01 Feb

Committed collaboration

“Life is not a solo act.” – Tim Gunn

Many organisations, large and small, identify the importance of collaboration. For a lot of companies, it is a core competency against which they may measure their employees. Yet in what is becoming an increasingly competitive world, does collaboration still have the same relevance?

We think yes. We think that from collaboration, great ideas, products, and services are born.

A quick Google search on ‘what is collaboration’, headlines with two possible meanings:

1. The action of working with someone to produce something

2. Traitorous cooperation with an enemy

Well, the first sounds a bit boring and the second could be true with serious office politics at play!

The same Google search reveals many other bloggers talking about the same thing – what is collaboration? Purposefully not reading them, we considered whether another article about collaboration was needed!

What we do want to address is the approach that we have labelled ‘committed collaboration’.

Yes, collaboration is the ‘action of working with someone to produce something’ – it still sounds a bit boring! Committed collaboration should not be boring, not even a little bit. It encompasses mindset, thought-sharing,  and blended action.

Mindset

To undertake committed collaboration with one or more people, you must bring the right attitude or mindset to the exercise. Whether a short or a long-term project or relationship, starting with the right mindset can be critical to a successful collaboration. This is fine if you like the other party and/or have chosen to work with them – you will generally be excited or keen to start working with them. But what if your boss makes you work on a project with someone you despise and on tasks that you loathe? OK, a worse case example, yet many collaborations are not always as we would like them.

So when you start your collaboration, kick-start the right mindset. To help, consider:

  • What can I personally learn from working with this person/s and on this project?
  • What can I bring to the collaboration?
  • What type of person do I want to be seen as in the workplace?
  • What will I need to bring to the collaboration to achieve our goals and the above?
  • What are the challenges I might envisage and how will I approach them if they arise?

If you start with the right mindset and keep revisiting these questions, you have created an internal commitment that should translate into the appropriate behaviours.

Even if you don’t personally like someone you are collaborating with , look for ways to bring a positive attitude to the work. Make a commitment to yourself to have genuine regard for those you are collaborating with – you don’t have to like them, or be friends forever, yet you should have respect for them as a fellow human being.

If you don’t like the project or work you are doing in the collaboration, try to find a positive outcome it might help you achieve, something it might lead to in the future, or a skill that you might be able to develop. Throughout the project or work, balance the tasks that you don’t enjoy with ones you do enjoy.

Make a commitment to work well with others and take pride in whatever it is you are collaborating on.

Thought-sharing

To have effective collaboration, all parties must bring their thoughts, ideas and opinions to the table. And others involved must have an open-mind and respect to listen!

Find a way with those you are collaborating with to share thoughts – be it about the objectives of a project, the steps to achieve goals, or the measures of success. You might need to ask people in advance to bring their thoughts to a meeting, hold a brainstorming session over lunch, or gather input over email – there are hundreds of ways to thought-share!

Each person may have a slightly different opinion or idea, yet it is important for all of these thoughts (relevant ones!) to be shared. Without generating ‘analysis paralysis’ you want to ensure that everyone has had a chance to contribute to discussions. Otherwise, it’s not truly collaborating and could just be ‘follow the leader’ – or ‘whoever screams loudest wins’!

Many people think deep down (actually most of us in the corporate world, if we are honest!) that we know the best way or hold the right perspective in situations familiar to us. Yet if we block thought-sharing, how can we innovate, how can we personally learn from others and how can we call it ‘collaborating’?

So with an open mind and a genuine regard for others, encourage thought-sharing as part of your collaboration.

Blended action

Blended action could be just another way of saying – ‘action plan’ and ‘roles and responsibility’. However the intent of ‘blended action’ is that after discussion, decisions must be made and actions taken that recognise the varied opinions and skills of those involved. It’s not just about assigning tasks to each other and then working in silos.

Blended action is all about:

  • Reaching decisions that truly take into account the thought-sharing that has occurred – “We recognise all of these ideas and opinions and we think the way to move ahead is ____, for these reasons____.”
  • Understanding the skills different people and you yourself bring and agreeing on how tasks are allocated and potentially shared. You’re not competing here – you’re collaborating!
  •  Checking-in with each other regularly – how are we tracking, who needs some extra help here, what else should we be doing to make this a success?

After bringing the right mind-set, thought-sharing and engaging in blended action, you are well on the way to committed collaboration. And isn’t that more enjoyable and interesting than just ‘working with someone to produce something’?

Happy collaborating!

