A to Z of Direct Selling

Direct Sales, Direct Selling

Selling is at the heart of business, even if you’re not in ‘Sales’.

Think about the following scenarios:

  •        You’re trying to convince your manager to develop a new product, but can’t get him or her to take things further
  •        You’d like to introduce a new system into your team but can’t get people’s support
  •        You’re trying to convince a new person to join your organisation
  •        You need to get a business case written and signed-off but need help from a number of people as well as sign-off by your boss

Are all of these not selling something?

Whether you’re in a traditional sales role or not, it’s good to know some sales techniques. Knowing how to sell is a great ability to have, and it’s one that’s sure to be respected strongly within your organisation. And if you’re not in a ‘selling’ role, having some knowledge of the challenges faced in sales, may help you to build stronger relationships with people who are! Whilst this post will focus on selling in the field, many of these methods can be used to ‘sell’ internally within your organisation too.

A – Ask the Right Questions

Throughout a sales relationship with a customer and even before engaging with a prospective customer you need to ask yourself and the customer the right questions.

Too many people assume that they fully understand their prospects’ problems. You need to ask questions at the right time about the right things in order to get the information you need to make the sale, or else you might lose credibility and lose the sale forever.

B – Benefit Selling

Having spent my career in technology companies, I know from personal experience that technologists, including technology sales and marketing people, love to talk about features and the latest advancement in a particular product area. That’s great if your customer loves technology and knows what all the features can do for them, but very often you’re not selling to these kind of customers.

What tangible benefits does your product or service bring to the customer and her business? Will it make them more productive, and if so, how? Will it save them money over their current product or service, and if so, how much? Will it give them a competitive advantage over their competitors, and if so, why? Will your product or service de-risk their business in some way or help them sell more, make more, or use less? If so, why and by how much? The more specific and tailored you can be in your answers to these questions with the customer, the better chance you have of getting a sale.

C – Closing the Sale

Closing the sale is obviously one of the most important parts of selling. Without going into every technique on how to close, I would say that you should think about the following:

You do need to ask for the sale! I’m amazed at the number of sales people I’ve interviewed that haven’t asked me for the job – the sale. They didn’t get a second interview.

Always have your closing materials with you – not having the relevant ‘paperwork’ ready does two things; it tells the customer you’re not prepared and it gives them an opportunity to change her mind.

Be prepared to counter objections with reasoned and tailored responses

If you’ve ‘opened’ the sale well, spent a lot of time, energy and mental agility on learning the precise nature of the customer’s needs and their ability to pay for it, and if you’ve crafted a proposal that matched those precisely, then the close will be much easier.

D – Demonstrations

When done well, demonstrations of your product and service to customers can be extremely effective in moving them to a different stage of the sales cycle and ultimately a sale. Demonstrations act as an explanation of what your product is or does, proof that it works and is effective and relevant to your customer and can motivate them to want it after seeing it in action or using it. They can take many forms depending on what you’re actually selling.

Examples might be:

A case study or white paper on the use of your product or service

A face to face, online or video demonstration of your product in action

Try before you buy experiences – in the home, at a supermarket or a car showroom

A simulator or virtual walk-through

Two top tips:

  1. Test everything at least twice on your demonstration before you’re in front of the customer
  2. Have a back-up plan in case it doesn’t work!

E – Expert Advice

Customers want to feel that they’re buying from someone who knows what they’re talking about or at least that you can bring in the right subject matter experts if the solution you’re selling is a complex one.

F – Forecasting

A key part of a sales person’s role is the ability to forecast their sales regularly so that the business supporting them can plan in advance for:

Stock / resource availability

Gearing up production – placing demand on suppliers/production to ensure supply

Allows marketing to ramp up or down marketing activity, or shift their messaging

Gives management a view on whether budgeted growth is being met and whether further remedial action will be required to meet any under / over-performance

G – Getting Your Foot in the Door

You can’t make a sale until you at least get ‘your foot in the door’. How do you get noticed in a positive way by a potential customer so that you don’t get your metaphorical or actual foot crushed by the door closing firmly on it?

Knocking down doors is a hard business, especially in a difficult marketplace.  If your company’s marketing department isn’t driving leads for you then you have to do it yourself. Here’s some tips:

Who are your target customers and why?

Research the customers you’re targeting – Who are the decision makers? Have they been in the business news? How are they doing financially? Have they had any recent successes?

Build and use your business network to drive introductions to the right decision makers.

Have a strategy as to what will grab the interest of these customers and tailor your approach accordingly.

Don’t give up. Even if you get knock-backs, be persistent, be professional and focussed.

H – Help the Customer

Often-times the customer doesn’t actually know what the best product or service is to suit their needs. They know they have a problem that needs a solution and maybe an understanding of the direction they need to take, but not a thorough worked through list of detailed requirements, especially for a complex problem or solution. Through a process of listening, asking the right questions and collective knowledge you can point the customer in the right direction.

I – Investigate Thoroughly

Whether it’s prior to engaging a new customer or during the sales cycle, it’s important to know as much as you can about a sale, a prospective customer, an existing customer, your competitors and innovations in your marketplace. Being armed with all of this information will put you on the front in conversations both with your customers and internally when you need to fight for resource or help.

J – Juggling Balls

Sales professionals, especially successful ones, need to be extremely organised and have the ability to juggle a number of balls at any one time. They need to be managing their pipeline of sales (more on that later), writing proposals, building target lists of prospects, re-signing existing customers, and often dealing with customer queries and pricing requests. They also need to be on top of their marketplace, maintain their knowledge on new products and services as well as keeping an eye on the competition.

K – Knowledgeable

Great sales people are sponges for knowledge. Constantly looking for opportunities, they keep an eye on their market, the latest trends and build up enough knowledge about key vertical sectors and their customers so that they can converse knowledgeably on a range of topics.

L – Listening

Listening is a core competency for anyone wanting to get ahead in business, but no more so than sales. Great sales people listen intently for buying signals, doubt, time-wasting and potential barriers to a sale. By listening for the said and the unsaid, a  great sales person uses their two ears and one mouth in the right proportions.

M – Motivation

Self-motivation is a crucial skill in sales. When the going gets tough a sales person needs to dig deep and find the energy to keep motivated and keep focussed on their target. In sales you often get more knock backs than sales and it’s important that you find ways to be able to bounce back and keep going.

N – Networking

Networking is massively important for a sales person – offline and online. If you want to be really successful in sales, you have to make time, often out of normal working hours to build your network. If you want further information on see a previous post – Business Networking – It’s not ‘what’ you know…

O – Objection Handling

In sales you will always have to handle objections throughout the sales cycle. One very effective way to deal with objections is to pre-empt them as part of your discussions. If you have done your homework, you will be aware of the four or five concerns that your prospect may have so you can incorporate them into your presentations and discussions. This can be effective at promoting you and your organisation in a professional manner. Rather than operate a head in the sand approach, you tackle these reasonable concerns as part of your pitch coming from a position of strength and demonstrating that you do not run from the hard questions.

