Are you operating smoothly?

9 July, 2007

The third element for high performing teams is the operations piece.  How the group is structured and whether they perceive they have the tools and processes in place in order to be successful.  Note the word perceive.  You can have the most impressive software and tracking systems but if your employees find them cumbersome or get in the way of completing their work then you wont have a high performing team.

 Operations is about clearly defining roles and responsibilities.  When was the last time you sat down with your team and talked about roles and responsibilities?  It all too easily becomes assumed that everyone knows why each other is on the team and the strengths they bring to the group.  Unless this is reviewed and clarified regularly how can you hope to unlock the strengths of the group, leverage opportunities across the team, understand the gaps in knowledge or potential points of failure?

A relatively simple approach is to provide everyone with a sheet of flipchart paper (or more) and ask them to answer the following questions and then review these as a group:

  • The value my role brings to this team / organisation
  • Key Responsibilities / Tasks
  • Dependencies up and down stream (ie who do i get work from and who do I give it to)
  • Key Measures of Success / Metrics
  • What prevents me from completing my work?
  • What I need from this team in order to be successful

Then review the outputs as a group.  Thinking about the teams goals, ask yourself

  • What is missing from the charts. 
  • Are there areas of duplication?
  • Are there items on one chart that might be better moved to another area?

Once clarity about individual roles and responsibilities has been achieved you can focus on the dynamics around empowerment and decision making.  Its one thing to know what you need to achieve its another to feel that you are empowered to take action and make decisions to deliver.

Clarifying roles and responsibilties is an activity worth doing every year.  It should also be part of the way you help to integrate new team members so that they understand what everyone else on the team does and how they fit into the process.

 Morag Barrett


Communicate?

1 July, 2007

Communication appears to be deceptively simple.  After all, we spend hours in meetings with our coworkers.  We talk with each other all the time.  Therefore we communicate.

While this may be true, I have found that with many teams it is not what is talked about that is important.  Many times it is the things that aren’t discussed that cause the biggest issues and challenges within a group.  Communicating effectively isn’t just about having the fun conversations it is also about ensuring that conflict and debate can happen in a way that prmotes creativity, innovation and ultimately a better outcome for the team.

How often have you sat through a meeting and not said what was on your mind?  How often have you listened to a ‘debate’ knowing that the answer has already been decided and that the ongoing conversation pointless?  Breaking the cycle and creating an environment where it is safe to say “I don’t agree” or “I don’t understand” is a huge undertaking that many teams fail to consider or achieve.

Try this simple exercise:  Ask your team what they think the three most important priorities are for your company and your team to complete by the end of this year.

I am guessing that this will result in a list of approximately (N-1) x 3 priorities.  Where N is the number of people you have asked (ok so you need to ask more than one for this to work).  But you get my drift.  If you dont have clarity around the goals that the team is working towards then you may want to reflect on the methods that you use to communicate them.  Ask yourself whether you just announced them or if there was an opportunity to discuss and truely understand them.  Why the goals are important and what role everyone on the team plays in achieving these.  An email is not sufficient.  A single meeting at the start of the year or quarter is not sufficient.  It takes numerous (research indicates over 7 times) times for information to be retained and remembered.  It will be the combination of your written word, the team meeting and the individual conversations and follow up that will help to ensure everyone understands what needs to be achieved, by when and why.

Communication starts with the goals and expectations for the team and individuals.  You then need to communicate your expectations for the daily interactions and dialogue that follows (more on this later)

Morag Barrett


What is trust?

1 May, 2007

Trust is the foundation to team success.  With out you can make some inroads to improved performance, but you will achieve nothing if the individuals on the team lack trust.

 Think about it.

Have you worked with someone who undermined you, or maybe took credit for your work? 
Have you had a manager who micromanaged and checked up on you numerous times a day?
Have you had co-workers who talked about you behind your back?
Worked in a culture that said it valued learning from mistakes but immediately penalised anyone who did?
Where there was a favourite? the person who got the high profile projects and opportunities?
Where more was continually expected of the few?
Where individuals undermine the decisions that have been made?

Trust is an odd thing.  We don’t always consciously think about it but we give and withhold trust all the time.  The coworker who said something that felt harsh…you now sit in a meeting and look for further examples of where they don’t trust you…therefore you don’t trust them.  Trust diminished.

You get on a plane and without a second thought settle down to review the films.  The pilot, the staff probably don’t merit a thought.  Trust implicit.

The coworker who asked for you advice, listened and implemented changes.  As a result delivers outstanding results and returns for more advice.  Trust enhanced.

So how do you build trust?

To build trust you need to know the person.  Not the job they do.  The individual behind the role.  What makes them tick, why do they communicate one way and you another?  I have discovered two tools that help to achieve this.  The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) or the Birkman Method.  Both require a certified facilitator to lead a team or individual through their feedback (contact me ;-) ) but I have seen huge insights gained from participants who have had the confidence to share their results.  A realisation that two people either have the same profile or even opposite profiles can help them to understand why the either work well together or butt heads frequently.  These tools help to provide a common language that enable conversation about how people interact to happen in a safe way.  It is now about ‘the ‘MBTI’ seems to indicate x’ rather than a ‘you always…which is why I…’

Talking about the groundrules for the team and then holding the members accountable for meeting and maintaing them.  Discussing what the legacy is that the team wants to be remembered for.  How would they want others to describe the team (I challenge you to compare that to what people are saying and assess the gap!).

