What Makes a Team Click?

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In some group work I am currently involved with, I am facilitating a session of business leaders who are from all around the world, therefore multi-cultural and quite high achievers.  One of the things we do at the beginning is called The Leadership Journey, which involves sharing the experiences and the people who have essentially shaped the person and type of leader they have become.  This has proven to be an extremely effective means of team bonding, for the following reasons.

  • Past experiences can shape future decisions.  So perhaps the more you know about somebody’s past, the better you might understand the position they take or decision made, and how you might possibly influence it.
  • Sharing is caring and vice versa – when demonstrating interest in people’s backgrounds and what matters to them, connections become stronger that can create a sense of genuine collegiality.
  • Vulnerability builds trust – when everybody shares their past in an honest, open way, you see each other for who they truly are; this creates a unique and trusting bond.
  • Happiness leads to effectiveness – when people enjoy their work and the people they work with in an authentic way, there is a genuine sense of collaboration and happiness, that are enablers of success.

Interestingly, in most work situations, we never really take the time to understand who the person is; it’s perhaps regarded as none of our business, or might be seen as prying into their personal lives.  In reality, personal and professional are not mutually exclusive.  Whether you like it or not, you bring your work stuff home with you, and your home baggage goes to work with you.  So why not simply embrace and understand it, and be open to the possibility that it might in fact create a very supportive work environment, that facilitates much higher levels of engagement and productivity?  If that is the case, you might also be a lot happier going home and so the cycle becomes much more positive.

“Paid for” Volunteer Motivation

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Are you involved with volunteer work along with your regular “paid for” career?  If so, you will know that there are similarities, but also differences, when operating in these two environments.  The general consensus is that because volunteer work is done without financial reward, there is a greater sense of purpose associated with it.  However, there is a significant factor that plays a key and sometimes varying role, and that is motivation.  How this actually plays out might surprise some.

Within career work, one could very quickly point to the obvious motivators such as payment, career progression, status, etc.  Closer consideration might offer a positive work environment, the challenge and job satisfaction.  However you look at these extrinsic and intrinsic drivers, there is also a consequence to not delivering.  Leadership also creates accountability leading to high-levels of contributions.

With volunteer work, people do this for varying reasons and, whatever the motivation, it leads to different levels of commitment.  Additionally, in conflict with this is the constant that everybody is doing it for free, which then becomes a source of frustration because of the disparity of contributions.  Because leadership has minimal leverage in this instance there can be a lot of complaints and this can give rise to low levels of contribution.

The solution lies in avoiding comparisons.  Simply accept that volunteers align their commitment / contribution to their own motivation and then make the necessary choices.  For some this will be a lot of work and for others not so much.  However, rather than viewing this as an anomaly or unfair, simply view it from the perspective that people are making conscious decisions to contribute at their own level, and that’s ok.

Leading in a Changing Workplace

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Much has been written with regards to the changing face of the workplace.  With the replacement of Boomers (born before 1964) by Millennials (1977 – 1995), new challenges are being presented as to how best manage and lead this seemingly more complex collective.  Part of the challenge is the fact that many of the leaders and managers are in fact Boomers and those reporting to them are Millennials, so there is an obvious disconnect between “old and new”.  To better understand this, it might be helpful to trace back a little into the past and assess these characteristics chronologically, under these changing circumstances.

1940 – 1970

This was an era characterized by motivation through money and/or fear (carrot and stick), and because it was primarily during the industrial age, when any advancement in productivity was king, it worked pretty well.  It also fed off the basis that you left your brain at the door, as it was more about a physical contribution.

1970 – 2000

As the landscape of business began to shift from industrial to informational so too did the need to move from physical to intellectual labor.  People were now expected to use their brain as the need for more educated workers emerged.  With that the old carrot and stick became much less effective, and leadership had to adapt to a system of involvement, support and truly understanding what motivated people.