Here’s a four step approach in dealing with objections:

  1. Ensure that you make the prospect aware that you understand where they are coming from and their concern is not unreasonable
  2. Qualify the objection, so that you understand exactly what the objections is
  3. Sell the business benefits again, taking into account their objection. Be aware that your approach first time round didn’t quite work so you will at least have to expand and take different angles to re-enforce the point
  4. Ask them if they are happy and understand what you said and that you have been able to relieve their concern

P – Pipeline

Managing your pipeline effectively is hugely important, not only for you, the sales person, but for your management team and the wider business.

A sales pipeline works by placing all leads or prospects at the different stages of the sales cycle, and then measuring their progress through the pipeline, from unqualified lead to satisfied repeat customer. If you use a tool such as Salesforce.com or Goldmine, you can manipulate and analyse your pipeline quickly and easily, if you’ve kept it up-to-date, to report upwards and help you plan your activity for the days, weeks and months ahead.

Q – Qualifying

Qualifying is the art of determining what the customer needs and therefore wants, when they want it, whether they can afford to buy it and whether they’re holding the purse strings. A simple 5 step process should give you some of that key guidance – PACTS:

  1. Product Need – What need is the customer trying to fulfil and will your product or service meet that need? It pays for both sides to be honest at this stage, so neither of you are wasting your time.
  2. Authority – The decision maker is ideally who you have to qualify. If you are not talking to that person,you can capture the rest of the information and get in front of the decision maker as soon as possible.
  3. Cash – Can the prospect afford to buy your product or service? If there are no major issues they will gladly answer and back it all up, easing any worries that may be present.
  4. Timing – When does the customer require your service or product? Business situations can change quickly and your prospect may be interested to get an offer in now, but be straight with them and ask if the timing is right and ask them the likely hood of requirements changing. Looking out for the customer is important to build a good relationship, getting all of the possible time constraints out in the open will help with the final decision.
  5. Stakeholders – Who are the key stakeholders you need to influence to get the sale? It may be that there are a number of people you will need to influence before you will get a decision.

R – Relationships

Having strong relationships with customers is really important for a number of reasons, and yes one of them is to sell more. But having a good relationship also reduces a customer’s tendency to move somewhere else, allows you to learn more about their business and their marketplace, open up their network to yours through introductions and recommendation, and in one or two cases you may build up strong and lasting personal relationships which is always a great thing!

S – Solution Selling

Solution selling has been a buzz term for a couple of decades now, if not longer. It is predicated on discovering customer needs and aligning your solution to those needs. Sales people show customers how their solution better meets their needs than any competitor solution through a process of questioning and exploration. However, I think there is a shift happening in certain segments of the market, as customers become more informed via the web and their social networks. Customers are more aware of their needs and the kinds of solutions available probably more than at any other time. Selling a solution is still important, but it has to be outcome focussed, and potentially you may need to put some ‘skin in the game’ to close the sale. How confident are you in your service levels? How confident are you in the savings you’ve promised? Are you willing to put that to the test with Service Level Guarantees or revenue share on savings?

T – Trust

The number one attribute of a great sales person is trust. If you cannot be trusted within your organisation you’re not likely to last long.

What do I mean by this?  – If you continually over-promise customers things as part of your solution in order to close the deal, you’re going to disappoint or lose the customer when your internal teams can’t meet those requirements either to time, or to budget, or at all. You’re going also going to upset the customer, possibly enough for them to go elsewhere or at best not want to buy anything from you for a while, if at all.

U – Understand Who are the Influencers and Decision Makers

When you’re selling into larger organisations you really need to invest time and energy in finding out who all the key influencers and decision makers are for that prospect. You need to be aware that some of those influencers may not even work in that organisation. Who does your decision maker play golf with – do you know her? Do you know any of the senior people in the organisation through people in your business or social network? Getting the inside track on the people you need to meet and influence, could save you months in a long sales cycle.

V – Value from the Customer Perspective

I have mentioned this indirectly a couple of times within this post and it’s not by accident. Throughout the whole sales cycle from lead to close you need to be thinking about and talking about what value you’re bringing to the customer. If there are multiple influencers and decision makers in the loop, you’ll need to think about their individual ‘hot buttons’ and press them. The Finance Director will be wanting the best deal, for the lowest price with the best payment terms. The Marketing Director will be wondering how this will help her drive more leads of her own. The Managing Director will want both of those things, but also peace of mind that once the deal is done, the solution will go in smoothly, that her business won’t be affected in any way to the negative and that she has the phone number of your bosses boss, should anything go wrong.

W – Wining & Dining

Hospitality is still a big part of sales, but you need to ensure that you are mindful of the relevant bribery acts in your country and the bribery and hospitality policies of your prospective and existing clients. That said, spending quality time with customers, new and old, in an informal setting over dinner, watching the big game or race is a great way to strengthen relationships, build new relationships and have some fun.

X – X Marks the Spot – Getting the Contracts Signed

The deal is NEVER done until you have the proverbial signature next to the ‘X’ on the contract. Many times in my career have I been told that the deal was done, only to find that the contract was sitting with lawyers for 6 months, or the customer changed their mind, or they actually awarded the contract to someone else. You haven’t closed, until the contract is signed (plus any cooling off period if that applies).

Y – You are a Differentiator

As a sales person, you are representing your organisation’s brand probably more often more than anyone else. You can be THE differentiator between a win and a loss, a loyal customer and an angry customer, success or failure. Something to think about!

You need to come across as being confident in yourself and your abilities. To be truly successful in sales, it’s also really important that you have a firm belief in the products and services you’re selling as well as the brand you’re representing. A customer can see right through a sales person that doesn’t!

Z – Zone of Influence

As a sales person, the more you interact within your customers, the more time that you invest in  your business and social media networks, assuming you’re doing all the right things, the more your zone of influence will increase. I’ll leave you with a personal story that I hope will resonate with you. I remember attending a networking event, when I was new into a role, and looked out upon a sea of unfamiliar faces, except that of a competitor. That competitor knew everyone in the room by their first name. Let’s just say that since that time, I’ve made it my business to  network and build my zone of influence!

I hope you enjoyed this A-Z and as ever, would love to hear your views and feedback.

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A to Z of Employability

A to Z Employability

I often get asked by teachers, lecturers and students what are the key skills and qualities that businesses are looking for in young people leaving full-time education for a career in business. In this A – Z I’d like to give some pointers on the very important topic of Employability. I would suggest that there are some people already in business, who are looking to progress their career that could also enhance their skills in some of these areas covered in this post.

A – Attitude

A positive attitude is the key foundation for employability – this can be summed up as a ‘can-do’ approach, a readiness to take part and contribute, openness to new ideas and a drive to make those ideas happen.

B – Behaviours

I’ve listed below some of the key behaviours I would expect to see in any of my employees:

Being courteous and having good manners

Being punctual for meetings

Generous listening of others

Honesty – always be up front

C – Commitment

If you commit to something, then follow through with it. If you do what you say you’ll do, and consistently, you will quickly be recognised as someone who can be trusted to get the job done.

D – Digitally Literate

The nature of knowledge is changing and, in this digital age, our definition of basic literacy urgently needs expanding. With an estimated 90% of UK jobs requiring some level of IT competency, the notion of digital literacy – those capabilities that equip an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society – is one that needs to be taken seriously by schools, colleges and universities. In fact, 16 million people in the UK aged 15 and over still don’t have basic on-line Skills.

