No Beach Balls in the Workplace

Highly effective teams have collaboration norms so that they don’t waste time by creating easily avoidable problems. Norms guide how teams work. They’re not the policies regarding vacation and sick leave, or emergency response protocols; nor do they define the roles, responsibilities, or human-resource processes. Rather, the norms govern how teams work together, reflect expectations, and prevent misunderstandings. Continue Reading

I’m Upset and It’s Personal

Have you ever felt that your words are not fully conveying your thoughts or feelings about a situation or that you aren’t appreciating another’s work because you are distracted and not fully present? It’s possible that occasionally, unintentionally, you send a message that you have no intention of sending. That message can be that your colleagues have somehow disappointed you – you’re not happy with their work or that they’re doing something wrong. This often might happen because you’re going through a difficult personal experience yourself. Continue Reading

Hold Your Team Members Accountable, But Don’t Be A Nag

Most people cringe at the thought of accountability because it is commonly thought of as being a negative or a punitive tool. You can, in fact, use accountability to achieve success so long as you focus on learning and on a project’s success rather than on assigning blame.

If your colleague fails to achieve the desired result, the first step is to ask yourself if success was in fact possible. Consider whether your colleague had sufficient time, resources, and training. If success was possible and your colleague didn’t fulfill his or her commitment for other reasons, use accountability as an opportunity to get to the bottom of those reasons: make sure that failure was not the result of a misunderstanding, identify what worked and what didn’t, as well as what you or the other person could do differently next time to ensure success. Ask yourself: did you need to clarify priorities? Did your colleague need to engage others or start earlier? You may learn, for example, that more effective planning and prioritization would have made a difference.

On highly effective teams accountability occurs directly among team members: team members support each other in achieving results. And, in order to truly embrace accountability, the team’s leader needs to demonstrate a willingness to confront difficult issues in a supportive manner.

No one likes being nagged or being a nag. That’s the negative version of accountability. You’ll feel like, sound like, and be a nag if all you do is focus on the problem and what isn’t working. If you instead focus on resolving the problem with support and strategy, you will be using accountability as a tool for success.  So if a team member isn’t doing what he or she committed to do, it may be time for a Win-Win conversation. Such a conversation will allow you to express concern, explore what’s really going on, and devise a strategy that works for you both. In particular, if you’re the person’s manager, be sure to probe whether the person had everything necessary, including time to complete the task.

Support the Risk-Averse

Whenever a project requires a team effort, you are likely to involve people with different risk tolerances. Some quite enjoy the adrenaline rush that comes with trying a new strategy or taking a big risk (as judged by others’ more cautious standards). Others are quite a bit more risk-averse (as judged by risk takers’ standards). And, since you may need to take risks to ensure a project succeeds, you may also have to deal with the inevitable friction regarding the appropriate level of risk.

Let’s say you’re leading a team. It’s your job to recognize the different problem-solving styles and strengths of your team members in order to create effective teamwork. The Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory is a good tool for understanding your team members’ individual preferred problem–solving styles and risk tolerances. As you can see from the tables below, the more Adaptive styles are more prudent risk-takers, expecting a higher success rate. This is because the more Adaptive prefer solving problems within the current structure, leveraging the structure and corresponding rules and norms.

On the other hand, the more Innovative are more daring risk takers and consequently tolerate a relatively high failure rate. This is because they prefer efficiency and flexibility in problem solving, which also means they often toss out the old “tried and true” way in favor of a new, untried way. The more Innovative will solve the problem despite the structure, rules, and norms in place, adjusting the structure, rules, and norms as necessary. The occasional failure is merely a hiccup in the process of getting to the best solution.

If you’re more Innovative, be sure that you don’t dismiss your more cautious, more Adaptive colleagues and team members or exclude them from projects for the fear that they might hold you back. If you are working with team members who would rather be “safe than sorry,” try to encourage and embrace calculated risk-taking. Consider this: most problems are complex, meaning the solutions include components that range on the Adaption-Innovation Continuum. (Read more on Adaption and Innovation.) In other words, by including input from people with both problem-solving styles and risk tolerances, you greatly increase the likelihood of success because each team member will have focused on the aspects of the problem that he or she is best suited to solving. So yes, you’ll be taking a risk, but it’s more calculated because, as a team, you’ve mitigated the risks by considering the problem from many angles.

Let’s get back to supporting the more risk averse. The first risk a team member takes is simply putting his or ideas forward. It’s important to recognize that some will hold back their ideas and consequently will lose productivity and opportunities for professional growth. When you see this happening, support  this team member in building confidence by making it safe to share ideas that are not fully formed. You can do so by asking for his or her initial thoughts on a matter, meaning you don’t expect the ideas to be fully formed.  It’s also important to publically celebrate success and recognize team members for their contributions. Private conversations supporting a particular individual’s development will be a personally focused review of what worked, what didn’t, and the opportunities for improvement.

Understand Yourself and Understand Your Boss

Millennials are in many cases managed by Baby Boomers and Gen Xers in their workplaces. And, while most people can effectively and collaboratively work with other generations, there can still be challenges.

One challenge might arise from you, a Millennial, not being aware of a Baby Boomer’s mindset. Baby Boomers respect and adhere to the “system” and therefore might resist your out-of-the-box ideas or a different work style, not because they aren’t good, but because they buck the system. So what do you do? Try and see the situation through their eyes. You don’t have to give up your ideas for theirs, but understanding where their reservations are coming from can help you get your ideas across.

And, to further understand their perspective, generational and otherwise, prepare for meetings and interviews by learning about the person you’re meeting with. Think about what that person wants to get out of the meeting.  If you are interviewing, consider what the interviewer likely wants to know about you and be ready to answer those questions.  Remember, the more you learn about the person you’re meeting with, the more chances you have for a more productive communication.

