Monday, October 29, 2018

How do leaders maintain successful teams? - part #1

It was an early morning breakfast meeting when she explained to me about all the changes that were taking place within her organization. In her words, “there are a 1,000 details related to change, multiple moving parts with some planned small short term wins.” Given recent successes, senior leaders in her organization were wanting to aggressively scale everything up and engage the whole organization. “What do you think about scaling everything up so fast, Geery?”, she asked me.

I responded that within her small team people were still building foundational trust and still building a set of common language.

“So,” she asked, “how fast can we go?”

“Only as fast as you can maintain what you have already built.”

One of the things I have learned during the last two years of visiting with leaders and teams from all over the country, is that once a team is launched and people want to expand it’s influence, most leaders underestimate the increasing percentage of time, resources, and staff that are required to maintain action over time within the initial pilot group.

Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao in their exceptional book, Scaling Up Excellence: Getting To More Without Settling For Less (Crown Business, 2014) write that “scaling requires leaders to find and develop pockets of excellence, connect people and teams, and ensure that excellence continues to flow through those ties.” Right now, many people in senior leadership positions are wanting good teamwork to expand to other areas. They want a “successful team” to role model “the right way” to other teams. Therefore, they try to deploy the successful team’s leader to help the other dysfunctional teams. When this happens, it rarely works well.

First, people have to realize that within a pocket of excellence, the team leader has made an emotional connection with people who are creating the pocket of excellence more than just the intellectual connection. It’s just as much about the feel of the process as the facts. Theses same leaders also assist others in making connections with others inside and outside the team so people can maintain perspective.

Second, these successful team leaders understand the difference between technical problems and adaptive problems. They make sure we are not trying to find technical solutions to adaptive problems. They also understand that adaptive problems can only be addressed through changes in people’s priorities, beliefs, habits and loyalties. In essence, this requires all involved to generate new ways of thinking about problem solving and decision-making. And leaders who maintain their teams over time are very clear about the new way of thinking.

This week, ask yourself the following two questions: What is the new mindset that I are wanting my team to embrace? Have I clarified this with them? The answers will help you maintain a successful team over time and prepare you and the team for the scaling process.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, October 22, 2018

How do leaders build successful teams? - part #2

Picking up where I left off last week, leaders often make two other mistakes when building their teams.

First, they forget to focus on the factors that create high-performance behaviors. We already know that effective leaders clarify purpose and direction with the team. To get everyone aligned and moving in the right direction, the team must agree on the answers to the following four questions:

- What are we suppose to accomplish?
- Why should we do it?
- How will we do it?
- Who will do what?

By clarifying these performance expectations, we, as leaders, need to be very thoughtful in our choice of who is on the team. I recognize the importance of performance focus and expectations, but, when most leaders tell me their expectations in reality all they have done is to define specific steps to achieving a goal. The problem is that by defining specific steps we as leaders think we have control of the team. The reality is that we as leaders have less control than the people who report to us. 

Furthermore, the people who create high-performance behaviors know the difference between what are required steps, e.g. ones related to health, safety or accuracy, and the optional steps, i.e. different ways to achieve the desired outcome. The problem is that most leaders think they are the one who is accountable for the team’s performance. They believe that if they retain control and focus people on performance then everyone will behave and get things done. The reality is that people are messy and all of them do not think or behave the same.

Therefore, the best leaders define results and outcomes during the expectations discussion. This means figuring out what is the right result and the right outcome. They do this by discussing the following questions:

- If the SMART goal is achieved, what is the result? The outcome?
- What difference will achieving the goal make?
By clarifying the results and the outcomes, we are letting people take responsibility for the route they take to the outcome. Please note that this requires of us as leaders to trust people.

One interesting I have noted about successful teams during the last 2 years is that they have a very defined schedule for team meetings. They fall into the categories of strategic, operational, and learning. And these subjects are not all covered in the same meeting.