Examples of Digital Literacy:

  • Understanding how to use web browsers, search engines, email, text, wiki, desktop publishing, and office software such as spreadsheets, word processors, presentation suites and databases.
  • The ability to evaluate on-line resources for accuracy/trustworthiness of information.
  • Understanding of social media and on-line etiquette
  • Ability to use basic hardware such as projectors, electronic whiteboards, printers and so on.

E – Enthusiastic

Whether you are just starting out in the workplace or you are looking to further your career, enthusiasm for work and the organisation you are targeting is hugely important.

Interviewers / hiring managers love enthusiastic people. They love them because they convey a sense that they will go the extra mile to excel in the role. They’ll do everything on the job description and a bit more.

F – Flexible

Flexibility of an employee is very high on my personal list of qualities I am looking for in candidates for any role. Someone who is prepared to roll their sleeves up to help someone meet a deadline or take on extra responsibility for a special project, even if it’s not their job, will get noticed for all the right reasons.  Going the extra mile for internal or external customers and being willing to adapt to change is crucial for many roles and many organisations.

G – Goal Oriented

People who know what they want are always more likely to get it. The most successful people in business are those who have clear goals to aim for. So decide right now what your goals are in terms of income, lifestyle, and so on. When your goals are clear in your own mind, you dramatically increase your chances of reaching them. In other words, you need to be organised, deadline driven, and do NOT always rely on others to give you a task.

H – Helping Others

Whether it’s showing someone how to insert a picture into a presentation or proof-reading a proposal, helping other people is a great way to build relationships, shows a willingness to succeed and increases the likelihood of you receiving help when you need it. We all need help sometimes!

I – Impact

Presenting a strong, competent, positive image to others throughout your career is important. Having the ability to converse confidently one on one and in groups is something the majority of people need to do in their careers. It’s worth investing time and effort in working on you presentation skills early!

J – Judgement

Judgement is needed for any job. The ability to make a sound decision based on the facts and implement a plan can make the difference between failure and success. Assessing the strength of your judgement skills and those of others can help you learn to improve your chances of employment and success.

K – Knowledgeable

Whilst you can learn many things on the job, any role will demand a certain base level of knowledge. The more knowledge you can build up about your chosen career path, the better. Whatever field you are looking to work in, there will be boundless information already published on-line and in periodicals. Get into the habit early of reading around your industry vertical and keep up-to-date. As an employer, you can tell very quickly who is well-read and informed and who isn’t.

L – Learner

Each of us can always learn and learn every day.  You can learn from people in your teams, your customer interactions, a mentor, your business network, podcasts as well as from reading and more formal structured training. Make learning a habit that you never break.

M – Manage Your Time

Time management is the effective use of a range of skills, tools and techniques used to organise or manage time when accomplishing specific tasks, projects and goals. Effective time management is underpinned by a range of additional skills which include planning, allocating, goal setting, delegation, monitoring and analysis of time spent, organising, scheduling and prioritising. In most roles you will be expected to juggle all of your work load and hit deadlines.

N – Numeracy Skills

Numeracy involves an understanding of numerical data, statistics and graphs, it is also part of making decisions and reasoning.  Numeracy skills are very important, irrespective of whether you consider a job to be “working with numbers”. Having competence and being confident in working with numbers is a skill that can be used to your advantage in a wide range of employment settings. For example, knowing how profitable a company is, understanding value for money for purchasing and ordering supplies, following a budget or just calculating your holiday time. Being able to understand and analyse data in different formats is considered an essential skill in many organisations.

O – Organised

Being organised is a requisite for any job that involves other people or working to time frames. Employers will want to know that you can be relied on to deliver projects and information on schedule. It’s largely about being logical and controlled.

P – Professional

It is important to remain professional at all times when engaged in a business environment, whether for an organisation or your own business. Being professional not only lets people know you are a reputable person to work with, but also conveys intelligence and poise regarding your position.

People who are professional are unfailingly polite, courteous and well-spoken, no matter what the situation. Being professional means you keep your cool and remain calm under any circumstances. No matter how upset a co-worker or customer makes you, you don’t react; you deal with the situation rationally and calmly.

Q – Quality of Work

Maintaining a high quality of work is essential in the workplace. People do not expect to have to check grammar and spelling, spreadsheet formulae, formatting of documents or monitor your work rate on an hourly basis. Assuming you have been trained on the task at hand, you are expected to perform your work with minimum intervention.

R – Resourcefulness

With the recession forcing us to make do with what we have, being resourceful is now a necessary skill for today’s generation of leaders AND employees. It is not simply a matter of doing more with less. It’s about being able to find innovative solutions to problems; it’s about thinking about things differently and about calling on creativity and imagination to get better results with limited resource. Being able to demonstrate this skill will push you further in your career faster than many other qualities listed here.

S – Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is the ability to recognise moods, emotions, and drivers of our behaviour and understand their impact on others and your job performance. People with strong self-awareness not only are able to identify their feelings but also understand why those feelings occur. They are also aware of their strengths and weaknesses and are not afraid to talk about them. That awareness also helps them avoid setting themselves for failures due to overpromising or overstretching on tasks.

T – Teamwork

All employers are keen to recruit people who are able to co-operate and work in teams. As less hierarchical organisations have emerged with project teams, self-managed work teams and management teams, so the requirements to ‘Get on well with people’, and to ‘Work with and through others’ become increasingly important.

Teamwork involves working confidently within a group, contributing your own ideas effectively, taking a share of the responsibility, being assertive – rather than passive or aggressive, accepting and learning from constructive criticism and giving positive, constructive feedback to others.

U – Understand the Business

I’m amazed when someone comes to interview and hasn’t researched the company, looked into recent successes or in some cases even clicked around the company website. This tells me that they’re not enthusiastic about joining my team.

Managers expect their team members to be interested in their business, understand the organisation’s vision and values, as well as the key goals and metrics of their department.

V – Verbal Communication

Effective spoken communication requires being able to express your ideas and views clearly, confidently and concisely in speech, tailoring your content and style to the audience.

Be clear and concise – Vary your tone, pace and volume to enhance the communication and encourage questions

Persuading and Negotiating – Arriving at an agreement that is agreeable to both sides: a Win-Win situation. Back up your points with logic. Show tact to those you disagree with.

Making a speech in front of an audience – presenting your message in an interesting way, structuring your presentation, using audio-visual aids effectively and building a rapport with your audience.

Communicating effectively in a team – Giving and receiving feedback, listening to what others are saying and often more importantly, what they’re not saying as well as motivating and supporting others are key skills you can work on.

W – Written Communication

All organisations rely on some form of written communication, so you can increase your employability by developing strong skills related to writing reports, composing concise and effective emails, and courteous, compelling correspondence with suppliers and customers. Employers want to see evidence that potential employees have mastered basic spelling, grammar and business tone in their written communication. Employers want workers who can write simple, direct and effective communications that convey specific messages in keeping with a company’s goals, vision and values. Demonstrate strong written communication skills from the outset by submitting perfectly composed CVs or resumes, cover letters and emails when approaching an organisation for a job.