(this post was inspired by a wonderful collaboration partnership Engaging Potential is actively involved in – one that combines the super powers of two companies to create a fabulous client offering)

engagingPOTENTIAL: training, team development, coaching

Specialising in working with managers to develop extraordinary teams!

© Engaging Potential Pty Ltd

13 Nov

Uh-oh, it’s team building time…

“Unity is strength…when there is teamwork and collaboration wonderful things can be achieved.” – Mattie Stepanek

As the end of the year approaches, many managers remember that they have forgotten to hold a team building session during the year. Often this results in a frantic scramble to ‘tick-the-teambuilding-box’. Suddenly a team finds itself tolerating a competitive colleague at ten-pin bowling, or not listening to an inspirational speaker because they are too overloaded to spend time hearing someone else’s story, or perhaps even cringing through a hastily prepared ‘funny awards night’. Whilst each of these activities can be enjoyable and appropriate in certain circumstances, they are not always effective for every team and situation.

Team building should not be an after thought or a ‘must-do’. It should be something that has clear objectives and outcomes, otherwise you are wasting company time, employees’ time and often a  load of money.

[As an aside, should we really be calling this team building? Over the years this term has, rightly or wrongly, come to mean ‘having fun’ or ‘being social’. But guess what? Not every team or individual wants to have fun or socialise with their colleagues! And even if they do, everyone has a slightly different idea of what fun is to them. Call it what you will – we prefer to call it Team Development – no matter what you do, you should be using the time to develop the team and enhance its culture.]

Team development can be anything from a lunch to celebrate a job well done, a 1/2 hour skills refresh, a presentation, through to a 3 day team-vision and strategy session. It may or may not include activities removed from work (e.g. sport, games) and social elements (e.g. lunch, dinner).  It can have a  business focus or  a personal focus. An event may be organised and facilitated by the manager, or it might be facilitated by a third party – a learning and development colleague or external consultant.What you end up doing should be driven by the needs of your team, not by what someone else has done or just because an activity sounds like fun.

So how do you make sure you are doing something worthwhile and not a last minute booking  that no one is interested in? Below are some questions to consider.

Objective

  • What are you trying to achieve with the team – both in the longer term and also at this particular event? This might include the type of culture you wish to foster, skills you wish to develop, collaboration you must generate or mutual understanding you need to encourage.
  • What do you want people to be doing differently as a result of your event?

Motivations

  • What motivates or interests your team members?
  • What types of environments or activities does the team respond well to? (Of course ask the team for input – just be aware that occasionally the responses will be about something fun they want to do, that has little benefit to the team as a whole)
  • How will you cater to different motivations across individuals within the group?

Business

  • How do you see a team development/building event benefiting the business?
  • How will you know this has been a successful investment in your team by the business?
  • Are their any limitations to consider? This might be related to things such as policies, OH&S issues, cultural awareness, geography, or physical restrictions.

Options

  • What are all the possible options for achieving your objectives and meeting team needs/motivations? (This will involve some brainstorming and/or research)
  • Which option or combination of options do you believe would be most successful?
  • Is the preferred option one that you can run yourself or is help needed?
  • Is the preferred option one that can be linked to other events or activities the team have done/will do? Sometimes team development is more sustainable if it is a series of related events spread over time.

Plan and communicate

  • Make sure you plan the event well, no matter what you are doing.
  • Communicate with the team to outline objectives and logistics. Most people will want to understand what the focus of the event is – whether it is do get to know each other better, develop strategy or just take some time out from the business to celebrate success.

If thought through well, team development can be used to build a team’s culture, capabilities and performance.

Happy teaming!

engagingPOTENTIAL: training, team development, coaching

Specialising in working with managers to develop extraordinary teams!

© Engaging Potential Pty Ltd

30 Oct

Stop wasting money when training your team!

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin

How many times have you sent your team members on training programs and afterwards wondered why you even bothered? Many managers feel frustrated when they allow their team to take time off work to be trained, then don’t see any results afterwards. It can often seem like a huge waste of time and money and many managers don’t realise a few simple actions might deliver better results.

Training can be mandated by head office, it can be suggested by the employee, it might be recommended by HR or you might identify a program that you believe will help a team member. Yet we are often ahead of ourselves – trying to find a solution before we’ve identified the problem or indeed that there is a problem in the first place! Or we might be ‘ticking an employee development box’, trying to keep an employee happy or even just getting them out of the office for a few days! So before you throw someone into a training program, make sure you have covered off a few basic steps. The tips below are no guarantee, although they should help you start to see better results for your investment.