Furthermore, during these different meetings all involved are clear about the decision architecture, i.e. how to make a decision, and the decision rights, i.e. who actually gets to make the decision.  Richard Hackman in his book, Leading Teams: Setting The Stage For Great Performances (Harvard Business School Press, 2002) says that this degree of clarity “prevents the danger of the team overstepping the actual bounds of their authority.”

The second big problem in building teams is that many leaders do not focus on continually creating clarity. Many think of it as a one and done, and that clarity created at the launch meeting is suppose to sustain people through out the entire time of team execution. 

To help avoid this being the problem, I often ask leaders to tell me their on-going message to the team.  In essence, what are they focusing on with their team. Most give me a generic answer, but I have observed that the best are constantly on-message and share it in the written and spoken forms of communication. Plus they are very specific in their role modeling.

This week, do not underestimate the importance of face to face meetings and analog based communication. Focus more on forming and norming stages than on performing and improving stages in your team building. And remember Robyn Benincas’ Four P’s of Commitment from her book, How Winning Works: 8 Essential Leadership Lessons From The Toughest Teams On Earth (Harlequin, 2012): preparation, planning, purpose and perseverance.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Why Invest In Leadership Training in 2019? - Part #2

There are two factors right now that are impacting the world of leadership and the ability of organizations to meet the needs of it’s customers. The first is called the “Silver Tsunami.” This refers to the fact that the enormous Baby Boomer generation is aging. By 2020, 25% of the United States workforces will be comprised of workers age 55 and older. Worldwide, those age 60 and over are expected to double by 2050, and triple by 2100. 

With this aging of the workforce will come a major exodus, i.e. retirement, of people in key leadership positions. While some companies are focused on a talent acquisition strategy to solve this problem, others are trying to figure out how to keep Baby Boomers working and how to prepare Gen Xers and Millenials to step up to the next level of leadership. 

The second factor is not so noticeable as the Silver Tsunami. It is under the radar screen and yet it is definitely impacting strategic and operational execution. People who work on teams right now are struggling because the idea of what is a team is shifting. For decades, teams have been analog based. Everyone worked in the same office. Everyone saw each other every day. And people who lead these teams could build relationships and role model effective communications on a daily basis.

However, as teams have shifted from an analog model to a digital model given the movement to a digital economy, and as companies became more focused on centralization and standardization, then team members have became digitally connected, geographically dispersed and more project driven. Now team leaders have to lead people who they do not see face to face on a regular base, communicate with them via e-mail, and manage outcomes via dashboards and project management software. In short, leaders are struggling to meet expectations and deadlines. Many are not clear about their role.

So, why invest in a four part in-depth leadership training in 2019?

First, we need more people who have the capacity to step up and fill the positions that will come open during the next five years. We need bench strength, capacity and clarity before we need to execute rather than as we execute.

Second, we need leaders who have the mindset and the skill set to build effective teams, analog or digital.  Given the technical and adaptive problems that are surfacing at this time period, particularly the complex adaptive problems, we need leaders who can create and maintain a group of people so they can work well together, stay focused and solve these problems. This will require team leaders who can work with multiple generations of people, e.g. Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials, and keep them focused on collective outcomes rather than individual outcomes.

This kind of leadership can not be taught in a day long seminar. It takes time, in-depth learning, reflection, practice, reading and then more learning. The 2019 From Vision to Action Leadership Training is designed to create this depth of capacity and clarity. It gives participants the tools, the resources and a holistic understanding of how to solve problems, lead people and create effective change in the midst of such problems as the Silver Tsunami and the movement and subsequent struggle between analog team models and digital team models. If you are wanting to be prepared for the future, then now is the time to sign up your key people for the 2019 From Vision to Action Leadership Training. 

