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…

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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.

The Brand New, Brand You! ~ Part 2

Brand New, Brand You - Self-discoveryIn the second part of the series of The Brand New, Brand You, I will be covering the first step in the START process in Brand New, Brand You, namely Self-discovery.

START – Self-discovery

A personal brand is much more than a job title or how you look. This first step in evaluating Brand You is a holistic look at your goals, passions and values and how those figure into, and enhance, what you offer an employer, customer or indeed anyone you interact with. Very often, it’s the individuals who truly know what makes them interesting, compelling, and differentiated who stand out from the crowd. These people capitalise on their differences. Of course, a personal brand is only as good as the reputation you are able to build around its unique promise of value, and what you ultimately deliver. Consequently, authenticity and honesty become the most important building blocks for your personal brand.

First, you need to  start by evaluating yourself and what your current brand is, and compare it to what you’d like it to be. Then identify qualities that make you unique and how they might be valued by an employer. Examining who or what you don’t want your personal brand to be like can reveal what you do want. Just flip these negative qualities around to find the positive.

Self-discovery Questionnaire

Self-discovery is all about asking yourself some soul-searching questions. Be honest with yourself and try to view Brand You from other people’s perspectives.

Take yourself somewhere quiet and write down your answers to the following questions. Take some time to answer them thoroughly. You can download the Brand You Workbook if you prefer to type these up. The action plan has a section per question and also a section for any actions and milestones that need to be delivered to work on any improvements to these areas of your life. At  the end of the action plan is a section for your Brand You Vision Statement. Don’t worry about this for now. We’ll get to that part later. You will see that each question builds upon the last and hopefully as you work through the questions, you’ll start to build up a picture of the current Brand You and hopefully some thoughts as to where you’d like to develop yourself into the Brand New, Brand You. So, let’s get started:

What are your core personal values? Try to keep them to 5 values central to who you really are. I’ve listed some you may want to use in the word cloud below and also in the workbook, but the lists are not exhaustive; feel free to add your own. I found the best way to do this exercise, was to start with a larger list of say 15-20 values, and then work down to a short-list of 5. If you can, try to prioritise the final 5.

Example values for START

What parts of your business life are you passionate about? Stephen R. Covey, author of the bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, suggests asking yourself three questions: Do I like doing it? Am I good at it? Does the world need it?

“If you have a passion that you’re good at but the world doesn’t need it, you’ve got a useless passion,” says Covey. “If you’re focusing on what the world needs and sell out your passion, you sell out what is uniquely you. But if you can make a living doing something that you’re really good at and like-what a combination!”

What have I done / am I doing that I am most proud of? Don’t limit your answers to this question just to your business life. Try and come up with at least 5 things from across your personal and business life. Are there any similarities or themes? Do they link in any way to what you are passionate about? (They don’t have to!) Are there any of your personal values involved in making these activities such a success? Are they recent successes or from a few years ago?

What qualities or characteristics make you distinctive from your competitors or your colleagues? Whether it’s your unique style of leadership, the way you present to an audience or the personal energy you bring to a room when you enter, each of us have distinctive qualities that make us stand out. What are yours?

What would your colleagues or your customers say is your greatest and clearest strength? What do you get compliments about most frequently; your perseverance, the quality of your business cases, your ability to mediate difficult conversations, your telephone manner with customers? What would you like it to be?

What benefits does ‘Brand You’ deliver? If you were a product, and indeed you are the product of Brand You, and had to pull a marketing brief together, what would you talk about as the benefits you bring? You’ve already worked up your Brand Values, so that should form part of your benefits story, you’ve already established what you’re passionate about and what makes you distinctive; and you’ve also established your greatest and clearest strength. Pulling all of these together should start to give you a compelling case as to why somebody would buy Brand You as opposed to Brand Them.

What do I want to be famous for? Ok, I’m not talking about going on a reality TV show, or getting 15 minutes of fame for rescuing a cat from a tree. I’m talking about the future of Brand You. What do you want to be known for?