X – X-Ray Spectacles

What on earth am I talking about? Employees that can see through the noise and get to the heart of an issue, opportunity, or challenge quickly are, in my experience, rare but extremely valuable people to have in any team. The ability to ask probing questions of the right people, research around topics quickly and make informed recommendations or judgements are key skills to practice .

Y – Your Personal Brand

Suffice it to say your Personal Brand is what makes you employable or not. It is a summation of every one of the characteristics, qualities and skills listed in the A-Z of Employability and a whole lot more. I have a whole series of posts on Personal Brand which can be downloaded here –  The Brand New Brand You.

Z – Zealous

You normally hear the word zealous with the word ’over’ before it and then normally a horrendous customer service or HR related story follows. Being zealous is a good thing however! Passion for what you do, for your customers and your colleagues is a great starting place in your career and a great place to finish the A-Z of Employability.

As always, I hope you enjoyed the post and would love to get your feedback.

A to Z of Building a Winning Team

a-z team

Being part of a winning team is a great feeling! Building a winning team is hard work, but can be great fun with some amazing results! Below I’ve detailed Think Oak’s A-Z of Building a Winning Team:

A – Audit Abilities

The very first thing to do when you take on a team or you’re building a new one is to look at the skills you need to win, starting with yourself. What are you good at and where are you lacking? What does your management team need to look like? What types of roles do you need in your team? What skills are needed? It’s really important that you think about these things up-front, before you look at the people you have, are available to you or the gaps you need to fill. Once you’ve answered these questions at the right level of detail, you’ll be in the right position to look at your options.

B – Breakdown Personality Barriers

At any point in a team’s lifecycle there can be conflict. A difference in management or leadership style, a difference of opinion, personal enmity for one reason or another or simply a clash of personality. It’s really important that these are dealt with quickly and you find ways to resolve them without disrupting the team’s momentum. In my career, I’ve found it really useful to take people out of the work environment for a day or two to do some straight talking from the heart about your aspirations, motivations, concerns and ambition as well as taking time to relax and have some fun together.

C – Choose to Win

We all have choices in our lives, but it’s critical for the whole team to be behind your vision from the outset. Everyone needs to make a choice to be part of a winning team and all that it entails to get there. People that don’t want to get on the bus or want to stay along for the ride shouldn’t be given a ticket!

D – Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

It is extremely easy to spend inordinate amounts of time on things that don’t contribute to becoming a Winning Team or your end goal. Keep an eye out for them within the team and on yourself. If you find them, stop them immediately. If people are working on things that aren’t central to the plan, you need and they need to be asking ‘Why?’

E – Energy Management

Ensuring that there is high energy in your team at all times is not an easy task, but an important one for building a winning team. Effective energy leadership is the ability to read the energy of the group and then alter one’s own energy level to get the group to where it needs to go. You can see this at play in sports, or equally so in the classroom or in board meetings. If people are starting to get discouraged or disheartened, you need to step up, raise the energy level and bring more enthusiasm into the room. Quickly, the team starts to feel more optimistic, the energy of the group shifts up and success, and whilst not guaranteed, is much more likely.

F – Focus on Focus

By aligning everyone’s personal objectives to yours and that of the wider organisation you can ensure that people are focussed on the right tasks. Review performance against these objectives on a regular basis and ensure the objectives are SMART.

S – specific, significant, stretching

M – measurable, meaningful, motivational

A – attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented

R – realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented

T – time-based, timely, tangible, trackable

Make individuals accountable for key deliverables and reward them for delivery.

G – Get Out of the Engine Room

Your people will not develop, unite or learn from their mistakes if you deal with every problem that comes up or, if you tell them what to do in minutiae of detail. As a leader you shouldn’t be in the engine room, except for the odd inspection. You need to be on the bridge watching for icebergs and pirates!

H – Help Each Other

The best performing teams in business watch each other’s backs. If they see someone struggling with a task, they’ll help. If one department is really struggling for resource they’ll offer another pair of hands. Passionately investing in other people’s success will ultimately raise their performance and that of their teams and ultimately the organisation. As a leader, a good proportion of your time should be spent coaching, supporting, developing and promoting the rising stars within your team. It strengthens your team, protects it for the future and motivates individuals.

I – Ignite Passion

Find out what motivates your people. We are all motivated by different things and a good manager and leader gets to know what motivates their people and tailors their communication style, delivery and behaviour to get the best out of everyone. Praise and recognition for success and cheering the progress goes a long way too!

J – Just Do It!

You can have the best business strategy and business plans, but they are little use if they are not executed effectively. Decisions deferred, reversed or not made at all will not drive your team forward.

K – Knowledge Share

Winning teams share information, and I’m not just talking Key Performance Indicators. They share best practice when they come across it, they share customer and competitor news, they share any lessons they’ve learnt from a project or product launch. By pooling collective knowledge within and across departments, the organisation can reap dramatic results.

L – Learn From Your Collective Mistakes

Things go wrong. Learn from them, fix them where you can, and move on. We can often spend ridiculous amounts of time brow-beating ourselves and others on things that went wrong. Spend that time working on ensuring that those mistakes don’t happen again by changing process, putting controls in place or ensuring that we watch out for those banana skins we slipped on last time. Should the same mistakes keep happening, you need to look more deeply into the problem and find a way quickly to resolve it – Change the process or system, develop the people or change the people.

M – Measure, Monitor and Manage

The key to long-term success for any winning team is measuring the right things, setting appropriate targets, monitoring your performance against them and altering course or taking action when required.

N – Never Give Up

Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up – Thomas Edison

In a previous post ‘6 of the best…failures’ I talked about some famous names from all walks of life who persevered with their objectives to reach their goals. Building this ethos into your team’s behaviours will go a long way to driving success.

O – Organise Yourselves around Your Objectives

Many established businesses organise themselves in traditional hierarchies and functions – sales, marketing, finance etc. Sometimes, especially when changing course with your strategy, it is worth challenging team structures to ensure that they are still optimal to meet the strategy. Some businesses build multi-functional teams that are focussed on one particular project or programme at any time, allowing complete focus on delivery and then breaking the team up again on completion. This approach can have significant benefits over traditional team structures by focussing the right people on the right project with the right skills and motivation.

P – Performance Manage All of the Time

Don’t wait for a quarterly or half-yearly review to give feedback – good or bad. Many people need to know how they are doing every day – ask them what will help them most. Most people need feedback at least once a week. A few can get by with feedback once a month, but even for seriously capable high-level strategic people this is not enough.

R – Robust Dialogue

Being able to challenge team members positively is a key part of building a winning team. In winning teams, people trust each other to challenge ideas, ways of working and strategic plans. By being challenging of each other, for the good of the team and your customer experience, the team gets better. Challenging each other to gain personal advantage or to score points over one another are the signs of a losing team!

S – Set Out Your Expectations Clearly

A huge proportion of performance problems can be traced back simply to a failure to explain and agree expectations and/or a failure to understand and provide the help that the person needs. Don’t assume everything is understood and perfectly within people’s capabilities. Instead, take time to explain, check and ask until everyone concerned is happy and sure of what needs doing, how, and most importantly why.

T – Treat Everyone with Respect

I love this quote from Winston Churchill – “I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”

Whatever your level in the organisation, treat people as equals and with respect.