1. Identify specific strengths and gaps

Take a few moments to write down what you see as the strengths and gaps (areas for development) for the individual. Be specific – don’t just say “good at their job” – identify what specifically it is that they do well or what specifically they could be doing better. For the developmental areas, consider what behaviours you would like to see if they had closed the gap in this area. Finally, prioritise developmental areas – their importance to the individual’s ability to do their job is a good starting point. After you have done this for your employee, it’s a great idea to have a conversation with them to see if you are on the same page – ask them what they think their strengths and development areas might be, then share your thoughts. This opens up constructive dialogue, helps raise their self-awareness, and by asking for their input, you are encouraging them to take responsibility. In these discussions, generally it is best to start with strengths as these are so important to acknowledge!

2. Determine cause of gaps: skill, knowledge, experience or capability

Areas for development have many different causes for each individual. Sometimes it is a skill that they are unfamiliar with, or it may be some background knowledge is missing. Perhaps they have not had the opportunity to demonstrate a skill. Or maybe they do not have the capability to close the gap in development – this might relate to emotional or intellectual intelligence, geographical location or other physical barriers. Of course, often the cause of the gap is an overlap of some of these aspects. Once you know the cause/s of a developmental gap, it will help you determine what might be needed from a learning program. As with point 1. above, and other points below, often this can be a joint discussion with the individual.

3. Understand how they like to learn

Different people learn differently. Take a moment to uncover how  your employee BEST learns. For example, do they learn through reading, discussions, role-plays, applying skills in the workplace, observing  others, and so on. Understanding this will help determine the type of training they might need and also the extra help they might benefit from to support any theoretical learning. And if you don’t know how they like to learn – ASK! Sometimes the way they like to learn will tie in with their strengths – for example, they might bring a very structured and detailed analysis to projects so their learning preference might be to read, take notes and structure the key concepts into memorable points before applying them to a specific task.

4. Identify learning opportunities and plan

Work with the employee to identify a learning plan for closing the gap. Based on their learning preferences, this might involve attending a training program or it may be more comprehensive, like being assigned a specific task, attending training to learn more about the skills required for the task, being coached by an expert in the area and getting feedback at key milestones of the project. Try to incorporate opportunities where they can enjoy and reinforce the learning through use of their strengths – for example, if they are excellent presenters, then have them present the key concepts of any training back to the team afterwards; if they are problem-solvers, ask them to identify areas of the business where the training concepts might improve systems and processes.

5. Reinforce the learning

Prior to beginning their learning plan, including any training sessions, meet with the employee and ask them what they hope to get out of the activities/training. By verbalising their thoughts, they are more likely to take responsibility – they are telling you what they want to learn, so they have to own it. And if they can’t think of anything, perhaps back to point one before you waste money and time! Of course, if you have expectations of their learning that they don’t identify, it’s a good idea to highlight these; they might include how you hope they will apply the skills post training. Then after the training program or learning activity, meet with the employee again to seek their feedback on how they found the learning and what they got out of it; also how they see themselves applying what they learnt back in their daily job. And make sure the learning is reinforced at regular intervals – through follow-up training, discussion, application and coaching, as appropriate. Without effective reinforcement, people will forget, not use effectively or not use at all what they have learnt. Your role as a manager is to help support this reinforcement in an ongoing fashion.

There is no guarantee that you will always get the maximum return on investment for any training that you provide for your employee. What you can do though is to support the learning process effectively to enable the right solution in the right way.

Happy training outcomes!

engagingPOTENTIAL: training, team development, coaching

Specialising in working with managers to develop extraordinary teams!

© Engaging Potential Pty Ltd

08 Aug

The management brick wall

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

– Benjamin Franklin

As a manager, have you ever felt like you are hitting your head against a brick wall? Do you feel like your team ignore your suggestions, directions and advice? Do you find you have to explain the same things to them over and over?

If you answered ‘yes’ to one or more of these questions, you might be hitting what we could describe as the management brick wall. Rather than keep hitting your head against it while thinking it’s your employee’s fault, how about considering what you could change in your approach to improve the situation.

Consider the following tips that might go part way to knocking down the wall.

1. We all learn differently

Each person in your team is unique; they are not (and nor should you want them to be!) a replica of you. As such, they each will have slightly different ways that they prefer to learn a new skill, seek knowledge and gain experience. Some people learn best through reading and reflection in a quiet environment, some like to read and then discuss, some like to get stuck in and give something a try, some like to watch a demonstration, some like to hear from an expert, some like to talk to different people…and so on. Often learners are described as Visual, Auditory or Kinesthetic, yet many are a combination of two or more of these categories and there will be subtle differences amongst even learners with the same ‘type’ of learning style. Understanding how each team member likes to learn will help you understand how best to approach teaching, instructing, coaching and guiding them in new areas. And understanding how they like to learn is as simple as asking them!

