking. It is the leader’s responsibility to ensure every member of her team understands and takes ownership of the bigger picture. Beyond that, she must develop a team where individual responsibilities complement one another to create the whole. What are the members of your team focused on?

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