Myths about teams

May 28, 2010

The latest edition of HR Dynamics newsletter focuses on how organisations can make the most of their people through better team work. If you would like to join our mailing list, please let us know at shane@hrdynamics.ie.  One article from the newsletter deals with some of the myths about teams.

Many organisations establish teams by putting a group of employees together to deliver on a particular project – and then label them a team.  When the sum of the parts does not equal (or is even less than) the sum of the individuals, the organisation blames the team, the team leader or the notion of teams.  Management attention moves onto a new focus and the idea of the team gets a bad name in the organisation.  But a team is more that the members; many managers fail to grasp; instead they rely on some common misunderstanding of what teams are – and what they are not?

Some of the common myths and realities about teams are discussed below. Note 1

Myth 1:  Teams are harmonious

Teams are made up of diverse groups of people with different needs, expectations and beliefs.  This diversity can – and often does – lead to conflict. However, it is the diversity of the team that will lead to its success if harnessed appropriately.

Myth 2:  People like teams

Research has shown that approximately one third of the working population like teams, one third are indifferent to teams and one third dislike teamwork.  However, when teamwork is appropriately fostered, high performance outcomes can create an environment that employees want to work in. Success breeds success.

Myth 3: Teams are simple

Teams are complicated structures and should only manage complex and challenging issues.  If the task is simple, it should be left to an individual.

Myth 4: Teamwork is a soft option

Choosing to introduce teams is one of the most challenging management options.  Teamwork demands that members practice their skills to the full at all times and in a consistent manner. The rewards that flow from successful teams are what make the challenge worth the effort.

By understanding the many misconceptions surrounding teams, leaders can help minimise the chance of the team failing before it has the chance to begin.  Next we look at the stage a team must go through before it can be a success.

Note 1: Based on The Myths & Realities of Teams © Wright Consultancy; www.consultwright.com

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Who is responsible for poor performance?

April 16, 2010

I was recently approached by a manager for help with an employee who ‘refused’ to change.  A twenty year veteran with the organisation, the employee had ‘seen off’ several managers.  A high performer when it was the way she wanted to work, the employee had successfully avoided all attempts to introduce new methods of working.  Managers, after a few forlorn attempts to introduce new ideas,  gave up and she was left to her own devices.

Who is at fault for this failure to change – the employee or the organisation?  In conversation with the manager, it became clear that previous manager’s had abdicated responsibility for the employee taking the line of least resistance.  While the employee does bear some responsibility for the pattern of behaviour, her resistant patterns have been rewarded by her various managers.  This way of working is what she knows best – ‘I like doing my job my way’.  Any new manager will be a brief nuisance and will soon see the light!

What is the answer?  As I have blogged previously, behaviour change requires consequences.  The current consequence for the employee of their refusal to change is to be allowed to continue as per usual.  For the manager to bring about change, there must be consequences – and these must outweigh the desire to continue the behaviour.  The most immediate consequence should be that the manager makes it clear that they will not be going away.


Managing your top teams anxiety

April 9, 2010

All of us suffer from anxiety; it happens when we face into a new, difficult or challenging situation. Anxiety in itself should never be an issue but it can be a problem if it is not recognised and managed.  Organisations that are undergoing upheavals are likely have increased levels of anxiety. Leaders need to learn to recognise and manage the anxiety in their top teams to ensure that it does not affect performance at a time when the they need to rely on the tope team more than ever.

People Management list some of the steps that can be taken to manage anxiety. Aimed at L&D specialists, the article is equally valid for Leaders. Some of the steps for managing anxiety include:

Validate feelings
Get your top team to talk about how they experience the pressures they face. As we often feel weak if we acknowledge being less than confident, this normalising of emotions can be helpful.  A leader can start the process by admitting that they have anxieties.

Challenge behaviour
Empathy is important but honesty is vital.  Leaders need to understand the negative impact on their team – and the wider organisation – of the failure to manage anxiety. Direct criticism may evoke defensiveness; simply describe how the organisation experience the practical consequences of this behaviour.

Identify triggers
Having helped your team understand the impact of their behaviour, work to identify key situations, people or events that trigger anxiety. The more we are aware of our default position(s), the better we can resist them.

In the pressure cooker of modern organisations, it can be seen as weak to acknowledge the existence of anxiety.   It is the Leader’s responsibility to address this issue – failure to do so can increase the likelihood of a failure of performance.


