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

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

24 Jan

Delegating is not really about you…

“The great leaders are like the best conductors – they reach beyond the notes to reach the magic in the players.”  –Blaine Lee

Many managers and supervisors find delegating difficult. This can be for many reasons – they like to be in control, they want all the glory, they don’t trust their staff. Sometimes it is because they feel like they are doing something bad to the person receiving the task.

Particularly for managers in this last group, it might be time to think about this a little differently. Delegating is not about you. Although you may change your workload through the act of delegating, this is not the real reason you should be delegating. You should be delegating to help develop your employees and to build stronger teams. You should be delegating to motivate and inspire confidence. You should be delegating to help with succession planning. Done well, delegating is actually more about the employee than the manager.

So how to you delegate without making it about you?

  • Understand your team and individuals within the team – what are the needs and desires of the group; what motivates individuals, what are their career aspirations, what are their strengths
  • Identify tasks or projects that will play to an individual’s strengths or will enable them to develop skills whilst working on something they enjoy
  • Explain the task / project clearly: objectives, timeframes, their role and why you think they are the right person for the job. Try to make this last aspect as motivational and positive as possible e.g. “I want you involved as you are excellent at developing strong relationships across departments. That is critical to this project as there is a lot of cross-functional work needed. The project will also expose you to senior leaders and raise your profile with them.”
  • Check in with the employee – do they understand the project and their role; do they think it sounds like a good opportunity to be involved in; do the timeframes sound reasonable. Discuss further as required
  • Ask what support they might need from you and outline any progress checks you expect

Of course, there may be some tasks that you struggle to make motivational. In this instance, re-challenge yourself to identify an opportunity for the specific person you have in mind – remember, it’s not about your interests or development! If the task truly is unlikely to be interesting, yet still requires delegation, then be as honest and positive as possible e.g. “I’m asking you to do this because I know that you will do a good job with this and it’s an important part of our team’s role.” Try not to use the reason of “I’m too swamped to do this” as employees are often left feeling ‘dumped on’. Obviously every situation is different so use your judgement on outlining the reasons.

More often than not, if you know your team well, delegating for development will inspire and engage employees. If you think about delegating as a way to develop and motivate, rather than as a way to clear your own desk, you might just be surprised with the subsequent results!

 

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

19 Sep

What’s a good approach for developing strategy?

“Change is not a destination, just as hope is not a strategy.” – Rudy Giuliani

What’s a good approach for developing strategy? This may seem like an impossible question to answer – the s-word often causes a sense of being overwhelmed and confused. Where to start, what is the process, how do we know that we are done? Sometimes it all seems a bit hard.

Developing a strategy – be it for your departmental team or your wider company team – is essential in providing a framework for direction and ultimately success. So whether you run a team or a company; a big business or a small one; a for-profit or a not-for-profit, you should be thinking about your strategy.

So, what is a good approach? Well, there are many factors that will impact how you best do this for your situation. To help get your thinking started, here is an outline of what you could do. (Engaging Potential uses the materials and resources of The Grove Consultants International, so some of the descriptions are adapted from their Visual Planning Systems.)

1. Organisational history

In order to determine where an organisation is heading, it is often beneficial to review where it has been – its history. This process helps bring the team together, gather lessons from the past, orients new team members, and identifies values and capabilities.

2. Context mapping

To commence a future-focussed discussion, the group needs to understand the factors, trends and forces at work in its marketplace. This may also involve mapping where the business / team fits into the larger industry / company, and the links to key players.

3. SWOT Matrix

Where there is a need to do additional work assessing a business’ / team’s current situation, a SWOT matrix is an ideal framework: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

4. Stakeholder map

The next step is to review the current network of business stakeholders and to determine the desired future network. This provides a context for deciding which groups should be the focus of marketing or other communication attention.

5. Visioning

It is essential that a strategy planning team reflects on aspirations for the future and determines initiatives that will move it towards its goals. These plans should be aligned, where appropriate, to developments within the larger industry.

 6. Game plan / roadmap

To achieve a vision, the business  must clarify goals to take them towards their desired future state. This is where the road map is essential
for developing a dynamic action plan – this can be as top-level or as detailed as required for the initial strategy session.

And it’s that easy! Well, we all know it’s not, but planning how you will approach this important task is crucial.

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

19 Oct

Team ‘spark’

“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes an orchestra to play it.”   H.E. Luccock

What level of energy is there in your team? Are team members motivated? How much ‘spark’ does your team have?

Teams all go through different motivational phases, impacted by projects, individual influencers and wider company impacts. Overall though, certain teams will have a visible energy, while others can appear tired, negative or unmotivated. How would you describe your team’s motivation or energy?

Team ‘spark’ is a phenomena that some teams create through individual contribution, team cohesion and strong leadership.