For more information about this unique training experience, please click on the following link:

For more information about the dates, location and price of this 2019 training, please click on the following link:

I look forward to helping you and your company prepare for the future.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, October 15, 2018

How do leaders build successful teams? - part #1

We were sitting down over a good cup of coffee when he shared that he had been hired years ago by the Board to transform the organization. “I was tasked to change the structure, quality, focus and culture.” Years later, we were discussing recent successes and I pointed out that many of them reflected back to the commitment by the Board to four transformational strategies. I noted that these recent successes also reflected that he had brought in people of high quality and experience who became the team to lead the entire organization through the process. As he continued to share about how current projects would build on recent successes, I was reminded of the following phrase: “Better people make better All Blacks.” James Kerr in his book, Legacy: What The All Blacks Can Teach Us About The Business Of Life (Constable, 2013) wrote about the transformation of the All Blacks, the New Zealand national ruby union team, into a champion level team. The leaders of the All Black during this transformation noted that better people create a better team.

Upon reflection, I also remembered a conversation I had years ago with an insightful leader.  He asked me the question, “What comes before you build an effective team?”

I responded, “I don’t know. That’s a good question. What does?”

He explained, “I think it is having a healthy community at work. A healthy community is the foundation upon which teams are built. And once a team is done doing what it needs to do, the members will return and strengthen the community. I wonder if we need to be focusing on community building as much as we are focusing on team building?”

I have pondered this insight for years. It reminds me of John Maxwell’s insight in his book, The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork: Embrace Them and Empower Your Team (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001) when he wrote “The Law of the Bench: Great teams have great depth.” As Maxwell explains, today's bench players may be tomorrow's stars. Furthermore, the success of a supporting player can multiply the success of a starter. Therefore, there are more bench players than starters and a bench player placed correctly will at times be more valuable than a starter, In short, a strong bench gives the leader more options

With the above in mind, I think leaders make a big mistakes when they compose a team. First, they assume “the more the better” and therefore put too many people on the team. As Patrick Lencioni writes in his excellent book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business (Jossey-Bass, 2012), “Becoming a real team requires an intentional decision on the part of its members…. teamwork is not a virtue. It is a choice - and a strategic one.” As he continues, “A leadership team is a small group of people who are collectively responsible for achieving a common objective for their organization…. anything over eight or nine is usually problematic.” As he points out, “a large numbers of people cause communication problems.” On a team, Lencioni notes there are two forms of communication. The first is advocacy communication, i.e. the stating your case or making your point, and the second is inquiry communication, i.e. the asking of questions to seek clarity about another person’s statement of advocacy. As he explains, the main problem when teams are larger than 8-9 people, they tend to do advocacy communication more than inquiry communication.

This week, sit back and think about your team. Are you seeing more advocacy communication or inquiry communication? And are you building your bench strength? These questions are important and worth the time you invest in finding the answers.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, October 8, 2018

What is the foundation for long term, successful teamwork? - part #3

In the world of team building and team work, nearly every leader I visited with during the last two years, tells me that there are four stages to the process, namely, forming, storming, norming, and performing. Our challenge is that this original research was created by Bruce Tuckman in 1965. From my perspective, I do not think this analog model works well within the digital era. Instead a new model needs to be created.

What follows is a high level description of what I see are the new stages of team development in the digital era. The first stage is Forming. Here, the team meets and learns about the opportunity or challenge. People behave independently. The goal or goals are defined. Urgency is created. Discussions around the scope of the work and role clarity begin. The keys to success are to find the right people with capacity for the work of a team, build urgency, create SMART goals and avoid the default of becoming a single leader work group.

The next stage is Norming. Here, people take responsibility for their work and focus on getting things done. Team performance improves until fear of conflict, personality differences, and artificial harmony surfaces. Remember 4-D teams are prone to the problems of “us vs. them” thinking, breaking into several sub-groups, and working with incomplete information. Therefore, the keys to success are to unpack the strategic nexus and create alignment with it, promote “structured unstructured time” to build common perspective and shared experiences, continue the development of clarity about the context for team action, and make sure individuals, subgroups and the team as a whole feel valued for their contributions toward the team’s overall goals.