And, finally, if something doesn’t go the way you want it to, look to yourself first; as a practical matter, you are the only person you can control. While the influences of generation affect your managers’ perceptions of you, they also affect your perceptions of your managers. Consider these effects, learn from experience and tweak your approach if an interaction doesn’t go well!

Specific, Doable, Positive

If you want to be an effective communicator, any specific request is a request for just one of a number of strategies for getting your needs met. However, in order for your request to work, you need to be asking for the concrete actions you desire and be clear.  And, for the other person to agree, the requested actions must also meet that person’s needs.

A request is most effective when it is specific, doable, and positive.  This is so that your colleague understands exactly what actions he or she would be committing to or refusing to do by saying “yes” or “no.”  It’s probably not such a great idea to ask your colleague to “stop being difficult;” rather, ask your colleague to communicate with you on a daily basis when you are working together, for example.

Besides, clarity is essential for understanding. You can restate or “mirror” what you have just heard or ask the other person to restate the agreement to ensure that there is in fact an agreement as to a strategy. This is particularly helpful after you’ve battered around a number of options.  For example, “You would like me to pick up sushi for dinner at 6 pm and be home by 6:30 pm, right?” or “Just so we’re on the same page, what is your understanding of what we agreed to?”

Try using the phrase “Would you be willing to…?” when you make a request.  People are more likely to react positively to your request if it’s clear to them that you’re asking, rather than demanding.

Do You Fight To Get Your Share Of The Pie?

The Importance of Mindset

Your mindset governs how you see the world, the strategies you will consider, and ultimately, what you do.  And, what you do creates the world around you.

Consider that the results you get influence your worldview. Rather than being a simple linear progression, worldview, mindset, actions, and results all influence and reinforce each other. Now apply this to your interactions with others. If, for example, your mindset about a colleague is that the person is difficult and argumentative, you might approach the colleague defensively or dismiss the colleague’s input as mere pontification and annoying.

On the other hand, if your mindset is that the colleague is inquisitive and smart, your interactions with the colleague will likely be positive because you want the benefit of the colleague’s insight.

So what’s your mindset?

Do you believe the pie is only so big and you have to battle with others to get your share? Do you believe there will always be a winner and a loser? Do you fight to avoid becoming the latter? Your actions will reflect this mindset! You will fight for the lion’s share of the spoils.

Or, are you optimistic and believe that there’s usually a way for each person to get what (or some of what) he or she wants? If so, then you’ve got a Win-Win mindset! You collaborate to find strategies that work for all. And, your results reflect this creative thinking; they expand the pie and result in better relationships and less stress because your approach is not adversarial.

Is Every Priority Really A Priority?

Sometimes we get so attached to the idea that “we’re right,” that we’re tempted to inadvertently put our personal priorities above the priorities of a team. Prioritizing team’s goals as well as needs of all the team members is essential for any team that strives to be highly effective. That is especially true if there is a scarcity of resources, human or otherwise. The bottom line is that if every goal is a priority, none is a priority.

When you’re developing a strategy it’s a good idea to get all needs on the table and listen to one another’s concern. You may have to make some tough choices as you’re prioritizing the needs. Notwithstanding, your results will be better if you show you’re trying to meet others’ needs. Not only might you surprise yourself and meet more needs than you thought possible, but you will be much more likely to have the support of your colleagues if they feel that they were heard and their needs and goals were considered. It might turn out that your initial strategy doesn’t meet your colleagues’ needs and you’ll want to come up with alternative strategies.

However, just prioritizing goals is not enough for a diverse team to achieve success. The team must also clarify the specifics with regard to each goal. How else will the team members know what success looks like if a goal isn’t clear and understood? You run the risk of team members interpreting unclear goals differently, which could result in them working at cross-purposes or wasting valuable time. Establishing accountability by asking each team member to review the goals and priorities might help you ensure everyone understands the strategy and commits to a specific action plan.

Not Getting The Result You Want?

Giving someone a task to do or a problem to solve does not guarantee great results. You need to reach understanding, clarity, and commitment. Are you delivering a clear message? Do your team members leave a meeting with an understanding of what their next step will be? Is everyone seeing the same goal?

In a very practical sense clarity requires avoiding assumptions and ambiguity. It requires ending a discussion with a clear understanding of what each team member will do and by when, which empowers and creates a basis for supportive accountability. However, it’s a good idea to also make yourself approachable and let your colleagues know that you would like to support them by answering any questions they have and by providing the resources they need.

To get good results, you also need to give your associates and junior staff autonomy to do their best thinking and be creative. Often, helping junior staff come up with their own solutions is more productive than providing them with answers. Not advising is difficult for many. It often seems efficient and effective to just “give the answer.” However, if you do this, the strategy is yours and might not work for others.

Some people surround themselves with like-minded team members. It’s definitely appealing to feel that you’re on the same page with your team members – decisions and meetings go more smoothly. But you’re also likely to have similar blind spots and might be overlooking the same concerns. When you hire and build teams to include diverse perspective, you do yourself a favor by avoiding the mediocrity that often accompanies a uniformity of views on a team.

And finally, do your colleagues feel that they were heard? A passionate debate about disagreements regarding strategies or priorities is better than those dreaded meetings in which no one says anything. This is because, notwithstanding the agreement, a passionate debate about the issues is more likely to result in team members feeling valued, that their ideas were heard, and their opinions were truly considered. And, as a result, you’ll be more likely to get a commitment from a team member – even if he or she disagrees with the ultimate choice.