2. Our motivations vary

As with learning styles, we each have different things that will motivate us to perform and succeed at work. For some it is having new challenges, for others diversity in their work, for some it is working in a team, for others it is to be able to work autonomously. Strange, but true, research in this area has found that money is not the prime motivator for most people – sure it’s often important, yet not the main thing that inspires them to achieve. Looking for opportunities to tap into people’s motivations will help you to build their knowledge, skills and experience more effectively than just giving them a task to do or telling them how something should be done. For example, if you want them to develop their networking skills, you will only get so far by telling them they need to interact more with other staff members. On the other hand, you might find their skills grow if you explain how developing these skills will enhance their chances of future promotion (if that is a motivator) and that you are asking them to sit on a cross-functional team (working in a team may be a motivator as well) because you feel it will give them more opportunity to learn about the company and to network with colleagues.

3. Sometimes there are other ways

It may be hard to believe, however sometimes our way isn’t the only way. In fact, sometimes there might even be a better way! So be open to your employees’ ideas. As long as they are clear on expectations, know what the boundaries are, and assuming there is no significant risk, there will be times when asking them how they would like to approach a task might be an effective strategy. People learn much more effectively when they need to tap into their own ideas and take responsibility for their actions – they learn when it works and they learn when it doesn’t. As a manager, if you set the expectations, then coach and support them, you might be surprised to see positive results!

So if you feel like you are hitting your head against a brick wall, take 5 minutes to think about what you can do differently to get the best out of your team.

Happy managing!

engagingPOTENTIAL: training, team development, coaching

Specialising in working with managers to develop extraordinary teams!

© Engaging Potential Pty Ltd

20 Jun

What do you expect of your team?

“The bottom line is, when people are crystal clear about the most important priorities of the organisation and team…not only are they many times more productive, they discover they have the time they need to have a whole life.” – Stephen Covey

 

How clear are your team about the expectations you have of them in their roles? If you asked them, would they be able to respond quickly and accurately?

As managers, we often make assumptions that our team members should know what is expected of them; we assume they have the same standards, work ethic, values we do. And we sometimes assume they have the skills and commitment to achieve good performance. Unfortunately, we can forget that we should never assume! Even if our team have good intent, a positive attitude and high level skills, they may not be as focussed or even performing as we would want them to be.

To make sure you provide your team with solid grounding to achieve, support them to have knowledge, resources and opportunity to learn and perform. It is also imperative that you also be clear on what is expected.

Team purpose, goals and responsibilities

  • The big picture purpose of the team i.e. why does the team exist? Ideally this is not presented in ‘corporate speak’ (you know, when lots of big, important sounding words are used, yet the message is not clear) rather delivered in succinct, every day language that is easily remembered.
  • The goals of the team breaks down the purpose into achievable actions to be carried out over a set period of time.
  • What each team member is responsible for to achieve the team goals. This should be as specific as possible, and accompanied by a clear outline of timelines and how the responsibilities will be measured.

Attitude and alignment

  • The attitude that is expected for a productive team culture is not something that is always covered, however by being clear on the expectations here, it can make it easier to praise it when you see it and call it when you don’t. Do you expect your team to be positive, solutions-focussed and supportive of each other? If you do, tell them – it helps create the framework for building your team culture.
  • Alignment is as important as attitude. A business will not succeed unless teams are aligned in their work with the organisational vision, goals and values. Ensure your team understand their link to organisational success and that their own goals and behaviour support that.

The ‘little’ things

  • There will be other professional matters that are important for different reasons to different managers/organisations. These ‘little’ things can become big issues of they are not explained to the team. For example, do you find it incredibly rude and inefficient for people to be late to meetings? does your company expect certain policies to be well understood and strictly adhered to? do you expect to have monthly catch ups with each team member? what do you expect to be updated on and when?
  • Obviously you don’t want to overload with these ‘little’ things or it will seem like a list of demands. Think through what is important for effective working relationships and performance then make sure your team know your thoughts.

Oh, and once you have established your expectations for the team, how about asking them if they have any of you? Most people appreciate being asked and generally will be reasonable and professional in response!

Happy teaming!

engagingPOTENTIAL: training, team development, coaching

Specialising in working with managers to develop extraordinary teams!