Eight Simple Rules to Becoming a Better Leader

March 15, 2010

Melissa Raffoni has a post on the HBR website that all Leaders should read.  President of Raffoni CEO Consulting, she works with CEOs of major organisations.  In this short but important post, she outlines in clear terms what employees want from their Leadership.  None of this should surprise any good Leader; what is surprising is how often we don’t put it into practice.

1. Tell me my role, tell me what to do, and give me the rules. Be clear, be direct and let me get on with my job.

2. Discipline my coworker who is out of line. Fairness and equity for everyone – for good and bad performance.

3. Get me excited. Give me a reason to get engaged in what I do.  I don’t do boring!

4. Don’t forget to praise me. When I do something that deserves praise, not 12 months later at a review.

5. Don’t scare me. Tell me what I need to know but don’t dump all of your problems on me.

6. Impress me. Lead by example.

7. Give me some autonomy. Trust me – that’s why you hired me.

8. Set me up to win. Help me to win and you look good too.

All Leaders should print these out and ask themselves every day – am I following these rules?  If not, why not?


Coaching V Mentoring V Consulting

March 11, 2010

I am spending an increasing amount of time coaching executives – reflective of the exciting business world. One challenge that I face is that the coachee wants a solution and, quite often, wants it now.  This can be based on a misunderstanding of the nature of coaching and mixing it up with mentoring – an experienced person sharing wisdom – or a consultant – an experienced person brought into to provide a solution. Coaching is about allowing the coachee to find their own solution.  Getting these distinctions across at the beginning of a coaching assignment is crucial.

I came across a great summary in Excellence in Coaching edited by Jonathon Passmore:

  • A therapist will explore what is stopping you driving the car
  • A counsellor will listen to your anxieties about the car
  • A mentor will share tips from their own experience of driving cars
  • A consultant will advise you on how to drive the car
  • A coach will encourage and support you in driving the car

It is not enough to Manage by Wandering About

February 28, 2010

Management by Walking About (MBWA) is a management practice first proposed by Peters and Waterman in their seminal book In Search of Excellence. As  a technique, it aims to allow management to bypass the bureaucracy of the organisation and stay in contact with those that do the actual work.  It is communication at its best.

The Harvard Business School Working Knowledge discusses some research that shows that management visibility on its own is no guarantee of success.  Unless managers understand that MBWA is more than just walking about, they can cause more harm than good.  The research looked at a number of hospitals that engaged with front line workers on process improvements.  The result showed that improvements were achieved in most instances, leading to not just improvements in processes but in the overall organisation climate.

However, it is also possible to damage that climate.  The researchers found that it is not just important to engage with front line staff.  It is how you engage that will make the difference.  It is too easy for MBWA to be viewed as an audit that is trying to find errors or an attempt to catch employees making mistakes. If this is the perception of MBWA, trust will be quickly eroded, increasing hostility and suspicion – the exact opposite of what MBWA is attempting to achieve.

Some simple steps that managers can follow to ensure that MBWA is effective include:

o Do it solo – senior managers should MBWA alone and not hunt in packs

o Ask questions

o If you give a commitment to act on something, follow up

o Don’t undermine your supervisors – this is not an opportunity to whinge

o Do it often – it is not a fad and repetition will make it seem the norm


Earning Respect in the Workplace

February 12, 2010

Brett Simmons hosts a guest blog by Jim Taggart on how Leaders can earn respect in the workplace.  Jim has been a student of Leadership for over 15 years and writes a blog at Changing Winds.

Some of the steps that Leaders can take to gain respect include:

1. It’s okay to change your mind.  A failing of many Leaders is the fear that changing their mind will make them look weak.  As Jim points out, what is important is explaining the reason for the change.

2. Communicate clearly and regularly. While this sounds obvious, in practice it is the lack of regular communication that can isolate a Leader from the rest of the organisation.

3. Give regular feedback on performance. Honest feedback when staff are doing well – and not so well – is a key step in gaining respect.

4. Share the Leadership. Delegate and empower – but only when your team are ready. As Jim says, park your ego.

5. Admit when you screw up. This is a powerful way to demonstrate Leadership – especially when it is done publicly.

Go to Brent’s blog for the full list.