Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Recipe for Team Success

Anyone who cooks will tell you that it's the little things in a recipe that really take it from average to outstanding.  It doesn't take much talent to throw the basic ingredients into a slow cooker and come out with a stew.  But if you want a meal that really delivers, you need the recipe with the extras.

Teams are just like that.  You can throw a group of talented people together and call them a team, but success happens when you finally get the extras worked into the mix.     

Foundational Ingredients
  • Shared Vision ensures that each member understands the desired outcome of the chef.
  • Trust is the glue that keeps the team together so it doesn't separate.
  • Respect acknowledges that each team member has their own unique flavor based on knowledge, experience, innate talents, and perspective.
  • Feedback tells the team when and how they need to adjust, like licking the spoon every once in a while. 
  • Humility means understanding that the recipe is successful because of the contributions of the whole team, not just one individual.
  • Celebration will differ by the season, but it brings out the best in each team member when success is recognized.    
Optional Ingredients (Flavor to Taste)
  • Humor keeps things from boiling over.  
  • Friendship, if available, brings sweetness.
  • Fun adds zest to a bland combo.
Turn up the heat once in a while to get things moving, but not so much that the team burns out.  Add and remove team members as the meal plan changes, and keep an eye on the balance so your flavor doesn't sour. 

Keep this simmering in the slow cooker, and you've got a recipe for Team Success.  

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Motivational 360

I'm coming out of the closet to profess my love for http://www.despair.com/.  A risky move for a coach, yet there it is.     

This love affair began back in the 1990's when a peer from my customer service management team sent me a link with the poster you see here.  "Customer Disservice - We're not satisfied until you're not satisfied."  I've been hooked ever since.

My friend knew I was having a tough day with a particularly difficult client.  All the positive energy available to me had drained away, and I'd reached the moment when you know it's either laugh or cry.  I prefer a good laugh.

I like to call this a "Motivational 360" - a humorous twist that takes you 180 degrees in the opposite direction, but because of the timing and the delivery, you actually keep going and end up back at motivated again.  Along the journey, you vent some dark emotion, laugh at yourself, and then go back to business as usual.  

This can be a highly effective tool when used properly.  For example, say you're trying to engage a team of leaders in a dialogue about a difficult subject.  Show a few of these posters, let folks loosen up, and maybe even laugh a little.  Create a safe environment where people can let their hair down.  Then, ask which one of these posters best reflects a real situation going on for them right now.  Once you get a few people talking, it's not long before others join in and you're having meaningful dialogue.

Here are a few do's & don't for using this kind of technique:

DO use this with a skilled coach or facilitator.  Used improperly, and some team members may get stuck wallowing in the 180 degree turn, or Demotivation.

DO use this with a seasoned team who are all well aware of the issue you are trying to improve or resolve.  A more junior team may not be mature or experienced enough to understand the underlying intent of moving the group forward.  As a result, the information could be shared after the meeting in ways that you had not intended.     

DON'T use this with outside vendors or customers.  This is a tool for internal teams where a trusted and confidential dialogue about motivation and change is the goal.

DO be cautious when using humor when you have a diverse cultural group.  What an American finds amusing could easily be viewed as inappropriate or even insulting in another culture.

DON'T just use it and then lose it.  It will only be positively impactful if the dialogue drives meaningful sharing that leads to action steps and eventual change.  If you start it, finish it.

If you appreciate wry humor, I think you'll enjoy a tour of http://www.despair.com/ .  Even their FAQ page is entertaining.

Here's to some humor and some motivation in your week.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Damage of Disconnect

It was years ago in the ER that I first learned about disconnect.  I had returned from a business trip and was experiencing heart palpitations - at the ripe old age of 25.  After undergoing a battery of tests, the doctor started asking questions about my week on the road.  Yes, long hours with very little sleep.  Yes, lots of caffeine.  Yes, stressful client negoations.  The final diagnosis was a mild degree of WPW (Wolff-Parkinson-White) Syndrome.  So mild in fact, that if I just took better care of myself, I'd rarely be bothered by it again. 