‘He’s the best Project Manager I’ve ever met – you need him on this programme. He won’t be cheap though, he’s really in demand!’

‘She’s amazing! I saw her talking about Leadership at a conference last year. She’s so passionate about organisational change. We could do with her advice on the changes we want to make to our business’

You get the idea! How do you want to be known and talked about in 5 years time?

How am I measuring myself? Lastly, and arguably the one that always gets left behind with any brand launch, is a baseline measurement. How is your brand currently perceived? If you’re going to improve your personal brand, you need to understand where you’re starting from. What do people think of Brand You today?

There are a number of metrics / methods to use to gauge the success of your personal brand and that of the Brand New, Brand You.

The simplest way to test the effectiveness of any brand is to do market research. The same is true here. Ask for structured feedback – talk to your peers, managers, colleagues and customers and gauge their perception of Brand You. This could take the form of a 360 degree questionnaire, a face to face meeting with a focus on strengths and areas that could be improved or a combination of the two. You may wish to focus some questions to test out people’s perceptions to the answers you’ve given to some of the previous questions around Brand You benefits and what differentiates you from the rest.

Brand You Vision Statement

Now, you’ve had chance to work through the answers to these questions, it is useful to create a statement that encapsulates everything you want your brand to be. This will be your Brand New, Brand You Vision.

A strong vision statement should include:

  1. Your ambition for Brand You, describing the ideal future
  2. Encompass some of your core values
  3. Your differentiators and passions

I’ve posted some examples below, just to help you get your creative juices flowing:

‘I will provide the best technical support and customer service to our clients, helping improve their business and lives, striving to solve problems with a positive attitude that spreads to my co-workers’

‘I will be leading a small team of application developers to build market leading mobile tools for children with learning difficulties to make their lives easier and that of their families. That will fulfil my desire to make a difference to people’s lives, provide enough money for myself and my family to enjoy life and hopefully inspire others to take a risk and do something worthwhile.’

‘I am now running the restaurant I’ve worked in for 5 years. Through sheer determination, hard work, and my impeccable skills in dealing with customers of all kinds, I have a great reputation within the industry. I have also earned the respect of my staff, my superiors, and my customers alike.’

‘I have just published my fifth book on leadership and people management. I am now in the envious position of being able to leave my career  and share my time equally doing the things I love – spending time with family and friends, writing, walking, photography and being surrounded by nature’

That concludes the first step in START. Good luck with your Self-Discovery – I’d love to know how you get on!

In the next post in the series of The Brand New, Brand You, I will be covering the second step in the START process, Toolkit Development.

If you missed the introductory post of The Brand New, Brand You please click here.

Implementing Change Effectively

Change Management

There are many theories about how to manage and implement change effectively. Many originate with leadership and change management guru, John Kotter. A professor at Harvard Business School and world-renowned change expert, Kotter introduced his eight-step change process in his 1995 book, “Leading Change” with a follow-up work “Our Iceberg is Melting” in 2006.

Step One: Create Urgency

Building a sense of urgency is a necessary step to implementing change successfully. If you don’t find a way to make the change exciting, compelling and necessary, you may find the implementation phase a little more challenging than it should be. For change to happen, it’s crucial that the majority of the company really want it. Develop a sense of urgency around the need for change – people need to really understand and engage in the ‘Why’.  This may help you spark the initial motivation to get things moving.

This isn’t simply a matter of showing people poor sales statistics or talking about increased competition. Open an honest and convincing dialogue about what’s happening in the marketplace and with your competition. If many people start talking about the change you propose, the urgency can build and feed on itself.

What you can do:

  • Identify potential threats, and develop scenarios showing what could happen in the future.
  • Examine opportunities that should be, or could be, exploited.
  • Start honest discussions, and give dynamic and convincing reasons to get people talking and thinking.
  • Request support from customers, outside stakeholders and industry people to strengthen your argument.
  • Make it real for everyone in your teams….How will the change affect them, or more importantly what might happen for them if the organisation doesn’t change.