Trust is a relationship.  A relationship happens through interaction beyond the transactional.  You need to spend and invest the time to get to know the person.

Morag Barrett


Four Cornerstones for Success

26 April, 2007

The approach my friends and I developed was focused around the Four Cornerstones of High Performing Teams.  They were

  • Trust
  • Communication
  • Operations
  • Results

A simple list on paper, but achieving a level of high performance means continually reviewing the progress the team is making.  Ensuring everyone feels comfortable and will ing to participate.  It means not sitting back on your laurels but actively seeking new ways to take the group to the next level.

Many times I have heard people talk about the time not being right to focus on team development.

“we are too busy”
“lets wait until we fill the vacant position”
“we have always fought with that team, nothing is going to change it”

“lets do it after we finish this project”
“We have too many problems to fix”
“we can’t risk a confrontation…it would destroy morale”

In the moment, they all seem valid.  But look at this list again and seem them for what they are, excuses.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms can you really afford NOT to invest in developing your team?  If you could turn these comments into:

“we continually seem to be able to deliver”
“we have more applicants than ever for our position, we can fill it in record time”
“we work with teams up and down stream to understand where our goals are aligned and where there may be friction, it helps us to work to solve and prevent conflict”
“team building? we do it as part of our project”
“we understand how to leverage our strengths and prioritise opportunities to improve”
“we need to talk about the ‘big hairy gorilla’ at our table”

People want to be part of a high performing team, people want to join a high performing teams.  High performing teams can help to deliver outstanding business results.  Wouldn’t you want to be part of that?

Morag Barrett


What makes for an effective team?

20 April, 2007

There are loads of books and resources available about how to build a high performing team.  The one I found particularly pertinent was Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

 As with all his books, it is based on a fable and can easily be read on a plane flight or over a weekend.  He then outlines a simple 5 step model and actionable steps that can help to improve any team.  For a high performing team you need to have trust, conflict, commitment, accountability, results and the book goes on to explain why these elements are important and techniques for achieving these.

This book has been a main-stay on my bookshelf and recommended reading as I worked with teams across organizations.

Morag Barrett


High performing teams…how do you get from where you are to where you need to be?

14 April, 2007

High performing teams are not just myth and legend, and unfortunately do not come ready packaged.  They happen through a combination of focused and deliberate effort.

Think about the teams you have been part of.  What stands out for you?  It doesn’t matter if the the teams are high performing or not.  Jot down the things the team did or didn’t do that resulted in it being either a high performing group or non performing.

During the team sessions I have facilitated the lists tend to be very similar.  With high performing teams participants tend to agree that the following were important:

  • We had fun
  • Everyone participated
  • We knew what we were trying to achieve
  • I knew what I had to do
  • We were treated with respect
  • No one had a hidden agenda, we had each others backs covered
  • We had regular feedback and knew what was going on
  • I could count on the people around me to do their part

The lists continue, and for those poor performing teams? I found the situation was just simply that those teams didn’t do these things.

Focusing on teamwork, on the people aspect of business can seem like a distraction from the real goal of achieving results, but it is possible to take time away from the desk.  To meet with your team and discuss the business goals, whilst learning about each other and moving to a common goal of improved operations, efficiencies and extraordinary business results.

 Morag Barrett


Flip-charts

2 April, 2007

Ever wondered how they do it?  You are attending a presentation or training class and the presenter stops and draws this complicated diagram on the flip-chart without missing a beat. Perfectly proportioned, elements clearly labeled.  As with all things there are best practices and some simple tips that you can apply.

1) Do not talk and write at the same time.  As soon as you turn your back to the audience your voice will be lost.  Plus your audience will be trying to see what you are writing and struggling to link your words to the visual cue they cant see.  Draw, turn and then explain.

2) If you are right handed try to set the flip-chart up so that you can stand to its left.  This way you can reach across and write without blocking the board. (Do the opposite if you are left handed)

3) Use block capitals – these will be more legible to your audience.  If necessary draw very faint pencil lines to help you keep your lines straight

4) Write keywords / short bullets.  As with any visual aid it should act as a memory jogger, not a full script. Try using alternative colors for each line of text.

5) Be creative – draw shapes (triangles, stars, arrows, dashes) for the bullet point in one color and the text in another

6) Always aim to hang the flip-charts around the room if at all possible.  NEVER EVER tear the chart off and screw it up.  It sends a message to the audience that the input they have just provided, or your content, is not worth keeping.  Hanging the charts around the room reinforces how much has been shared and learnt.  Plus you can link back to the points later on if appropriate.

7) Drawing the diagram…sketch it out with very light pencil beforehand.  Trust me, up close you will be able to see it.  your audience will not.

8 ) Write memory joggers on the back of the prior sheet.  If you are having to fold the used sheets over the flip-chart easel you can write notes on the back of one page that will help you with the page on display.  You will be able to glance at it by stepping alongside the stand and it will not be obvious to your audience.

9) Use post its or tabs to mark important pages so that you can more quickly and easily flip back and forwards as required.

10) Be prepared to lose the ability to spell.  Its a well known phenomenon that when you are standing up close to a flip-chart word-blindness can and does occur…and not just with the difficult words!

 Morag Barrett


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