U – Understand Your Business

This may seem obvious, but I am frequently disappointed by people’s lack of knowledge of their business. Whether you’re on the front line in Marketing, Sales and Service or supporting these functions in IT, Finance or HR, you need to at least understand your company’s vision and strategic objectives. In winning teams, everyone knows these things as a minimum plus they know how their team is performing against Key Performance Indicators as well as what they’re doing to improve against them.

V – Values & Vision

In my view, these are the fundamental building blocks of a winning team. A shared vision together with values that are lived every day ensure that your team is heading in the same direction.

W – Win / Win

This is a personal philosophy, which I’m sure that many in senior positions will disagree on. I believe in openness, especially when it comes to recognition and reward. If the team does well, then the managers and leaders should be rewarded. Obviously levels of reward will differ according to responsibility and personal performance, but if the leaders are remunerated differently on different targets you will not get synergy in the organisation, and certainly not on a sustainable basis.

X – X Marks the Spot

X = the end result on your map – treasure! Whatever your winning team does, there will be an end goal – a successful product launch, a sales target, an improvement in Customer Satisfaction, improved production and so on. Your treasure map is your plan and your team’s focus is reaching the ‘X’ as soon as possible, and before anyone else! Your team need to have a copy of the ‘map’, understand how to read it in case they get lost, and know the importance of beating the competition. They should understand the potential pitfalls along the way, but you need to give them enough tools to make their journey possible and ideally enjoyable!

Y – Yell Success from the Rooftops

Celebrating and publicising success breeds more success, both within your team and organisation as well as externally. People like to associate with winners. You only need to see the number of Olympic medallists on TV at the moment to see that. Success, especially in today’s gloomy climate, is newsworthy, and will put your team and your business in the spotlight, for all the right reasons….and will hopefully bring you more business, and more success.

Z – Zigzag around Barriers

There is rarely a single solution to a problem in business. Winning teams find ways around problems that would leave other teams scratching their heads or giving up. Find out who your ‘Can Do’ people are and keep them close!

Hope you enjoyed this A-Z. As always I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Communicate or Fail ~ Part 1

Communicate or Fail!

Communicate or Fail may sound a little extreme. It’s not. Organisations and individuals can succeed or fail on the effectiveness of their communications. Communicate or Fail is a two-part post focussing on communications at an organisational level and on a personal level. Part 1 will focus on organisational communication.

Good organisational communication can help an organisation increase market share and competitiveness, improve customer service and satisfaction, and keep employees motivated and engaged. Poor or no communication, on the other hand, can be extremely destructive.

The communication landscape is more complex than ever before. We have a myriad of different channels at our disposal; audiences are more selective in how they use and react to these channels, and it is almost impossible to quantify the number of messages that compete for the attention of those audiences.

People learn and process information in many different ways. Research tells us that we retain 10% of what we read; 20% of what we hear; 30% of what we see; 50% of what we see and hear; 70% of what we discuss; 80% of what we experience; and 95% of what we share and communicate to others. On this basis, sending an email to engage an audience is probably not going to set the world on fire in its own right!

In considering organisational communication it is important to distinguish between formal and informal communication.  The most common form of formal communication within an organisation is communication downward (vertically) through the hierarchical structure of the organisation arising from top management level.

Many organisations attempt to facilitate upward communication within organisations through measures such as staff surveys and suggestion schemes.  Staff surveys are often used to help the organisation identify actions that will improve performance. But this in itself often presents its own potential problems and leads to misleading information being supplied to management.

By managing the proper integration across this mix of activities, a communicating organisation ensures that information not only flows up and down within the organisation but also flows across functional teams and between itself and external stakeholders, including its customers and suppliers.

So what forms of communication should you be thinking about for your internal communications?

Key Themes for Effective Internal Communication

1. A Shared Vision

“If you don’t care where you’re going, then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

—Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

If your people don’t understand where they’re going, why they’re going there and what happens for them on the journey and more importantly when they get there – guess what, you don’t have motivated, engaged and passionate employees. If they don’t care where they’re going, you’ve got a much bigger problem!

Communicating the vision of an organisation, a team or a new direction is an opportunity to invigorate the work force, explain the challenges ahead, and tell your story. It is an opportunity lost if it does not enroll the workforce in a call to action and stir people’s passions. So many times in my career, have I seen company vision statements that have been developed by senior managers or an agency and delivered via posters and mouse mats, and then management wonder why their people don’t immediately change their behaviours and get behind it?

Ideally you should work with your people to shape your vision. If your organisation is small enough, use everyone and get their input. If you work in a larger business use a good cross-section of people from all levels and departments. Where possible use your ‘rising stars’ that are passionate about, not only the organisation, but also driving change and influencing others.

I can thoroughly recommend Full Steam Ahead by Ken Blanchard and Jesse Lyn Stoner if you want to learn more around creating a shared vision for your business.

2. Senior Leadership Involvement

Visible buy‐in and engagement at the top is essential. Ensure that the head of your organisation is fully briefed on internal communications, has an opportunity to shape the strategy and is fully involved in key internal communications.  This is important not only as the CEO is a key communications channel, but also because his or her behaviour will help set expectations for transparency and authenticity. Consider opportunities to demonstrate a real commitment to information sharing, in order to illustrate that information hoarding is not acceptable within your organisation’s performance or culture.

It’s also important that the wider senior leadership team are bought into whatever you are communicating. At best they won’t be reinforcing the messages you are trying to get across. At worst, they could be sabotaging your efforts.

3. Understand Your Audience

Understanding your audience is crucial to building a successful communications plan; the bigger the message and impact on the organisation, the more important the analysis.

Before you communicate with your people, there is some basic information you need to discover about them. Ask them how they feel about the current level of internal communication. Discern whether they feel informed about changes, if they feel comfortable sharing their opinions, and how they would like to see communication improve.

Ask the hard questions. See if they would be willing to share specific examples of when they felt out of the loop or ignored. Try not to be defensive when they share; listen with an open mind.

Identify how employees like to receive information: email, newsletter, face-to-face, or other options. Ask if the method depends on what information is shared. For example, a weekly announcement can be communicated via email, but a major staff change needs to be shared in person.

4. Employee Engagement

There is nothing worse than being preached to or what I call communicating ‘at’. Your people will not get behind this kind of communication. Make sure that communication is two-way and you build in mechanisms to capture feedback, tweak your messages to your audience and keep reinforcing your message. Marketers often get bored if they have to do a ‘campaign’ more than once or twice.  The rule of 7 is a traditional marketing practice that suggests people must see a marketing message 7 times before they take action.  When communicating messages, whether to internal or external customers, the concepts remain the same.  Think of on-going communication with your teams; communicate it often and through various delivery methods.

What’s In It for Me? Employees will internalise any message communicated. How will this affect me?  What does this mean to me?  Will it make my job harder?  These questions are natural. The more relevant our messaging, the more our employee will be comfortable with the message.

Paint a picture of what this may look like: use examples representative of your audience. This kind of communication engages and excites employees, promotes teamwork and aligns everyone toward achieving company goals.