Step Two: Form a Powerful Coalition

Convince people that change is necessary. This often takes strong leadership and visible support from key people within your organization. Managing change isn’t enough – you have to lead it.

You can find effective change leaders throughout your organization – they don’t necessarily follow the traditional company hierarchy. To lead change, you need to bring together a coalition, or team, of influential people whose power comes from a variety of sources, including job title, status, expertise, and political importance.

In putting together a Guiding Coalition, the team as a whole should reflect:

Position Power: Enough key players on board so that those left out cannot block progress. This is really important – No senior buy-in at best or Senior Management sabotage at worst means that success isn’t likely!

Expertise: All relevant points of view should be represented so that informed intelligent decisions can be made.

Credibility: The group should be seen and respected by those in the organisation so that the group’s outputs will be taken seriously by other employees.

Leadership: The group should have enough proven leaders to be able to drive the change process.

Once formed, your “change coalition” needs to work as a team, continuing to build urgency and momentum around the need for change.

What you can do:

  • Identify the true leaders in your organisation – not necessarily managers – People that are rising stars, are highly networked internally and always deliver.
  • Ask for an emotional commitment from these key people – Are they behind YOU and CHANGE 100%?
  • Work on team building within your change coalition.
  • Check your team for weak areas, and ensure that you have a good mix of people from different departments and different levels within your company.

Step Three: Create a Vision for Change

When you first start thinking about change, there will probably be many great ideas and solutions floating around. Link these concepts to an overall vision that people can grasp easily and remember.

A clear vision can help everyone understand why you’re asking them to do something. When people see for themselves what you’re trying to achieve, then the directives they’re given tend to make more sense.

Effective change visions have six key characteristics:

Imaginable:  They convey a clear picture of what the future will look like.

Desirable:  They appeal to the long-term interest of employees, customers, shareholders and others who have a stake in the organisation.

Possible:  They contain realistic and attainable goals.

Clear:  They are clear enough to provide guidance in decision making.

Flexible:  They allow individual initiative and alternative responses in light of changing conditions.

Understandable:  They are easy to communicate and can be explained quickly.

What you can do:

  • Determine the values that are central to the change.
  • Develop a short summary (one or two sentences) that captures what you “see” as the future of your organization – Ideally short, emotive and memorable.
  • Create a strategy and plan to execute that vision.
  • Ensure that your change coalition can describe the vision in five minutes or less.
  • Practice your “vision speech” often.

Step Four: Communicate the Vision

What you do with your vision after you create it will determine your success. Your message will probably have strong competition from other day-to-day communications within the organisation, so you need to communicate it frequently and powerfully, and embed it within everything that you do.

Don’t just call special meetings to communicate your vision. Instead, talk about it every chance you get. Use the vision daily to make decisions and solve problems. When you keep it fresh on everyone’s minds, they’ll remember it and respond to it.

It’s also important to “walk the talk.” What you do is far more important – and believable – than what you say. Demonstrate the kind of behavior that you want from others.

What you can do:

  • Talk often about your change vision.
  • Openly and honestly address people’s’ concerns and anxieties.
  • Apply your vision to all aspects of operations – from training to performance reviews. Tie everything back to the vision.
  • Lead by example.

Step Five: Remove Obstacles

If you follow these steps and reach this point in the change process, you’ve been talking about your vision and building buy-in from all levels of the organization. Hopefully, your staff wants to get busy and achieve the benefits that you’ve been promoting.

But is anyone resisting the change? And are there processes or structures that are getting in its way?

Put in place the structure for change, and continually check for barriers to it. Removing obstacles can empower the people you need to execute your vision, and it can help the change move forward.

