Leadership Trevolution Blog


Blog Entries by Tag: Systems

Teamwork Begins as a Mindset

Published on: Mar 23, 2012 | Tags: General, Team Work, Team Leadership, Empowerment, Organizational Development, Management, Systems

As I talk with training and development professionals about leadership or management development programs, many indicate they plan to include a course on teambuilding, teamwork, or simply teams. They have a list of course topics and it is one of them. Other topics might include: 

  • Managing People
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Feedback
  • Coaching and Counseling
  • Delegation
  • Planning
  • And the list goes on…

 These courses are seen as the basics managers need, and many times, are developed from training providers’ offering list. This basic list has been used for generations. The courses on these lists have been developed over time, with occasional updates, yet they are still influenced by historic scientific management principles. The management principles that are embedded deep within our psyche.Brain

 Those principles do not address the social realities of organizational life. They fail to position a group of people in an organization with a correct understanding of the nature of what it means to be a social system within a social system, even though that accurately defines a team.

 If a team is by nature a social system within a social system, then the inherent social realities in that system need to be understood by those who lead groups of people.  For instance, it is a  reality in a social system that changing any part of the system, requires every other part of the system to adapt to that change. That means that if you take any action, or fail to act, in relation to any person in your group there is some impact on everyone else in the group. If we consider the course list above, then: 

  • Your management of each individual affects all others on the team.
  • Conflict between any two people and its resolution, or lack thereof, has an impact on the entire team.
  • Feedback, whether counseling or coaching, to a team member and his response affects everyone else on the team.
  • Each person on the team feels the effect of your delegation practices to the rest of the team.
  • Everyone that is a part of your plan influences its success, whether that person helped develop it or not.

 Consider your personal experience and you can probably validate these statements. Adding a teamwork course to the list above will surely limit the probability that the group will become a high performance, collaborative team.

 Teamwork is not a practice among other management or leadership practices. Teamwork is the lens through which all other practices must be seen. Teamwork is a leadership mindset that then becomes each person’s mindset. 

  • When you resolve conflict, you make the choices that have a positive outcome on everyone.
  • Feedback will be provided in a way that ensures the team as well as the individual is strengthened.
  • Teams rely on empowerment and not delegation (see this past blog). When you give work away, you will do so in a way that builds the team.
  •  Your planning process will be inclusive, relying on collaborative input that ensures ownership so the entire team will engage in completing the plan.

 Becoming a team is a mindset first, then if becomes practice. This begins with the leader.

Weaving a Social Web

Published on: Mar 05, 2012 | Tags: General, Team Work, Personality, Systems

Connecting people in relationships that result in the ability to work well together may be one of a leader’s greatest challenges. The connection is social and complex. Many variables come into play between people.

As diversity grows in the workplace and the world continues to shrink, this challenge will only grow. People weave a social web in order to come together. It can be a weak web with poor connections, or a strong web with beneficial connections. If the group has been together for any time, the web is complete and functional even if its characteristics do not represent relationships that create positive work connections.

The challenge to weaving a positive social web is diversity, because everyone that is like me is ok – right? Law requires companies to address diversity issues for certain situations. Beyond these, the diversity that challenges leaders includes any way one person is different from another. Those differences create misunderstanding, judgment, critical attitudes and conflict.

One commonly misunderstood difference is extraversion and introversion. Debra Donston-Miller considered this dynamic in a recent article on The Brainyard. My observation that introversion and extraversion are a diversity issue was included in the article. An introvert prefers time to reflect while an extravert wants to talk. They are different in terms of the pace they prefer, the way they make decisions, and the way they deal with change.  A leader may identify this along with several other differences in her team.

You can evaluate this social web by listening, observing, and evaluating the actions and interactions of those you lead. Notice what your team members fail to understand and accept about one another. What do you struggle to accept?

Take a moment and consider the unseen social web that connects you and co-workers. Is it a strong web, supporting personal and group success? If not, how can you improve it?

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.” 

The Power of Patterns of Behavior

Published on: Jan 30, 2012 | Tags: General, Team Leadership, Productivity, Culture, Systems

It is that time of the year when health club attendance increases. Frustrating as it is for those who are there throughout the year, it happens every New Year. People make resolutions that involve healthy living as evidenced by a new workout regimen. If you are one of the frustrated few, never fear because the numbers will decline to very near where they were in December within a couple of months. This is an annual dynamic I have lived through for several years. It has been said that we humans are creatures of habit. For that reason new workout routines don’t last long. We live in patterns of behavior that, while can be changed, usually are not. That makes observation and awareness of behavioral patterns a critical skill for a leader.