5. Line Manager Reinforcement

It’s no secret that the relationship between a line manager/team leader and their team has the most direct impact on engagement. Focus on the behaviour change and require managers to report results on actions they’ve taken to impact engagement in their teams. This should be weighted as an indication of performance when someone manages others directly.

Regular team briefings with managers can improve relationships and help your people feel involved and informed about developments that affect them. Cascade team briefings can quickly disseminate key messages throughout the organisation. This method is also very effective at quashing grapevine rumours.

The team environment means that no one is overlooked and it reinforces group motivation. Team briefings should not replace regular team meetings with the staff’s line manager – which is the most popular form of communication – but the brief can be given at the start of the team meeting.

A system for feeding back and responding to questions from staff should also be built in to the process. You need to monitor the system regularly to ensure that it is operating effectively across the organisation.

6. Multi-channel Communication Tools

  • Face to Face Communication – Wherever possible and practical, employee communication should take place face‐to‐face. In‐person exchanges are the most effective and trusted forms of internal communication. What’s more, that direct conversation can also unravel otherwise effective communications activities such as newsletters and intranet content if the spokesperson fails to establish trust or authenticity. Design communication strategies and tactics around meaningful opportunities for face‐to‐face exchange. If distance is a challenge, explore the use of web conferences as a means of bridging that geographical gap rather than relying on the passive and cold medium of email.
  • ‘Live Meetings’ – with the advent of applications like Microsoft Lync you can reach large numbers of people quickly, effectively and across the globe with multimedia interactive broadcasts to get your message across. These meetings can be extremely interactive if planned well and more personal than email or a conference call.
  • Enterprise Social Media – It’s no secret that social media is transforming the way people communicate in the workplace. As more and more companies are realising the value of engaging their employees online, social media is quickly becoming a preferred way of increasing knowledge sharing, encouraging teamwork and collaboration and adding value to the employee experience. To this effect, many businesses and organisations are using social media tools, like forums, blogs and social networks, to enable their staff and stakeholders to converse, collaborate and connect – Chatter via Salesforce.com and Yammer being two fast-growing enterprise-wide examples.Using social media as part of your internal communications plan has a number of benefits. For one, companies are able to have real-time, authentic conversations with employees. Plus the very nature of social media means that anyone can participate in discussions, allowing communication to flow from the top down, bottom up, and even from side to side. If you are part of a national or global company it also means you can connect with people all over the world on a more involved level than just email and phone.
  • Blogging – Blogs are a better communication tool when you want to get information out to people, and want to enable feedback, but keep the original text intact. Internal blogging is frequently used to communicate  activities like product development, support issues, product releases, planning events and conferences, providing informal updates on miscellaneous issues. Blogs usually encourage readers to comment, provide feedback open dialogue and exchange ideas in an informal context.
  • Intranet – Unless heavily adopted and promoted in your organisation, intranets are not the best place to ‘engage’ employees. They’re great to store information, get someone’s mobile number, read policies, log a fault on your PC and catch up on things when you have time. They’re not great by themselves to enrol your people in your message!
  • Email – Email is a good system for keeping track of conversations and saves on time and energy. You can email large groups of people and ensure that they were aware of the discussion because there is a common expectation of reading emails regularly. However emails are impersonal if used to large groups, prone to all types of mistakes and often ignored if used regularly.

7. Continuously Measure Effectiveness

Measurement is always an important part of any form of communication strategy, but it is especially relevant in the case of employee communication. Setting up clear indicators of performance will be vital in calibrating the strategy and tactics with appropriate precision. Internal communication may be deployed to track against outcomes such as morale, retention, recruitment, productivity, job satisfaction and/or employee safety. Being clear about “what success looks like,” and establishing internal alignment around that end state is instrumental to having high impact employee communication programs that deliver results.

Would love to get your feedback on this post. I know I’m only scratching the surface of this topic. Part two of Communicate or Fail coming soon!

Creating Powerful Teams

TeamworkTrue teamwork promotes individual and collective performance. Powerful teams value listening and communicating, sharing work responsibilities, provide support and can even make work more social and enjoyable. Team members are supportive of one another and recognise the interests and achievements of each other. I would go one step further and say that powerful teams actively contribute to the success of each other. When they are working the way they should, they are incredibly effective in achieving high performance results.

From Individuals to a Powerful Team

The essence of a team is joint commitment to a shared vision with shared values. Without these elements, teams are just collections of individuals working together but separately. An average team’s performance is a function of what its members do as individuals. Such teams are prevalent in large organisations where individual accountability is most important. They may come together to share information, perspectives and to make decisions, but the focus is always on the individual’s performance.

Teams evolve over time and have a pattern of development. During the forming stage, teams attempt to define their tasks and decide how to accomplish them. They sort out how the members will relate to each other. During the storming stage, members establish a pecking order within the group. Then in the norming stage, members accept the ground rules and norms by which the members will cooperate. In the performing stage, the group has settled relationships and validated expectations and can turn to work for which they are mutually responsible. At this stage the team is capable of more work together that the sum of the individual efforts would have produced.

Powerful teams differ from average teams because they require both individual and mutual accountability. While they also rely on sharing information, perspectives, and joint decisions, teams produce results through the joint contributions of its members. They are committed to shared objectives, as well as individual objectives, and they share the same vision. Teams develop direction and momentum as they work together to achieve shared objectives. Thus they commit together to work together towards the same ends, even though each member may participate in different ways.

Working together towards shared objectives can create social ties and enjoyment. This is also an important factor that contributes to high achievement.

Management should not leave teams alone. Teams left on their own can be confused. Most successful teams shape their purpose in response to a demand or opportunity put in their path by senior management. This helps teams get started by broadly framing the organisation’s performance expectations in alignment with the organization’s mission and vision. Management is responsible for clarifying the team’s challenges. It should let the team develop a shared commitment to vision, set specific objectives, and determine its timing and work approach.

Principles of a Powerful Team

1. A meaningful shared vision that the team has shaped themselves

The best teams spend a significant amount of time and effort exploring, shaping and agreeing on a mutually defined and shared vision. This activity continues throughout the life of the team. Research on failed teams shows that they rarely develop a common purpose.

2. Performance objectives and measurements that flow from the vision

The best teams also take their shared vision and translate it into specific performance objectives and measurements for the full team. These objectives relate to the vision and build on each another, moving the team forward towards achievement and creating powerfully motivating steps to success. The achievement of objectives along the way builds momentum, fosters trust among members and helps build continued commitment.

Specific Key Performance Indicators may be such things as bringing a product to market in record time, a 50% decrease in customer complaints, or achieving a zero-defect rate while cutting costs by 40%. Transforming broad directives into specific objectives provide first steps for forming the identity and purpose of the team. As the team progresses with small wins, they reaffirm their shared commitment.

The combination of vision and specific objectives is essential to increased performance. Each depends on the other. Clarity of objectives helps keep a team on track, focused and accountable. The broader, overlying aspirations of a team’s purpose can provide meaning and emotional energy.

When people are working together towards shared objectives, trust and commitment follow. Members hold themselves responsible both as individuals and as a team for the team’s performance. This sense of mutual accountability produces alignment towards achieving a common objective. All members share in the rewards. People who participate in high performing teams find the experience energising and motivating in ways that their usual jobs could never match.