What you can do:

  • Identify, or hire, change leaders whose main roles are to deliver the change.
  • Look at your organisational structure, job descriptions, and performance and compensation systems to ensure they’re in line with your vision.
  • Recognise and reward people for making change happen.
  • Identify people who are resisting the change, and help them see what’s needed.
  • Take action to quickly remove barriers (human or otherwise).
Milestones

Inchpebbles NOT Milestones

Step Six: Create Short-term Wins

Nothing motivates more than success. Give your organisation a taste of victory early in the change process. Within a short time frame (this could be a month or a year, depending on the type of change), you’ll want to have results that your people can see. Without this, critics and negative thinkers might hurt your progress.

Create short-term targets – not just one long-term goal. You want each smaller target to be achievable, with little room for failure. Your change team may have to work very hard to come up with these targets, but each “win” that you produce can further motivate the entire staff.

What you can do:

  • Look for sure-fire projects that you can implement without help from any strong critics of the change.
  • Don’t choose early targets that are expensive. You want to be able to justify the investment in each project.
  • Thoroughly analyse the potential pros and cons of your targets. If you don’t succeed with an early goal, it can hurt your entire change initiative.
  • Reward the people who help you meet the targets.

Step Seven: Build on the Change

Kotter argues that many change projects fail because victory is declared too early. Real change runs deep. Quick wins are only the beginning of what needs to be done to achieve long-term change.

Launching one new product using a new system is great. But if you can launch 10 products, that means the new system is working. To reach that 10th success, you need to keep looking for improvements.

Each success provides an opportunity to build on what went right and identify what you can improve.

What you can do:

  • After every win, analyse what went right and what needs improving.
  • Set goals to continue building on the momentum you’ve achieved.
  • Drive for continuous improvement.
  • Keep ideas fresh by bringing in new change agents and leaders for your change coalition.

Step Eight: Anchor the Changes in Corporate Culture

Finally, to make any change stick, it should become part of the core of your organisation. Your corporate culture often determines what gets done, so the values behind your vision must show in day-to-day work.

Make continuous efforts to ensure that the change is seen in every aspect of your organization. This will help give that change a solid place in your organization’s culture.

It’s also important that your company’s leaders continue to support the change. This includes existing staff and new leaders who are brought in. If you lose the support of these people, you might end up back where you started.

What you can do:

  • Talk about progress every chance you get. Tell success stories about the change process, and repeat other stories that you hear.
  • Include the change ideals and values when hiring and training new staff.
  • Publicly recognise key members of your original change coalition, and make sure the rest of the staff – new and old – remembers their contributions.
  • Create plans to replace key leaders of change as they move on. This will help ensure that their legacy is not lost or forgotten.

I would love to hear about your challenges and successes from implementing change in your organisation.

The Oracle – Leadership Styles – Part 3

Welcome to Part 3 of Leadership Styles – The Oracle

The late, great and inspirational Steve Jobs (Founder of Apple)  made a statement that neatly introduces The Oracle leadership style:

‘Leaders are fascinated by the future, you are a leader if, and only if, you are restless for change, impatient for progress, and deeply dissatisfied with the status quo. As a leader you are never satisfied with the present, because in your head you can see a better future, and the friction between what is and what could be burns you, stirs you, propels you forward.’

The OracleBusiness leaders do not generally have a crystal ball to predict the future of their business and guide them in their leadership decisions. The Oracle creates his / her own future vision for their business, organisation or people. Whereas some people look at the future and ask ‘why?’, the Oracle sees things that do not exist and asks ‘why not?’. They have the ability to see social and market trends and create a future. They literally can see things others cannot.

The Oracle is also capable of enlisting large numbers of followers through their passion and use of language. They are generally gifted speakers and have high levels of charisma.

If you haven’t heard or read Martin Luther King’s – ‘I have a dream….’, or JFK’s – ‘We choose to go the moon…‘, or Winston Churchill’s – ‘We shall fight on the beaches‘, you really should! Three hugely visionary speeches that instil passion, emotion and desire to be part of something big. The power of The Oracle.

The Oracle leadership style is often most effective when an organisation needs to make a step change in direction.