2000 – Today

Most recently, a newer workforce has emerged, that not alone is intellectually based (better educated overall), but is also influenced by technology and a very different world view.  These employees want engagement and challenge within a creative process and consequently leadership has had to redefine itself once again.  Leaders have had to become coaches and have the ability to skillfully guide people and help facilitate an outcome.

So, if you are a leader, you are most likely dealing with different workforce generations.  Rather than feel exasperated and helpless that “these people” just don’t get it, embrace it and adapt accordingly, which will allow you to get the best from everybody.

Managing Division

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If we go back to the beginning of time, survival was key to existence.  A significant contributor to this was safety in numbers and so people watched out for each other, thereby creating an additional blanket of security.  When we fast forward to today there is still a hugely significant group mentality that can, in truth, perpetuate both good and evil.Division

We all understand the importance of groups and their potential value which Aristotle describes as “the whole being greater than the sum of its parts”.  But a bigger question might be, what makes certain groups join forces and then equally do battle against others?  This is playing out at all levels from the playground, to the workplace and, without doubt, to national politics.  Seemingly this is what human beings do.

George Halvorson in a Harvard Business Review article contended that, “21st century leadership is a matter of endowing groups of individuals with a satisfying sense of us and channeling their collective energy toward noble ends.” The challenge with creating an “us” is that it naturally gives rise to the existence of a “them” which to Halvorson claims “can lead to wonderful or terrible effects”. The question therefore is how does one amplify the positive (US) and minimize the negative (THEM)?

Perhaps the answer lies, if one was to consider a business, in having high level mission, values and goals that creates an over-arching “US”.  Then within this there will be multiple groups (US and THEM) that will inevitably pursue a local agenda that might create some divisiveness.  However, if it is still consistent with the agenda of over-arching “US”, a healthy US and THEM will exist.  This is actually a good situation to have as it perpetuates innovation (creativity), understanding (empathy) and accountability (results).

US and THEM certainly has a negative connotation but if it can be very effective if channeled in an appropriate manner.  The key is encouraging a healthy local “US” and “THEM” among those who are already part of the more broad and united “US”.

Handling a Difficult Boss

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Quite often, when dealing with a difficult boss, the tendency is to blame him or her. However, in any relationship there are at least two people involved and therefore with that comes an equal responsibility. But, how you might ask, can you influence the behavior when he/she are in control? Yes, they may be able to pull rank on you in terms of decisions, but there are things within your control that you can do about it.Boss Giving Direction

  • Walk in their shoes – this is often regarded as empathy and when we take time and truly look at people’s behavior from their perspective, it might help to understand better why they show up as they do. It may not be excusable, but if it goes somewhere toward providing a justification, that can be a major first step in terms of how you process what is actually happening. For example, if you feel you are being ignored, but then realize that your boss is under extreme pressures (that could be work based or even personal), then you are more inclined to understand and help explain what might be happening as a result.
  • It’s not always about you – bosses have multiple agendas and are dealing with complex issues all the time. They can be easily distracted or side tracked which can mean less time for you. But you are not the problem (though you might perceive it that way); it’s all these other things they are dealing with and therefore try to avoid taking things personally.
  • Seek Advice from Others – perhaps what you are doing might be pressing your boss’s buttons (i.e. his personal dislikes). For example, if he/she values somebody who is direct and to the point and you have a habit of being long winded in your responses, he/she might avoid you unless it’s something critical. Your peers might be able to provide a ‘heads up” in terms of how best to interact with your boss, that you could work on adapting to.
  • Speak with your boss – at the appropriate moment discuss with your boss how you might make some improvements, as distinct from fixing shortcomings. This could happen in a casual setting (e.g. while traveling) or you could ask for some time to formally sit down. The key is to avoid any defensiveness and make it about positives and opportunities.

So, if you are feeling a little like this and somewhat helpless, take control and do something about it. Most bosses and even the most difficult ones, are inherently good people. They are human as well and have their own challenges, so that if you can find a way to make their lives that bit easier, it’s pretty well guaranteed that this will be reciprocated. In the end of the day, you always reserve the final option, and that is to find another job. Either way, you are the person in control.