The third stage is Transforming. Here, team issues related to trust, pace, conflict, and inconsistency in work arise. The team has to learn how to evaluate ideas, give feedback, and avoid group conformity and groupthink. The team also has to learn how to support people individually and the group collectively. The keys to success are to institute routine coaching or check-in sessions, deal with spatial, relationship, or strategic blindnesses, deal with individual or organizational resistance related to the execution of team based goals, and prevent coordination neglect related to staff time, training & resource management. 

The fourth stage is Performing. Here the team re-establishes group norms, creates realistic timelines and re-defines role clarity and expectations. Team members commit to team decisions and plans of action, hold one another accountable, and focus on the achievement of collective results. At this point, the keys to success are to implement routine pre-mortems to temper optimism, define and track lead performance indicators, and integrate data based decision making into team meetings & actions.

The fifth stage is Improving. Here, using key performance indicators, the team improves their performance and refines their ability to work collectively. They also collaborate better with internal partners and external stakeholders. Now leaders must utilize a balanced scorecard approach to performance management, and implement routine strategic reviews to build personal and team accountability. 

The final stage is Adjourning/Mourning. The goal or goals are accomplished and all tasks are completed. The team dissolves until a new team is needed. Now, all involved must implement in-depth after-action reports in order to improve future team action and organizational resilience. 

With the above in mind, I believe we have evolved from forming -storming - norming - performing into a more realistic model for the digital era called forming - norming - transforming - performing - improving - adjourning/mourning. This week think about your best teams and reflect on the stages they went through to get to this point. I believe you will find some common ground with the above model.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, October 1, 2018

What is the foundation for long term, successful teamwork? - part #2

In a world where the digital economy is having a big impact, we as leaders need to understand the 4-D team development journey if we are going to be successful. However, the first in this process is to step back from focusing on 4-D teams and understand somethings about “analog” teams.

Analog teams were created and became successful because of the following factors. First, there was daily face to face communication. This happened because everyone worked in the same office. Second, leaders role modeled key behaviors before, during and after teamwork. Some of those behaviors were social and others involved more technical skills. For the most part, task focused behaviors often trumped relationship oriented behaviors on analog teams. Third, heritage relationships, i.e. ones built over a long period of time, often impacted success. Furthermore, there were limited opportunities for networking outside the office location. Finally, qualitative measures were valued as much as quantitive measures of progress. The “feel” of success was valued as much as the facts around getting it all done. In short, analog teams generated success through mutual trust, shared values, and a clearly defined mission/purpose, all of which resulted in collective pride. What we do not recognize is that the above required lots of self-discipline plus a degree of self and group awareness

On the other hand, 4-D teams are more “global, virtual and project-driven.” 4-D teams struggle because they have limited face time and are dependent on digital communication which often prevents the ability to understand nonverbal and contextual clues which often provide insight into what is going on.

Next, 4-D teams rarely hold in-person meetings which removes the ability for an understanding of individual and collective moods of the group. This, in combination with a limited number of heritage relationships, means that leaders have a limited level of role modeling due to distance between team members.

Furthermore, 4-D teams are routinely multi-office based and they involve people who are highly networked through out multiple circles of individuals, inside and outside the company e.g. Face Book & Linked-In. Therefore, people are more consultation or coordination focused rather than typical teamwork focused. They also have more social network connections rather than technical, and analytical connections. There is more data-based decision-making involved and they use a series of dash board measurements to make these decision. Many have multi-level definitions of success.

Over time, it has become clear to me that 4-D teams generate success through transparent performance measures, where everyone is able to see the “dash board results.” These transparent performance standards with their clear tracking of results by everyone assumes that all team members know what is expected of them, know how performance is measured and know why it matters. 

However, there is a rising problem in the 4-D team model, namely that communication about “why the team needs to work as a team” is rarely done and often is the main cause for why most 4-D teams fail. Furthermore, this in combination with not knowing how to “read” the data and transform it into useful information is causing many teams to struggle quite deeply in problem solving and execution.

This week, reflect on the differences between 4-D teams and analog teams. Are you equipping your people and your teams to be successful in the 4-D team model?

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257