They often portray the following characteristics:
  • Creates an inspiring vision of how the future will look.
  • Inspires people to understand the larger purpose of their work.
  • Creates an environment where people feel pride in belonging to the organisation.
  • Operates from an inspiring set of shared core values and beliefs
  • Engages people in working towards a shared vision
  • Encourages people to innovate, experiment and take calculated risks in pursuit of the vision.
  • Aligns performance and strategy with the vision.

The Oracle is most effective when:

  • A new vision or clear direction is needed, e.g. when in a period of change – at an individual or organisational level.
  • The leader believes in the vision; and sees it as being in tune with his / her own values and those of the organisation.
  • The leader is self-confident, self-aware and empathic to others.

The Oracle is least effective when:

  •  The leader is not regarded as credible, i.e. others feel they know more about the organisation than the leader.
  • When overplayed, i.e. if trying to steal power from a team-based approach.

Summary

When effective, the Oracle motivates individuals by focussing their attention on the long-term goals of the organisation; and how each individual contributes to its delivery. When not used effectively this style fails to take into account the natural talents and experience of the knowledgeable team members.

The Oracle is the most charismatic of Leaders and comes in many forms and contexts. According to the many books and blogs on the topic of leadership, The Oracle is the person who, to a large extent, single-handedly formulates a winning vision of where and how the organisation is to be in the future and who takes prime responsibility for ensuring that the organisation’s people ‘live’ the vision.

Would love to hear your feedback!

Be sure to read part 4 of Leadership Styles – The Collaborator

Other posts in the Leadership Style Series – The Terminator and The Coach

An Elephant in the Room Part 2 – Leadership Breakthroughs

Word Cloud - Elephant in the Room

I see two distinct types of ‘Elephant’ in my line of work…and two ways of tackling them. The Management Elephant and the Leadership Elephant. This blog focusses on the latter.

If you missed Part 1 – An Elephant in the Room: Management breakthroughs, and are wondering what on earth I’m talking about, please click here

The Leadership Elephant

The Leadership Elephant is an entirely different animal to the Management Elephant. These Elephants often appear in Senior Management or Leadership Teams and are more difficult to fix.
I’m a firm believer that if you have a strong team that is truly focussed on the same goals and vision, plus believing in and displaying the same values you can be successful in any market, anywhere.
Easier said than done! And the larger the business or team you lead, the harder it can become.
By virtue of their position (but not always), Senior Managers are competent in their own field – Marketing, Finance, IT, Engineering, Sales, Manufacturing, Product Development, Human Resources etc. However, many of these managers have had limited or no development  / experience in Leadership and certainly not in creating or being part of successful Leadership Teams. They also tend to operate day-to-day in isolation to the other senior managers as they have their own teams, challenges, and budgets to worry about and so many Leadership Teams are not teams at all, they are a collective of Senior Leaders with the same boss.
The ‘unsaid’ or Elephant in the Room, within a Leadership Team can have a profound impact on the rest of the organisation, if left uncecked.Leadership Elephants centre around a few key areas:
  1. Clarity of Vision
  2. Positive conflict
  3. Accountability
  4. Honesty
  5. Commitment to each other’s success
  6. Delivery of results

1. Clarity of Vision

As a team, what are you leading for? Not as Marketing Director or Sales Director or Head of Product Development….As a TEAM, what are you COLLECTIVELY leading for?
When Leaders are pulling in different directions, the results are a tug of war and wasted energy. When everybody is pulling in the same direction, that creates forward momentum.
Lack of an agreed, cohesive vision can result in poor orientation, competing agendas and misunderstandings. Teams function much more effectively when working with one vision and one set of goals within a strategic plan.
If you haven’t got a clear vision and goals as a team – this has to be your first job. Full Steam Ahead by Ken Blanchard and Jess Stoner is a great book to help you get started!

2. Positive Conflict

Conflict can be useful. When used correctly and depending on the attitudes and perspectives of those involved, conflict can:

  • Diffuse a more serious conflict.
  • Spark action to search for more facts or solutions.
  • Increase team performance and cohesion.
  • Find out where you and the rest of the team stand on a particular topic.