Your team, if it has been together for any length of time, has established patterns of behavior. You participate in these patterns, which you usually experience as an unexamined, unconscious part of your day. The ones you notice are probably creating pain for you, but the fact that it is a pattern suggests you have not done anything that really changes it. You may have inherited behavioral patterns another leader set in motion and you are not sure what can be done about them. The importance of identifying your team’s patterns becomes clear when you consider that short term productivity and long term direction will both be determined by them.

As a leader there is another important reason to pay attention to the patterns of behavior in your team. You are creating them. The patterns that exist in your team, if you have been leading it for a period of time, are there because of your action or inaction. The leader is responsible to develop a team whose behavioral patterns support individual and group success. As you observe your team, including you, determine which patterns support individual and group productivity and success. Alternatively, define the negative behavioral patterns that undermine the group. What do you think will happen if you proactively move your team from unproductive to productive behavioral patterns?

The Information Leaders Ignore

Published on: Jan 16, 2012 | Tags: General, Team Work, Team Leadership, Productivity, Systems

I know you have had the experience of buying something new after careful search only to notice how many others have that same item. This always happens when I purchase a new automobile. I seek out the vehicle that I want and usually think to myself, “I have not seen many of these on the road.” By the time I arrive home in my new car I will have noticed several just like it. That is how our minds work. We are always ignoring more than we are observing. Our senses are trained to ignore sights, sounds, smells, touch that we have accepted as normal. This is true in every area of life. We disregard much of what is going on around us, and actually must do so to avoid information overload. There is a significant amount of information available to leaders, yet as in other areas of life, most of it is ignored. 

When you think about the people you lead at the workgroup level, what comes to mind? What do you notice as their leader? You may want to make a list of your first thoughts. It may be the person who is creating turbulence for you or others on the team. Perhaps there are performance challenges, or there is too much work because the company has increased responsibility with no new personnel. No matter how long the list of what you notice, there will be an additional list of what you are ignoring. Therein you as a leader discover an opportunity to improve the dynamics of your team. 

One method of observing what you may have ignored is to consider what is between the members of your team. For the most part your observations are of people. You may observe positive and negative behaviors that form your opinions of them. Some of this behavior may be ignored, but not because you are unaware of it. You may believe there is not much you can do about it, or your current options to address it are beyond the drama you want to deal with today. Look at what is between your team members. Is there trust or suspicion? Is there communication or avoidance? Is there conflict or collaboration? When you make this list you will clarify the context your team members operate within. 

It is the context that determines some of the behaviors you may have listed earlier. You know that your leadership investment is paying off when your team’s interactions represent a great team environment. If not, you should consider what context represents relationships that support performance and accountability. Herein you will discover your opportunity. Make a list of what is between team members. Develop another list of what should be between them. Then develop a plan to move your team from one list to another in a manner that affects them all positively. As you practice awareness of what is between those on your team and lead them to a positive team culture everyone should benefit.

Creating a Great Team Environment

Published on: Dec 05, 2011 | Tags: General, Team Leadership, Team Work, Productivity, Systems

It is common, in training employees on how to be team players, collaborate effectively, or how to resolve conflict with co-workers, that participants ask me if their supervisors will participate in the same training. Is it possible that what I am equipping people to accomplish may be limited by the very manager who sent them to the training? The manager sees no need for training because the problem is the inability of adults to act appropriately. The employee believes he or she is limited because the manager does not address issues directly. We need clarity on who is responsible for the quality of interactions between people in a work group. Not that any of us have negative experiences in working with others, but just imagine the possibility. We might answer that everyone is responsible, which is true. But is everyone’s position the same in addressing the issues that inevitably arise when people work together?

 It is the manager who leads and influences those on his or her team. The environment that your team experiences and operates within has a direct impact on both the quality and quantity of work accomplished. Your approach to leading the team is a primary influence on that environment. Understanding that, you as a manager must also accept that inaction has as much impact as action in this social system you call a team. Both inaction and action have implications beyond the individual you may see as a problem or the one you rely on the most. Beyond that, the way you approach one person on your team impacts everyone in the group.

 Consider how those you lead respond to your leadership. Not just their response to you, but to each other. Their interactions with each other are indicative of your leadership. If the interactions are positive and productive be aware of the investment you are making in the group that results in these qualities. If the interactions are not positive or they are hindering productivity then consider your actions or inaction that may be influencing the environment within the group. As you reflect on your leadership, realize that any real change you make as a leader will result in a change in your team. If the team does not reflect the positive, productive group you desire to lead what change can you make that will move them in that direction today?

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