© Engaging Potential Pty Ltd

10 May

What to do when a cross-functional team gets cross

“The way a team plays as a whole determines its success.  You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.” – Babe Ruth

Cross functional teams can be fabulous – a way to productively collaborate across a business or even across businesses. However they are not always a happy team in motion. For various reasons a cross functional team can derail – conflict, confusion and crisis can result.

So what do you do if the team isn’t working so well? No perfect answer, however it must be addressed.

Call it

Someone has to identify that there is an issue. It must be raised with the group – not in small sub groups, not behind other team members’ backs. Call it in the team environment.

  • Explain that you think there might be an issue stopping the team from working effectively
  • Identify the major issue – do not make it personal – make it behaviour based and without laying blame
  • Outline how you see the consequence of the issue – e.g. what is it preventing the team from doing?
  • Ask the group what they think (not everyone has to agree there is an issue; everyone must respect others’ views)

Be solutions oriented

Once the group have acknowledged there is an issue – focus on looking for a solution. Unless it is a complicated issue, you may not even need to identify the exact cause – it could just be, for example, ‘ we have issues making decisions’.

  • Brainstorm – how could we make this better?
  • Prioritise – what are the three main actions we should take from this brainstorm list (have the team vote if there is not agreement on the priorities for action)
  • Action plan – what will we do by when? how will we hold ourselves accountable to this? when should we regroup to see how things are going?

Regroup and assess

It’s a good idea to check in again – whether a week or a month later – to see how things are tracking.

  • Ask the group if the actions agreed were implemented
  • Discuss whether these actions have addressed the issue
  • If there are still issues, decide how to move forward – sometimes this might require external facilitation to assess the problem further, to decide on team norms or to help the group understand principles of effective teamwork; other times it might just involve re-looking at the possible actions together

Happy teaming!

engagingPOTENTIAL: training, team development, coaching

Specialising in working with managers to develop extraordinary teams!

© Engaging Potential Pty Ltd

08 Mar

Why create a cross functional team?

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”Helen Keller

Cross-functional teams seem to be very popular at the moment. If you are new to the concept, you might be wondering ‘Why do I want to create a cross-functional team?’ A few reasons for you to ponder below.

Input and Ideas

When working on a project, you might find that it would be beneficial to gather others’ insights. Sure, you might have your own ideas, however a collective ‘think-tank’ is bound to expand thinking. If your project is about finding new ways, improving processes or coming up with new ideas, then it makes sense to gather a diverse group from which to seek ideas. Invite people who you know will have a different perspective, invite people from departments that are different to yours, invite people who may have a vested interest in the project outcomes. Whilst you don’t want the group to be too large (depending on the situation, generally no more than 8 – 10) you do want to have some diverse opinions from which innovation or inspiration is likely to come.

Politics and Policy

Some projects are going to have significant impact on others in your department or organisation. There may also be impacts on external customers or stakeholders. Especially when the project will lead to change, it is important to seek input from those who the change will affect. Allowing people to have their say or provide their ideas will go a long way towards effective change management – they and their team will feel ‘heard’ and you may also prevent problems you hadn’t anticipated. Even if the changes are not ones that people agree with, giving them a say in the process often helps to alleviate issues later. A cross-functional team is a relatively easy way to start to deal with the politics of a project.

Many projects also may be limited by, or involve change to policy . It’s very important to involve the policy makers / holders / governors during the process. Whether they are part of the cross-functional team from the beginning, or whether they are brought in at the relevant stages, their involvement could save serious headaches later!

Involve and Invigorate

As humans, we are innately designed to participate in a community. Whether an extrovert or introvert, we all generally have a need to feel involved. A cross-functional team is a great way to harness this need and to invigorate action and acceptance. Invite those who are passionate about your project to contribute and act as advocates within the wider organisation. Invite those who may be skeptical and have them involved in understanding the issues and solving problems – turning a skeptic into an advocate is a huge win and often results from cross-functional discussion.

These are just a few reasons why creating a cross-functional team can be a productive and positive influence on your project. While we can overdo meetings and involving others, if we do things the right way, the benefits can be wide-spread.

Happy teaming!

engagingPOTENTIAL: training, team development, coaching

Specialising in working with managers to develop extraordinary teams!

© Engaging Potential Pty Ltd

01 Dec

Creating a high performance team – the building of trust

“The essence of trust is not in its bind, but in its bond” – Unknown

Perhaps one of the most fundamental factors for a successful cross functional team is the building of trust across the group. Many such teams are made up of people from varied roles, departments, and often cultures – it is no surprise that there will be different perspectives, working styles, goals and personalities, all of which can fuel the obvious question – “Who are you and what do you offer the team?”