So how do you get to a point where conflict can influence and help facilitate positive outcomes?

  • Accept conflict as helpful
  • Stay focused on defeating the problem, not each other
  • Be prepared with facts to solve dilemmas
  • Consider the main issue, circumstances and relationships involved
  • Remain open about the other people’s position (remembering anger is often natural reaction of conflict)
  • Be respectful, professional and focus on outcomes

Don’t over simplify things and falsely resolve a situation by avoiding the source of conflict. Avoidance is often seen by withdrawing from a situation to save the fight for another day, or smoothing the situation saying “let’s not argue,” or “It’s not really that important.”

You’re more likely to succeed if you identify the real issue, the circumstances and relationships that factor in to the situation, and consequences of the resolution.

3. Accountability

When we fail to hold others accountable, we reap the consequences. While everyone is busy pointing fingers at each other, deadlines don’t get met, work remains below standard, or customers continue to be dissatisfied. Worse yet, things won’t get better until people stop trying to affix blame and start addressing the issue that caused the problem in the first place. This cycle will continue until people take accountability for their contribution to the problem and focus on seeking solutions.

In my view, the greatest impact of not holding others accountable is that it creates a negative perception of the leadership team. When other members of your teams see you letting someone get away with not producing the agreed output or keeping commitments, they begin to wonder why they are working so hard. They wonder why you don’t take action to address a poor performer who is creating problems for the rest of the team.

Failing to hold others accountable reflects on you as a leader. It raises questions about your willingness to hold everyone to the same standards and creates the perception that you don’t treat people fairly and equitably. Pretty soon others on the team get the message about “what it takes to succeed around here” and the extent to which they can count on you as a leader.

Lack of accountability creates and reinforces a culture of blame-which, in turn, generates other problems. You may notice increased evasion and avoidance as well as a pervasive “don’t get caught” attitude. Innovation plunges as people become less willing to be creative and think out of the box. Employees take fewer risks (or stop altogether) because no one wants to be blamed if something goes wrong. Finger-pointing sessions proliferate, creating a cycle of blame that ultimately shuts down communications.

4. Honesty

If you want to receive honest feedback, start by giving it. As the people on your team observe your honesty, this will make them feel more comfortable being honest themselves. On the other hand, if you don’t practice what you preach, it’s much tougher to influence others to practice that same thing.

Where I find that most leaders have the biggest problem related to honesty, is in saying those things no one wants to hear: the bad news, the opposing opinion, the refusal, the negative feedback. This is why I think the trick to becoming more honest is becoming more courageous and talking about these kinds of things. When you can honestly talk about the sensitive stuff, being honest about anything else is easy.

People often get defensive when they hear something they don’t like. They start to deny, blame, explain and criticise others. This may lead to other team members restraining themselves from saying all they intended to say simply because they don’t like the reaction they’re getting. If you want your leadership team to speak freely and honestly, it’s essential that every time one of them starts saying something difficult, instead of getting defensive, you do something much more constructive: you get curious and ask questions. This way, you prove that you are not afraid of the truth and that your main interest is to understand facts and opinions, not save your own skin.

5. Commitment to each other’s success

Sounds easy doesn’t it? Why wouldn’t you want to commit to your other Leadership Team members’ success? Well you would be surprised…or maybe you wouldn’t.

Great business people are naturally competitive. They want to win in business. Some are quite happy to win at the expense of others in their team and even the success of the business.

To build a truly great business, I’m a firm believer that if each of you is truly committed to one another’s success you can achieve so much more, especially through the tough times.

I’m sometimes amazed at the tricks, lies, back-stabbing and U-turns that people perform to try to get themselves ahead in business. Maybe I’m naive, but I think this can only lead to longer term issues – lack of respect from your peers, your teams and no doubt your customers will suffer too.

If you want to take your business into significant growth, you need to support your team and they need to support you. You don’t need to be best friends with everyone, but you do need to watch everyone’s back, be there for each other when they need support and focus on your collective goals and vision.