Turned out to be an accurate diagnosis.  It was also an important lesson on the degree to which I was capable of disconnecting from myself in order to pursue a successful business outcome.  And of course, I'm not alone in this experience.  Take the very common occurance when after countless hours at the computer, our bladders finally bring us back to a very present, very urgent state of awareness.  

There are those who would say that the ability to disconnect is actually a desired characteristic for the busy executive in today's corporate climate.  They claim to disconnect from emotions, physical needs, and even values in order to meet the demands placed on them.  I disagree, and it goes beyond personal health.  

It's the exact opposite of disconnect, presence, which delivers the best business results.  In a state of presence, we have access to tools like discernment, intuition, and compassion.  These tools are highly effective for reaching the desired outcome in the shortest period of time and with the greatest degree of integrity.

Connection to our own emotions allows us to connect with others, and whether you do business face-to-face, over the phone, or via the web, you know the importance of making that connection with your customer.  Leaders experience improvement to employee morale, productivity, innovation, and loyalty when they allow themselves to be emotionally available to their teams.

Keeping a connection with your physical needs is easy to understand from a long term health perspective.  It's also important in order to maintain a sustainable energy level, mental alertness, and physical pace over the short term. 

Finally, it's the disconnect from our values that's playing out in the headlines.  We shake our heads at each new business scandal, yet when was the last time we did our own values inventory?  Being present with our values and acting in accordance is what defines integrity.   

Stay connected and be present.  It's what's best for you and your business.       

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Overcoming A Propinquity Deficit

I first learned the term "propinquity" on a road trip.  I bought the audio cd of "Influencer: The Power to Change Anything" by Kerry Patterson (and others) to convert downtime into my own private learning lab on wheels.  

Propinquity caught my attention the way odd sounding words do, but it really hit home when I applied it to my experience of working with virtual teams.  At the time, my group was spread out across ten different corporate offices and I was headed to one of them while I listened. 

The theory of propinquity, the impact of space on relationships, by Festinger, Schachter, and Lewin is explored in several applications in this book, including the corporate environment.  Their research shows that physical proximity plays a key role in spontaneous group efforts at work, and that distance contributes to silos. "If you want to measure who doesn't trust or get along with whom, take out a tape measure."

Well, my group was sorely lacking in propinquity and we did have our silos.  Yet, we also had some very strong relationships within the group that crossed time zones and state lines.  What were those individuals doing to overcome their propinquity deficit?

  • Client Teams - While the organizational chart reflected teams grouped by location and function, it took members from several teams to pull a whole project together for a client.  These less formal client teams formed strong relationships as they learned to respect what the others contributed to the project and trust that the hard work they handed off to the next team member would be met with the same level of effort and skill.  They rarely saw each other in person, but they communicated by phone, email, and IM on a daily basis.
  • Teleconference Lunch 'n Learns - This is a great tool for learning and it also puts the spotlight on an individual as a subject matter expert.  As remote team members get to know each other for their specialties, they become more likely to reach out across offices when they have a question. 
  • Newletters - A monthly newsletter kept the teams in touch.  In addition to articles on clients and projects, it featured different team members each month so the group could learn about their backgrounds, their hobbies, their families, and their career aspirations.  Another section highlighted work anniversary milestones, graduations, wedding and baby announcements, and special honors.  Photos were included wherever possible.  Names on the organizational chart became real people.
  • Quarterly Strategy Sessions - The budget included travel funds so that the top leaders of the group, each from a different office, could meet quarterly to create and review strategy.  These were key relationships for keeping the entire group connected and strong. 
  • Shared Outlook Calenders - Management opened their Outlook calendars to the entire group to encourage interaction.  When you can't walk down the hall to see if someone's free or in a meeting, a quick check of the Outlook calendar is a pretty good alternative.  This also allowed the leadership team to find out in advance about travel plans so that they could sync up and arrange for additional face to face meetings while traveling to the same location.
The bottom line is that virtual teams have to make an effort to get the same strong working relationships that other teams come by more easily based on their proximity.  

I highly recommend "Influencer" for many reasons, the theory of propinquity being one of them.  And if you've read this far and not said the word "propinquity" out loud, you should give it a try.  Rolls right off the tongue and is guaranteed to get someone's attention if expressed at your next virtual team meeting.