On the other hand, groups that are established as a “team” but that do not have a clear common vision rarely become effective teams. Only when appropriate performance objectives are set does the process of discussing the objectives and the approaches to them give team members a clear choice: they can disagree with a goal and opt out, or they can pitch in and become accountable with and to their teammates.

3. A blend of complementary abilities

All members of your team should have the skills necessary to perform their jobs. When there are skills gaps, the whole team suffers. When people have the right mix of skills, the team thrives.

In addition to finding the right size, teams must develop the right mix of skills, that is, each of the complementary skills necessary to do the team’s job. As obvious as it sounds, it is a common falling in potential teams. Skill requirements fall into three fairly self-evident categories:

Technical or functional expertise – Product-development teams that include only marketing people or engineers are less likely to succeed than those with the complementary skills of both. Similarly, medical practices are seldom run by clinicians alone. A mix of technical skills is often desirable if not essential.

Problem-solving and decision-making skills – Teams must be able to identify the problems and opportunities they face, evaluate the options they have for moving forward, and then make necessary trade-offs and decisions about how to proceed. Most teams need some members with these skills to begin with, although many will develop them best on the job.

Interpersonal skills – Shared vision and objectives cannot arise without effective communication and constructive conflict, which in turn depend on interpersonal skills. These include risk taking, helpful criticism, objectivity, active listening, giving the benefit of the doubt, and recognizing the interests and achievements of others.

Obviously, a team cannot get started without some minimum complement of skills, especially technical and functional ones. Still, think about how often you’ve been part of a team whose members were chosen primarily on the basis of personal compatibility or formal position in the organization, and in which the skill mix of its members wasn’t given much thought.

4. A strong commitment to how the work is done

“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans” – Peter F. Drucker

Studies have shown that commitment to a team may translate into a willingness to help team members and improved team performance. Low levels of commitment to both the organisation and the team have been linked to absenteeism, turnover and intention to quit.

Every member of every team has a certain degree of commitment to the team effort. Whether you work in government, health care, or in another business, you have probably seen wide variations in the level of commitment that people show at work. Some people come to work every day and put forth a very conscientious effort. They are enthusiastic. They have a positive attitude about what they are doing. They constantly try to improve what they are doing. They help others. They do not wait to be told to do something that needs to be done.

Committed teammates can be relied upon to do what they say they will do. You can count on them.  If you tell a teammate that you will finish something by a certain date, you have made a commitment.

Commitment might manifest itself as team members’ willingness to do whatever needs to be done to ensure that the team succeeds in its work. Contributing to the larger team’s accomplishments becomes every person’s primary focus; as a result, team members often stop saying “it’s not my job,” or “it was my turn last week,” when difficult work must be done.

Commitment can also be characterised by a belief among team members that they are a part of something special and that they are sharing something that is very important with other people. As such, commitment can evoke strong emotions among those involved, as well as an unusual sense of connectedness among individuals from different agencies and disciplines.

5. Mutual accountability

Though it may not seem like anything special, mutual accountability can lead to dramatic results. It enables a team to achieve performance levels that are far greater than the individual bests of the team’s members. To achieve these benefits, team members must do more than just listen, respond constructively, and provide support to one another. In addition to sharing these team-building values, they must share an essential discipline.

The challenge for senior management is how to build high performing teams without falling into the trap of appearing to promote teams for their own sake. There should be relentless focus on performance and results. Paying constant attention to specific teams and their progress on specific performance objectives is the key.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Andrew Carnegie:

“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision.  The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organisational objectives.  It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on creating powerful teams. Drop me an email at m@rkconway.co.uk or leave a comment below.

Teams and Teamwork 2.0

Team 2.0

Teams and Teamwork have changed

The make-up and nature of teams have changed significantly in recent years. Organisations have become more distributed across geography and across industries. Closer relationships between people inside an organisation and those previously considered outside (customers, suppliers, partners and other stakeholders) have become more important. Organisations have discovered the value of collaborative work and with the advent of new tools and technology, the ability to work more efficiently, effectively and more competitively is a reality. There is a new emphasis on knowledge management – harvesting the learning of the experience of members of the organisation so that it is available to the whole organisation, quickly and easily. Used effectively across a business this knowledge and information flow can add a real competitive advantage to your business and create a better experience for customers.

All these changes in organisations over the last decade have changed how teams are formed and how they operate.

Teams have morphed over time:

  • From fixed team membership to flexible and temporary team members
  • From all team members drawn from within the organisation to team members that can include people from outside the organisation (customers, suppliers, partners)
  • From team members that are dedicated 100% to the team to most people are members of multiple teams
  • From team members that are co-located organisationally and geographically to team members are distributed organisationally and geographically
  • From teams that have a fixed starting and ending point to teams form and reform continuously
  • From teams that are managed by a single manager to teams have multiple reporting relationships with different parts of the organisation at different times

Although the technology that supports these new teams gets most of the attention when we talk about virtual teams, it’s really the changes in the nature of teams – not their use of technology – that creates new challenges for team managers and members. Most “virtual” teams operate in multiple modes including having face-to-face meetings when possible. Managing a virtual team means managing the whole spectrum of communication strategies and project management techniques as well as human and social processes in ways that support the team.

Managers of small and large organisations have known the importance of communication and facilitation for successful team process, but few people have really grappled with the issues of trying to manage teams that are connected by distance in space and time.

While there are some obvious problems and disadvantages of distributed teams, these teams also provide some advantages such as:

  • Developing and spreading better practices faster
  • Connecting “islands of knowledge” into self-organizing, knowledge sharing networks of professional communities
  • Fostering cross-functional and cross-divisional collaboration
  • Increasing ability to initiate and contribute to projects across organisational boundaries

Certain things need to happen in order for organisations to make effective use of virtual teams:

  • Processes for team management and development have to be designed, defined, piloted, tested, refined
  • Team managers have to be trained in new team management strategies
  • Team members have to be trained in new ways of working, understand your vision and how they contribute
  • The culture of the organisation has to be reshaped to support new structures and processes
  • Organisational structures have to be modified to reflect new team dynamics
  • Rewards systems have to be updated to reflect new team structures
  • New information technology (IT) systems have to be built to support teams
  • New management, measurement and control systems have to be designed

New technology requires us to rethink these dynamics because we don’t have the option to use familiar approaches. It gives us an opening to change the way we manage the people and work process in general. The critical part of the question, “How can we manage teams operating at a distance?” is really “How do we effectively support the collaborative work of teams? Managing virtual teams is not about taking our old management techniques and transposing them for delivery using new media. Rather, it’s about expanding our available tools to create new dynamics aligned with the best thinking about supporting collaborative work.

Virtual Team

A New Management Mindset

There are some critical aspects of a virtual team manager’s mindset that must shift in order to be effective in the modern workplace:

Different kinds of environments can support high quality interaction. What matters is how you use them.