In any team different styles and perspectives can create tensions and it is often exaggerated in cross functional teams where there are different reporting lines and core responsibilities at play. It is critical that the team leader encourages and allows time for exercises that build understanding and trust. The popular Forrester/Drexler Team Performance™ Indicator identifies mutual regard, forthrightness and reliability as being the keys to success for trust building; without these you may have caution, mistrust and facade.

So how do you build trust in a cross functional team? Below are some ideas for team leaders to consider.

  • Putting people at ease – At the first meeting, allow time up front for the group to chat in a relaxed environment. You might organise coffee half an hour before, meet in a coffee shop the day prior, have a casual dinner the night before. The environment should be as relaxed as possible and the team leader should introduce, mingle and facilitate a sense of inclusion. Whatever works for your situation, it is important that there is time to get to know each other outside of the meeting – small talk is a first step to feeling at ease with someone. Even if the team has worked together before, each project can benefit from this connection or reconnection before the work begins.
  • Understanding backgrounds – Even if everyone on the team knows each other, there is enormous benefit in introducing what team members individually bring to the table. Sometimes we might think we know someone at work, yet we have no awareness of the skills they have or the experience they bring. Such an introduction can be done by simply going around the group at the first meeting and having them describe their working background. If more structure is needed (so one person doesn’t take up all the time!) write 3 questions on the whiteboard for people to answer. For example: Who are you representing on this team? What past experience can you bring to the discussions? What expertise should we be calling on you for? You can have the discussions around the table, break into pairs and have the pairs introduce each other when you regroup, ask for the information before hand and conduct a ‘who am I quiz’ during the meeting…however you do it, make time for valuing individual backgrounds.
  • Developing team ‘norms’ – Right up front, it is ideal to agree as a team on certain operating principles. This can be done using an external facilitator (helps the team leader be part of the discussion) or the team leader can coordinate. Discuss what team norms are (e.g. how we operate, what’s important to us to make sure we are effective) and how they will be used (e.g. as our guiding principles that we will hold each other accountable to at each meeting). Show some heading prompts – meetings, problem solving, resolving tough issues, values, decision-making, communicating – and ask the team to think about what’s important to them when working in a group – either around these headings, or in other areas. A good question to ask is “What helps you contribute effectively and feel productive in a team?” Have each person write on post-it / sticky notes (one comment per sticky note) and put them on a whiteboard or flip chart. Group similar ideas and encourage discussion and expansion where required. Consolidate key points and capture for distribution – “We agree to… We will…” Common norms are: be on time for meetings, one person talking at a time, respond to emails within 48 hours, putting tough issues and disagreements on the table, be open and honest at all times, phones off in meetings! Because cross functional teams are diverse, the norms must reflect all views.
  • Addressing difficult issues before they happen – Some teams will be working on projects where it is likely discussions will get heated or differences of opinion will occur. Identifying what the issues might be even before they arise is a good way to encourage honesty, understanding and appropriate conversation. This doesn’t mean that you will avoid conflict or tough discussions, but by acknowledging that they might occur it helps people be prepared. It also shows that the leader understands the project. A team leader might highlight that there are likely to be differences of opinion and encourage team members to share openly and honestly while respecting others may not agree; you could ask the team how they propose handling difficult issues or decision-making when there is a disconnect.

These are a few ideas to help build trust within a cross functional team. These types of activities will need to occur throughout the time working together – creating and then sustaining trust. If trust can be built early on, you will start the project in a productive way – it’s definitely worth spending the time on trust building.

 

engagingPOTENTIAL: training, team development, coaching

Specialising in working with managers to develop extraordinary teams!

© Engaging Potential Pty Ltd

31 Oct

A quick and cheap team assessment!

“Gettin’ good players is easy.  Gettin’ ’em to play together is the hard part. “ ~Casey Stengel

For those of us who lead or participate in any type of team, we all have moments of wondering if the team could somehow operate better. Sometimes we know how to improve it and sometimes we are not really sure what the issues are. To really assess a team’s performance, we should use a diagnostic tool. There are many of these on the market and in the ideal world you would use a diagnostic tool AND a facilitator to work through your team strengths and areas for development.

But what if you don’t have the time, money or inclination to engage a diagnostic tool and a facilitator? You could try running a ‘quick and cheap’ assessment yourself. While this may not give the rigor a more formal process can bring, it is a starting point and at the very least it will get the team talking.