6. Delivery of results

A team that is not focussed on COLLECTIVE results fails to grow, loses it’s best people, is easily distracted and focuses people on their own careers or internal quarrelling.

Every Leader has an obligation to deliver – for their stakeholders, their people and their customers and not just in financial terms.

To avoid distractions, leadership teams need to prioritise the results of the leadership team over their individual or department results.

All sounds straight forward and easy doesn’t it? Well there are a few things that tend to get in the way – Self-promotion, Career Progression and Money to name three. The ironic thing is that all three of things are likely to happen anyway if you are in a high performing leadership team, all working towards one vision, one set of values and collective results.

Most senior managers naturally focus on the results of the teams they manage, not the teams they’re members of. They spend more time with their own people, they probably get bonused on the performance of the teams they manage and they probably don’t invest as much time in building relationships with their peers. Imagine the possibilities of having really powerful relationships with your peers, where the team is accountable for the whole and not the part and when you collectively focus on your customers and positive outcomes in your marketplace….

None of the above can be fixed overnight, and needs a huge amount of collective energy to get results. But when the results come, your competitors better watch out!

Thanks for reading!

Mark Conway

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.

There’s no ‘I’ in Team…but there is an ‘M’ and ‘E’

Building Strong TeamsI’m not sure who came up with the phrase – ‘There’s no ‘I’ in team’, and I’m sure it was meant with good intentions – focussing everyone on team work and collective goals and not individual egos. I’ve always used the hugely clever and witty repost whenever anyone has said the phrase in my presence…’Ah yes, but there is an M and E’ – Hilarious!

But, and I’ve been thinking about this a bit recently, I still think there is significant value in focussing on the individuals in a team – their individual strengths, skills, experiences and accountability as well as the interactions between team members. This is especially true of senior teams or teams where individuals within it have ownership of their own teams.

In larger businesses, teams come in all shapes and sizes, from an Executive Board, Senior Management Team, Divisional Team, Sales Teams, Customer Service Teams, Cross-functional Project Teams and so on. Teams are created for both long-term and short-term interaction. A product management team, an executive leadership team, and a departmental team are more often long-lasting planning and operational groups. Short term teams might include a team to plan the annual company event, or a team to respond to a specific customer problem or complaint. Not all teams can be treated or thought about in the same way.

When teams are getting results – all is good. People celebrate together, don’t really need to worry about improvement and feel they are at the top of their game.

What happens when things aren’t so great?

I’ve found that there are 4 key reasons that prevent teams from being optimal – ‘The best that they can be’

1. Goals and Objectives are not clear

In short, not everyone  on the team gets it! What’s the vision? What are the team striving to achieve? What metrics are used to measure team performance? What milestones are to be achieved by when….and crucially, why is what the team is doing important.  AND where do ‘I’ fit in?

2. Roles and Responsibilities not clear

How many times have you heard the phrase – ‘Oh no, that’s not my job, that’s ….’ or ‘Well I can’t do anything about that until Dave’s done his bit’ or ‘We were waiting for someone to make a decision’? Heard any of those recently? Symptoms of lack of clear ownership and accountability!

When building a team, it’s hugely important for everyone to know the boundaries they have to work within, what their key responsibilities are and what decisions are required of them in their roles.

3. Relationships – Non-existent or not strong enough for a successful team

Without powerful relationships, no team can truly achieve their potential. Fact. This requires work, honesty, straight talking, generous listening and a commitment from every team member to support each others’ success. At worst, you’ll have saboteurs in your team, actively striving for the downfall of others. With the best relationships, people will coach and support each other, represent each other with projects and play to win!

4. No Leadership

I’ve worked with some fantastic managers in my time, but few leaders. Great leaders inspire teams to be greater than the sum of their parts. Great leaders anticipate potential futures and plan from there, not from today. Great Leaders cheer the progress and not just the results. Leaders do think about the ‘Me’ in team. If they didn’t, I’m not sure they would get the best out of every individual…and certainly not the team.

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