Vulnerable and Teamwork

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Recently, while part of an Executive Coaching assignment at HBS (Harvard Business School), I was struck by how a team of leaders when, once given the space to be vulnerable with each other, the commitment and productivity of the group soared.productivity One of my tasks in working with this group of 8 diverse senior global business leaders was ensuring they work as a cohesive team. Though we focused on understanding cultural differences, agreeing the rules engagement, expectations, etc., it was the exercise where people opened up and were vulnerable, that had the most profound impact on gelling the group together.

This is supported by the work of Patrick Lencioni in the Five Dysfunctions of a Team where he suggests that vulnerability will greatly enhance a trusting environment, which he defines as “the confidence among team members that their peer intentions are good”.   As a result, this team over the course of 8 weeks demonstrated tremendous commitment to each other (not let anyone down mentality), great work ethic, really smart collaborative ideas and, ultimately an environment where they learned so much from each other. Why did this happen?

Firstly, as the old adage goes “you are most likely to tell your darkest secrets to total strangers” plays out because there is minimal risk that of any perceived or otherwise consequence; therefore, it is easy to be vulnerable. Most human beings really do care and when somebody shows some degree of vulnerability, people naturally want to support and help. But surely this can work to some degree with work colleagues also who, for the most part, have no personal affiliation.

Secondly, it puts everybody on a very even keel. Being vulnerable is a great equalizer, it shows you are human and what is really going on beneath that exterior. When people feel that they are among equals, they are more likely to open up and support each other.

Finally, what was clearly apparent with all the leaders at HBS was an individual strength and confidence, which worked perfectly in alignment with vulnerability. Perhaps it was this unique blend of strength and vulnerability (similar to Collins’ resolve and humility) that provided the basis for optimal teamwork based on dependability/reliability (outward strength) as well as trust/believability (inward vulnerability).

It is important to mention that being vulnerable is not about exposing weaknesses, but rather being truthful about who you are – what’s your real story??

Positive Power

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When people get promoted, it is a wonderful thing. It often comes with prestige, more money, exciting challenges and just the general recognition that is associated with it. It also comes with more responsibility and sometimes the added concern that what got you to this position may not necessarily allow you do it. Think of the best sales person becoming sales manager. So how do you bridge that gap? Some might argue that with greater responsibility comes greater power. In simple terms it means that you can exert greater influence on somebody in order to get a task complete. And with most things in life there is a right way and wrong way of doing that.
34482001 - executive businessman accuses one of his employees

Let’s briefly discuss the wrong way, which sadly for some might come very natural. This is where you force your opinion, demand results, berate people in public and, for the most part, the minimum gets done. There is a short term-ism to this approach and results will only be forthcoming if you keep re-enforcing this behavior. However, eventually people will get tired of it and fight back or they will leave. There are countless studies to support the fact that people typically tend to leave their jobs because of the abuse of “power” by a supervisor or manager.

Thankfully there is an alternative use of power bearing in mind that, when you rise to a new position, what you say or do can be viewed very differently. In his study of power and how to use it in a positive way, Dacher Keltner proposes that “practicing empathy, generosity and gratitude” are a much more effective way of getting things done. There’s a novel thought; be a decent person. Sadly, these virtues often do not come easy to people and its requires hard work, or does it really? Interestingly, going back to the sales person who became sales manager, empathy, generosity and gratitude were probably very common with customers, so what not just do the same with your reports? These virtues (or skills) exists within the vast majority of us, therefore all we simply need to is recognize their value and utility within leadership.

This does not pre-suppose either that this type of leader is soft or not willing to hold people accountability. If anything, they can be quite demanding and challenging, but its more about how they go about it, and the appropriate behaviors they demonstrate. They exhibit strong emotional intelligence and, in so doing, not alone possess self-awareness, but also great awareness of others. They see their success as being predicated on the success of others and therefore channel their power in that direction.