Step 1: Draw and label

Divide a flip chart sheet into 4 segments (by drawing a line across the middle horizontally and an intersecting line down the middle vertically)

The 4 labels for each segment are:

  • Well
  • Not so well
  • Should
  • Shouldn’t

Step 2: Gather team input

Ask the team to write down their thoughts on post-it / sticky notes with one comment per post-it

  • what are we doing well as a team?
  • what are we doing not so well as a team?
  • what should we be doing?
  • what shouldn’t we be doing?

It’s up to you if you ask for input regarding the team as a bigger picture, or if you want to delve into the detail of team goals, operating principles or specific projects.  Your terminology can also be adapted to suit e.g. instead of ‘doing’ you might say ‘achieving’ or ‘focussing on’.

Ask the team to put their comments onto the flip chart in the relevant segment.

Step 3: Discuss

Lead the team in a discussion about the comments, starting with what’s been done well and then what’s not being done so well. Then move on to the next two areas.  Sometimes the ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ reflect the first two and sometimes new ideas will arise – double-up is fine and extra points are fine – the whole purpose is to get the team talking about team dynamics and performance.

Summarise for the group what the main findings are; ask for expansion if necessary; ask for examples if required.

Step 4: Action plan

On a separate flip chart, ask the team to agree on their top 4 – 5 actions to improve team function. This might include starting things we should be doing, stopping things we shouldn’t be doing, continuing things we do well or improving things we don’t do so well.

Confirm agreement and decide when the team will next check-in about the actions agreed.

There you have it – a ‘quick and cheap’ team assessment! While it might not be perfect, it is simple and easy to conduct and often generates some great insights.

engagingPOTENTIAL: training, team development, coaching

Specialising in working with managers to develop extraordinary teams!

© Engaging Potential Pty Ltd

16 May

We’ve set up our cross-functional team – now what?

“Coming together is a beginning.  Keeping together is progress.  Working together is success.”  ~Henry Ford

So you understand the objectives and have chosen the members for your cross-functional team. Your first meeting is tomorrow. Now what? The next stage may seem like it should be ‘just get the job done’, but how do you do that effectively?

Your first meeting with the team will help set the scene for your ongoing work together. If you are the team leader, you should be able to answer these questions:

  • How will we build trust and mutual regard in the group?
  • What steps will we take to get the group from “why am I here?” to “how will we do it?”
  • What will we do if there is a disagreement or barrier to action?

If you are unable to answer these questions, you could use an external facilitator, seek support from a mentor or get advice from a project management expert. Or, you may find the following tips help you get started.

Prepare for the meeting

Make sure you have thought about how you would like the meeting to run. (Please note – this does not mean that the meeting will run this way, but having a plan certainly helps!) If you are prepared, you raise your own credibility with the group and should get off to a better start as a team overall. To plan the first meeting, consider:

  1. What should we achieve at this meeting?
  2. What roles will each of us play?
  3. What process will we follow to achieve our meeting objectives? (NB: here ‘meeting objectives’ are distinct from ‘project objectives’)
  4. What are some important interpersonal / housekeeping points?

This 4-step planning will help you map out some important considerations, as well as giving you a great structure to open the meeting. For example: “Thanks to all for coming today. As you know, this group is to work on <Project X>. To start us off, our objective for today’s meeting is to <ensure we all have a clear idea about the project and to map out our team charter>. Each of you has been invited to be involved because <you are integral to the project and as such, we hope you will freely contribute your thoughts today>. We’ll start with <an introduction from our sponsor>, then we’ll <introduce ourselves and provide others with an idea of any relevant experience>. We’ll finish the meeting by <discussing what’s important to us when operating in this type of team>. So we can be focussed today <it would be great if we can agree to turn off all mobiles and laptops before we begin.>”

Be clear on team purpose

In any team, people want to know why they are there (the purpose of the group and their role in it) and who they will be working with. Discussing these areas at the first meeting is recommended.

Establishing a clear understanding of the project objectives is vital for the success of the work. Many people in cross-functional teams are short on time and love to solve problems quickly – being action oriented is often why they keep getting asked to work in teams! Whilst getting things done is important, sometimes team members jump to action before they truly understand what they are actually acting on. Many hours can be wasted working on a solution before the problem or objective has been defined – often leading to more work later when the action is off the mark.