Breaking it down more simply:

  • S: Smile – Do your team members smile at work? Do they smile at each other and at customers? How much fun do you have as a team? (Yes, you can have fun at work!)
  • P: Participation – Do people participate in team discussions and problem solving? Are they interested in what the team is trying to achieve? Do they want to contribute to team success?
  • A: Attitude – Is your team made up of people with a positive attitude? Does the team have a ‘can do’ approach?
  • R: Respect – Do team members respect each other, their customers and other colleagues? Do they demonstrate this respect every day in meetings, in emails and general dialogue?
  • K: Knowledge: Does the team share knowledge internally and externally? Do they work to build their knowledge of the company, of products and services, of industry influences?

If you answered ‘YES’ to many of these questions, chances are your team has ‘SPARK’; your team has energy! This may be demonstrated through positive attitudes (especially during times of change) a keen interest in the company’s achievements, support of each other in achieving team goals, and even laughter at work!

A team with SPARK will generally have better retention of staff, higher morale, noticeable efficiency and effectiveness and of course greater achievement of goals compared to other teams with less energy and motivation. And not to forget the flow on effects – of less sick days, better stress management, stronger support networks and improved company or team external advocacy.

How to develop a team’s SPARK?

Here are some examples:

  • Organise a team meeting away from the office to formulate a team vision; finish the day with a team building activity that is fun, non work related and team based.
  • Establish team operating guidelines. How will we communicate and operate effectively in meetings, on projects, in daily work?
  • Regularly celebrate success. Recognise a project completed, a new client signed up, even a new skill learnt.
  • Get to know each other better. At team meetings assign a portion of time to developing an understanding of each team members role, exploring personality preferences (e.g. Myers Briggs Type Indicator) or simply finding out what motivates each other.
  • As a manager, coach team members towards developing behaviours that enhance their own or their team’s SPARK.
  • Train the team to give effective feedback and then encourage regular feedback (positive and developmental) within the team.
  • Set up a knowledge sharing forum on-line for team members to contribute snippets of appropriate industry, company or product knowledge. Or even ‘know how’ tips for daily tasks e.g. powerpoint, spreadsheets, selling etc.
  • Welcome fun! Share a joke on the team internal voicemail, go out to lunch, play a spontaneous game of office soccer, leave a bowl of chocolates out for a quick break – the list is endless for simple and appropriate moments to have the team smile.

 So SPARK some energy into your team and enjoy the results!

engagingPOTENTIAL: training, team development, coaching

Specialising in working with managers to develop extraordinary teams!

© Engaging Potential Pty Ltd

20 Sep

Team creativity

“The organizations of the future will increasingly depend on the creativity of their members to survive.” Warren Bennis

In day-to-day work with our set objectives, regulations and limited budgets, it’s often hard to see the value of investing in some creative thinking. However, in a more competitive world with an increased focus on productivity, setting aside time to do some creative group thinking might just be worth the investment.

Who knows, you might discover greater efficiencies, fabulous new work practices or even a new product! At the very least, encouraging team creativity  will enhance collaboration and problem solving in your work group.

Creative or innovative thinking often begins with an attempt to solve problems. In the late 1990s Apple solved the problem of a bulky portable CD player by creating the iPod. Toyota solved process issues by creating a production system that is held as a model of business innovation. Google solved the problem of accessing the myriad of information on the internet by building a unique search engine.

Of course, most of us don’t work at Apple or Google and couldn’t imagine creating an innovative device like the iPod or an internet breakthrough. But creativity  is not always about inventing something that will become a worldwide phenomenon.

An innovative approach to an everyday workplace problem can still have an immense impact – how about finding a new way to market a product and renew its appeal? What about an approach to customer service that improves company loyalty? Or developing a faster way to process orders?

Some ways to create an innovative and problem solving environment with your team:

  • Encourage and coach team members to come up with options for solving their own day-to-day problems – “What do you think our options are here?”; “What else can we do to improve this?”
  • In team meetings, recognise those who have come up with a new way to solve a problem, market a product or help out customers (or other problem solving, creative ideas).
  • Champion the team to build on ideas – sometimes the first idea may not be the best, but it is a starting point. “How can we build on this?” “Where else could this idea take us?”
  • Have regular team meetings to focus on big issues, strategies or projects. Facilitate the day with some basic ground rules e.g. “No limits!”- try not to limit ideas by thinking about company policy, the way things are normally done or even industry regulation. (The point is ideas generation and the necessary ‘filters’ can be applied later).
  • Bring in an external facilitator to run an ideas generation day – be it how to focus on customers, how to improve efficiency, how to market products – an experienced facilitator will help draw out the ideas.
  • Provide a creative environment – welcome appropriate fun and laughter in the workplace; have stress balls, coloured pens, note pads in team meetings (many of us think best while doing something with our hands); bring along music for team meetings; take the team off site – whatever it is, do something unusual to encourage thinking differently.
  • Invite someone from another department or company to project meetings – fresh ideas and insights are often initiated from another perspective.

Whatever you do to create an environment that welcomes thinking ‘outside the square’, you will find that over time the small effort it takes will be repaid with a more focussed, involved and collaborative team.

engagingPOTENTIAL: training, team development, coaching

Specialising in working with managers to develop extraordinary teams!