Global Leadership – The Culture Affect

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Based on some work I have been doing as an Executive Coach at Harvard Business Schools, I have had the opportunity to meet and interact with business leaders from all over the world. One of the significant observations of this international diversity has been a better understanding of culture. Culture can be defined very simply “how things work around here” and no matter what way you cut it, there are always going to be differences.

 When one considers the fundamentals of human nature, the realities of how humans are supposed to communicate becomes apparent. First and foremost there has to be a relationship that is somehow grounded in familiarity. Interestingly when one assesses culture, under whatever categoriglobales might be appropriate, you find that people have typically more in common than differences. Once you understand this and people become familiar with each other, it actually becomes quite easy to build on the similarities and respect the differences.

However cultural differences are not just about people from different parts of the world; it can also exist within organizations and often between the various hierarchical levels. How does the culture that is espoused by senior leadership compare to what actually exists on the ground. In this instance, “micro” cultures are created where various leaders can shape the behaviors, the respect (or lack of), the biases, etc so that sometimes it feels like you are walking into “another world”. Anybody who has worked with different organizations can attest to this.

So as we think about global culture, be mindful of how both personal and organizational cultures can actually shape behaviors. And to ensure that it functions in a positive way for all involved, ensure familiarity to build positive relationships, which in turn will generate respect.

ENERGY – Where Are You?

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energy 3Motivation can take on many forms from physical rewards and incentives (Extrinsic) to the more subtleties of recognition, fulfillment and general emotional satisfaction (Intrinsic). As human beings we don’t function or perform solely on motivation; we also need energy. But what do we mean by energy and how does it manifest itself in the workplace?

In this context energy is primarily sourced from our thoughts, beliefs and behaviors; essentially how we, as human beings, show up. Bruce Schneider of iPEC Coaching has done quite considerable research into this arena and he points to two major types of energy that are at opposite ends of a continuum.

1. Anabolic – this is positive energy and is characterized by constructive mindset intent on building relationships. This positivity is promoted through congruence with values and beliefs, and with a connection to personal purpose. Possibility is apparent and people in this space are active participants and want to achieve results. There is a contagion affect and people are attracted to those with this energetic state. At the highest level they have won the game before it starts; they know what they want and act appropriately and accordingly.

2. Catabolic – this type of energy is destructive and harmful to individuals and organizations. Apathy and anger are very apparent and there is a propensity for conflict and people being in the victim mode. This negativity causes people to disengage and, at best, passive which in turn fosters more catabolic energy. The attitude is defiance and total unwillingness to contribute as they feel they have no power, no choice and consequently no chance of success.

However, by virtue of these being driven by thoughts, beliefs and behaviors, they can be changed. Establishing self awareness around where you are at predominantly along this continuum is a great starting point. Even though we might have a predominant state, depending on circumstances, we also oscillate back and forth (good days and bad days!). However once this is better understood you can begin the process of moving to a place of choice and create action towards your desired state.

Volunteer Motivation

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volunteerAre you involved with volunteer work along with your regular career? If so, you will know that there are similarities, but also differences, when operating in these two environments. One significant factor that plays a key and varying role is motivation.

Within career work, one could very quickly point to the obvious motivators such as payment, career progression, status, etc. Closer consideration might offer a positive work environment, the challenge and job satisfaction. However you look at these extrinsic and intrinsic drivers, there is an external orientation in terms of what you receive and just as important, there is consequence to not delivering. Leadership also has significant leverage in this situation which also creates accountability leading to pretty significant contributions.

With volunteer work, people do this for varying reasons and the resultant motivation leads to different levels of commitment. Additionally, in conflict with this is the constant that everybody is doing it for free which then becomes a source of frustration because of the disparity of contributions. Because leadership has minimal leverage in this instance there can be a lot of complaints and this can give rise to dissatisfaction.

The solution lies in avoiding comparisons. Simply accept that volunteers align their commitment / contribution to their own motivation and then make the necessary choices. For some this will be a lot of work and for others not so much. However rather than viewing this as an anomaly or unfair, simply view it from the perspective that people are making conscious decisions to contribute at their own level, and they feel good about it.