To get your team off to a great start, define the purpose of the team. This does not have to be the actual detailed goals – it can be a broad objective that is worked through as the group proceeds. For example, the purpose might be to ‘improve the operational efficiency of  the customer services department’ and working out the more detailed goals (e.g.‘to measure  ROI of the current ordering process in the next two months’) may happen at a subsequent meeting .

Help the team build trust

As mentioned, people on the team also want to know who they are working with. Inherently, people form their initial opinions on the project partially based on who is associated with it. If they have trust with those involved, they generally feel more positive about its likely success than if they are suspicious or uncertain about anyone on the team.

Early on in the first meeting, you should give people the opportunity to introduce themselves and interact with others. There are many ways to do this. A very simple way to start this is to ask each person to tell the group their name, current role, relevant experience they have for the project and their favourite holiday destination. Facilitate the discussion by prompting where they offer little information (e.g. “John, I believe that you also worked on a similar project at your last company” or “Sally, what do you like about Spain as a holiday destination?”). After the introductions, organise a short coffee break and allow time for people to mingle – you’ll find they will generally relax and find connections based on the introductions.

There is more that can be done to sustain trust in the group over time, but highlighting experience and connecting personally is a first step.

Encourage the team to determine operating principles

Another area to explore up front is expectations of each other, which contributes to a team charter or operating principles. For each group this will look very different, but starting with the question “What’s important to ensure we work effectively together?” should get the ball rolling. Encourage the group to be open with each other to ensure expectations are clear from the beginning. If there is hesitation, you can always ask people to write their thoughts on sticky notes and then gather them up, group into similar concepts, and discuss.

Likely areas that will be covered in this session include:

  • Decision making processes
  • Handling disagreements
  • General courtesy e.g. punctuality, listening, limiting distractions such as mobile phones
  • Meeting logistics e.g. frequency, minute taking

With your operating principles in hand, you will be ready to begin the process of discussing the detailed goals and steps to achieving your objectives. It may seem like a lot of time to spend getting to this point, however it will help you have an effective transition to the ‘meaty’ parts of the project. And it needn’t take a long time if facilitated well.

Kicking off a cross-functional team requires planning, purpose and participation. It’s not always easy, but with the right approach you will be on your way to creating a successful cross-functional team.

engagingPOTENTIAL: training, team development, coaching

Specialising in working with managers to develop extraordinary teams!

© Engaging Potential Pty Ltd

27 Apr

Creating an effective cross-functional team – the initial considerations.

“Coming together is a beginning.  Keeping together is progress.  Working together is success.”  ~Henry Ford

Most businesses – small and large – use cross-functional teams at some point. Whether or not they actually call it a cross-functional team is irrelevant – if there is a group of people from different parts of the business working on a project, process review or planning – it’s a cross-functional team. Cross-functional teams have many advantages over a single department focus – sharing of ideas across the company, gaining valuable input from stakeholders, compiling a strong business case for change – just to name a few.

Whether the cross-functional team is undertaking a one-off meeting or involved in a year-long committment, it’s important that we maximise the resources (people and time) assigned. So how do we get the most out of these often diverse teams?

There are many factors to be considered to help ensure and effective cross-functional team: ranging from budget to office politics to communication skills. At the very basic level, there are some core elements to address in the initial stages of creating a cross- functional group. These elements may be handled differently depending on the business and the scope of work, however they should all be considered.

These core elements can be divided into three areas:

  1. What
  2. Who
  3. How

The above order is deliberate. Deciding the ‘what’ helps determine the ‘who’, which in turn will help shape the’ how’.

What

  • SMART  objectives (specific-measurable-realistic-timebound): what is the team to achieve?
  • Business impact: how might the team’s objectives help the business? are there any predetermined risks in either not achieving or achieving the objectives?

Who

  • Relevant representation: what roles / people are essential to be involved to achieve the objectives? what roles / people might be required for occasional input beyond the essential membership?
  • Team leader: who will lead the team and what will be their responsibilities? (having a leader is actually quite important!)
  • Team sponsor: is an executive management sponsor required and if so, what will be their responsibilities?

How

  • Operating guidelines: what are the different team members’ roles and responsibilities; (and once formed) what is fundamental to ensure we are working well together? )
  • Milestones: to achieve the objectives, what are the key steps involved?

Beyond these initial key elements, there are other factors that should be considered to sustain an effective cross-functional team -these will be discussed in a later post. In the initial set up of such teams, if the WHAT, the WHO and the HOW are at least covered, then you will be off to a good start in maximising your team’s efforts.

engagingPOTENTIAL: training, team development, coaching

Specialising in working with managers to develop extraordinary teams!

© Engaging Potential Pty Ltd