  • Collaboration happens in an ongoing, no-boundaries way.
  • Using technology in a people-oriented way is possible, desirable, effective and efficient
  • When the communication process breaks down, evaluate our management and interaction strategies, not just the technical tool.
  • Learning to manage virtual teams is about understanding more about teams and the collaboration process

 Some of the key ideas to keep in mind to make sure a virtual team works effectively include:

  • Teamwork is fundamentally social
  • Knowledge is integrated in the life of teams and needs to be made explicit
  • It’s important to create ways for team members to experience membership
  • Knowledge depends on engagement in practice, people gain knowledge from observation and participation
  • Engagement is inseparable from empowerment
  • “Failure” to perform is often the result of exclusion from the process

Strategies for Supporting Virtual Teams

Virtual teams form and share knowledge on the basis of information pull from individual members, not a centralized push. Knowledge based strategies must not be centred around collecting and disseminating information but rather on creating a mechanism for practitioners to reach out and communicate to other practitioners.

The goal is to find ways that support the transformation of individuals’ personal knowledge into organisational knowledge. That goal requires designing environments where all the individuals feel comfortable (and have incentives) to share what they know. It’s important that this activity not feel like a burdensome “overhead” task, which is why doing it in the process of what feels like informal conversation works well.

In order to have productive conversations among members of virtual teams, you need to create some kind of common cognitive ground for the group. Even teams from the same organisation can have a hard time developing conversations deep enough to be significant without some kind of specific context as a beginning frame. Contexts can be created by guest speakers, training courses, requests for input to a specific project/question or special events.

Managers of virtual teams can support their teams by:

  • Recognising them and their importance
  • Encouraging members to explore questions that matter including questions about how they are working together
  • Supporting the creation of some kind of shared space (the feeling that there is an infrastructure where people are working together)
  • Facilitating the coordination of the technology, work processes, and the formal organisation
  • Recognising reflection as action and as legitimate work (getting the infrastructure of the organisation to support the learning process)
  • Supporting activities which make the informal network visible

Technology for Virtual Teams

Different communication technologies can be used to support different purposes and participants.

New technologies are being launched every day to enhance the way we work. At KC we use and sell Microsoft Lync integrated with our Intranet, MS Outlook and SharePoint together with Salesforce.com and integrated tools. These tools not only have transformed the way we work and collaborate but have saved huge amounts on travel and hotel bills!

Too often, technology is introduced to organisations as a solution looking for a problem.

DON’T:

  • Try to introduce collaboration tool as a strategy to re-engineer your organisation
  • Expect to open the box and roll it out – it’s not always plug and play
  • Start by choosing a particular type of technology and then trying to find a problem where you can use it
  • Just put SharePoint or CRM into the organisation and expect users to learn it on their own
  • Mandate the use of technology and punish people who don’t cooperate
  • Try to use software tools to change the politics of your organisation

DO:

  • Start by changing the culture, and then use the technology to support the change
  • Change the reward system and measure people on their teamwork and sharing of information
  • Encourage bottom-up, grassroots efforts
  • Make sure the software fits your processes
  • Start collaboration with face-to-face meetings when possible
  • Use role modelling for spreading the use of technologyTeam
  • Virtual Teams as Building Blocks for Organisational Learning

One of the primary reasons leaders set up virtual teams is to facilitate change in their organisation. The driver for real organisational change is organisational learning. Today’s organisation interested in tomorrow’s success will run on its ability to create and use knowledge, its ability to learn.

The emphasis on learning has two powerful implications for the design of communications environments to support organisational teams that can have a significant impact on the organisation:

Dialogues, not just databases

Until recently, organisations relied on large amounts of explicit knowledge available to them through huge databases. Quantifiable facts, formulas, and procedures were, and still are, available to anyone in most organisations. In contrast, today’s “knowledge” or learning organisations create environments where experiential knowledge is shared through dialogue and interaction. Communication technologies are needed which support this interaction.

Learning and change are facilitated rather than managed

For a business or a non-profit institution to become a learning organisation, a different environment needs to be created. This environment should stimulate and nurture the complex network of interpersonal relationships and interactions that are a part of an effective management communications and decision-making process. People must be allowed to make choices about whom they need to communicate with without regard to traditional organisational boundaries, distance and time. A collaboration infrastructure provides the advantage and flexibility of forming and reforming groups and teams as requirements develop and change. This entire process must be facilitated rather than controlled by providing easy ways for team members to be introduced to each other.

What’s Next?

Virtual teams are fast becoming more the rule than the exception in organisations. It’s time to stop thinking of them as a special case and start developing strategies for dealing with the new challenges they create. Virtual teams need the same things all teams need – a clear vision and mission, an explicit statement of roles and responsibilities, communications options which serve its different needs, opportunities to learn and change direction as well as clear measurement.

Feedback: A teaspoonful of criticism, and a bucketful of praise!

BullyingA very wise lady, the late Blanche Eldon, told me something when I was about 15 years old, that has stayed with me ever since. I was in my first management role – a Patrol Leader in a local Boy Scout Troop.

We were mid-way through our ten-day summer camp and one of my patrol, Dan, had consistently not been carrying out his jobs around camp, and his behaviour was making my patrol, and me, angry. I was giving him a telling off – shouting, giving him punishments and generally being a bully, because he wasn’t doing what I needed him to do. In the midst of my shouting, Blanche politely called me over and said:

‘I’ve always found that a teaspoonful of criticism and a bucketful of praise is the best way to develop people rather than getting angry and shouting. Why don’t you try it?’

I did, with a bit of coaching…and it worked! Having different kinds of conversations turned around not only Dan’s behaviour, but our relationship improved too.

Feedback to your team and peers is hugely important if you want to develop powerful relationships, but in order to get the best out of those conversations, screaming, shouting, finger-pointing and aggression is NOT the best way to get the most out of people. Worse still, this type of behaviour can not only lead to poor relationships, it can have a serious long-term impact on the person you are targeting. Believe me, I’ve seen it a few times in my career. Framing feedback in a constructive, supportive way, pointing out  positive contribution and behaviours, as well as focussed time discussing where behaviours could be better, will do wonders when giving feedback to improve your relationships.

Below are a few tips on how you might handle giving negative feedback:

1. Don’t always wait for formal occasions to give feedback

Feedback works best in the moment. Performance reviews and monthly or quarterly 121’s are often too few and far between. Far better to offer feedback in a casual, non-confrontational conversation as soon after the ‘event’ as possible.

2. Ask permission to give a person feedback , especially if it’s to a peer

3. Always give negative feedback in private

4. Describe the behaviour and the impact that it had / is having, and be specific.

Feedback is much easier to accept when the person receiving it does not feel their personal worth is being criticised. It is much better to state feedback positively, rather than negatively, when possible. People generally respond better to specific, positive direction. Avoid saying things like, “You need to be more talkative in meetings.” It’s too ambiguous and can be interpreted in a lot of personal ways. Say something specific and positive pointed at the task you want accomplished, such as, “You have some good ideas. I want to hear at least one opinion from you in every meeting we’re in together going forward.”

 5. Discuss what is going to happen next.

How is the person going to change their behaviour? Ask if he or she understands everything you expect and that you’re there to help him or her succeed. As the saying goes: “People have a habit of becoming what you encourage them to be, not what you nag them to be.”

Giving feedback is first of all an attitude and can only be made a habit by constant practice. “The worst harm you can do,” Jack Welch, says in his book, Winning, “is not to be candid with someone else.”

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