04 Aug

How tuned in are you? Really.





“I remind myself every morning: nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.” – Larry King

In your everyday work, how tuned in are you to what’s happening around you, what people are saying and how others are behaving? Most people we ask this question of would say – “I’m very aware of what’s happening around me!” Yet when we dig a little deeper, we soon find a slightly different story and most will then admit that maybe they aren’t really as tuned in as they thought (or pretended) they were!

Did you realise that you were just checking your mobile phone in that meeting? Did you see how others responded when you made that ‘joke’? Did you understand what your boss just said to you? Did you see the body language your colleague used when you popped in to their office? Did you realise you just checked your phone again while we were talking?

Modern life is busy. Actually for some it feels a bit chaotic. So we often are too tired, too busy or even (should we say it…?) self-absorbed to truly tune in to what people are saying or doing most of the time.

Yet many don’t realise  significant impact of not tuning in.

  • Others may actually think you’re rude. Do you check your phone during meetings? This is a classic example of where you might be tuning out and at the same time could be leaving people with the impression that you are rude and disrespectful. Even if you think you are still listening – here’s some big news…you’re not.
  • You may just miss out on important information. When you tune out, whether to check your phone, to think about your to-do list, or simply to day-dream, your brain is not accurately receiving all of the information around you. And sometimes that’s completely ok. Sometimes it’s not – you may miss information to help you at work, a family member’s story, or even important signals that could save your life.
  • Building and maintaining relationships just got harder. Despite our busy world, humans are still fundamentally designed to be social and make connections. In the workplace, healthy relationships can lead to better productivity, better engagement and even to better stress management. So if we are consistently not tuning in, and others notice this, we could be destroying trust, credibility, respect and ultimately damaging relationships. People want to connect more with those who show an interest in them, than with those who don’t.

So how do we develop better skills at tuning in? Well, it takes time, practice and genuine positive intent. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

  • Turn off your phone in meetings
  • Make eye contact with the person presenting/speaking with you
  • Truly focus on the words and body language others are using
  • Pause before you cut someone off in conversation
  • Ask questions – be curious! What can you learn from the conversation?
  • If your mind is wandering when it shouldn’t, take a deep breath – it does wonders to refocus you
  • Monitor how often you talk about yourself versus listening to others, or asking others questions
  • Evaluate the quality of your relationships and consider what else you can do to be more positively connected
  • Become a great observer – of people’s actions, words and even their environment (it’s amazing what you can learn about someone from the items on their work desk!)

Of course, these suggestions are based on common-sense and not particularly new concepts. They key though is being true to yourself – are you really tuning in to what’s happening around you, or are you only pretending?

Happy tuning in!

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

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 Jul

Promoting your team to internal customers

“The way you think your customers feel about your product is not always the same as what your customers really think about your product. ” – Bo Bennett

For those of us who work in or lead a team that supports internal customers, often the last thing we have time to do is to promote or market the team’s work. And why should we? Surely ‘they’ see the great things we do?! Actually, our internal customers are often so busy themselves that they may rarely notice or think about those who support them. So perhaps take a moment to think about how to promote the team and get the message out there about the work we do.

Before we go any further – what do we mean by ‘promoting’? In this sense it is about raising internal awareness of what the team does to support the business, what elements will help it operate more successfully and what achievements are being made.

So why should we promote the team to our internal customers? Well, wouldn’t it be great if we created business partnerships with our customers – relationships that enable optimal efficiency and effectiveness through working together? And to help create that business partnership, our internal customers need to see us as more than just the team that responds to their reactive needs.

Engaging customers in a business partnership is not just about handling an issue or delivering a solution. For a productive relationship, we should be finding ways to: anticipate customer needs, provide relevant services to support their work and highlight the benefits of working together.

If we start to do this well, ultimately this will help us to: reduce duplication, minimise customer complaints, maximise resources and reinforce our success in the business.

Promoting the team starts with effective communication regarding services –  making it meaningful and relevant to the customer.  It’s also about demonstrating exceptional customer service, even during stressful situations. And it is about marketing the team internally, through value-add services, promotional activities and celebration of success.

Effective communication regarding services

Often we assume that internal customers know what we do to support the business. However, if you took a survey today, would all your customers know all of the areas you cover? Would they understand the value you add across the business? It’s likely that your internal customers only see the work you do for them and they might forget even that after a few weeks.

If you can paint a ‘big picture’ of how your team supports the business overall, then you may find that customers are impressed with the scope of work and it could even highlight efficiency areas e.g. perhaps another team duplicate parts of your work, perhaps knowing that you do more strategic work for other teams will reduce the demand for lesser value work. Often our customers ‘don’t know what they don’t know’!

  • Think about getting the team to brainstorm the key areas they work in and group similar work under major headings. Then get them to identify the value of that work to the business. (Tip: if they can’t identify the value, then why are you doing that work?)
  • Do you have a team vision? You could communicate that to your customers as well.
  • Do you have areas that you work in that could be more efficient if customers would only cooperate? Think about mapping out “help us to support you” guidelines to discuss.
  • Have you had some great successes recently? Consider how you will highlight that meaningfully to others.

Whatever you do want to showcase with customers, think about the relevance of the information and how you can structure it simply, yet with impact. Make sure all team members are equipped to discuss the key points as promotion is a group effort.

Once you know what you want to communicate, think about how best to get the message out there. You could schedule meetings with key customers to review recent work and update them on the team’s focus areas; you might want to meet with a number of customers to identify areas to ensure better business support; or you could host a morning tea break for new employees to showcase your service areas. These are just a few suggestions, however ensure that the team is communicating consistently and in an ongoing fashion!

Demonstrating exceptional customer service

Exceptional customer service is not just about delivering everything a customer asks for. It is about anticipating customer needs, understanding those needs and delivering valuable solutions and services to meet the needs. To be effective here, you need to consider how actively you try to anticipate needs or truly understand your internal customer’s daily challenges and opportunities. If you can do this well and deliver appropriate support, then you will raise awareness and respect for the team and probably end up doing more satisfying work.

To anticipate and understand needs, you will obviously at some point have to ask your customers some questions! You will be surprised at how much most customers will appreciate being asked. This in itself is team promotion!

Exceptional customer service is also about handling stressful situations. Make sure you and your team are equipped to approach these difficult scenarios with professionalism, calmness and a focus on results. This is a complex area and one that requires much support, preparation and coaching. But if you can win over a customer in a stressful interaction, then you are truly promoting the team.

Marketing the team

Marketing the team internally has already started if you have addressed the previous two areas! Now think about what else you can do. Whilst you don’t want to overload internal customers with too much information, consider how you can remind them you are there, highlight your work and perhaps even make them smile.

If you give presentations, perhaps you can showcase ‘how we have helped the business this month’. Maybe you can ask for customer feedback through an online survey with a prize for the first five participants. Sometimes even a laminated desktop card can be useful for some teams. Or think about relevant value add services – what about an online ‘tips’ section; a short training session; a monthly newsletter?


There is value in promoting your team to internal customers. Not only will it help build awareness of your achievements, it should also help build effective business partnerships with your customers. Promoting is not just about highlighting what you do, it’s about identifying how you help the business, demonstrating exceptional customer service and marketing your team in different ways.

Happy promoting!

engagingPOTENTIAL: training, team development, coaching

Specialising in working with managers to develop extraordinary teams!

© Engaging Potential Pty Ltd

21 Jun

Cross-functional teams – roles and responsibilities

“O, Puchan, may we meet with a wise man who will guide us at once, saying: “Behold your way!” – Rig Veda

Have you ever sat on a cross-functional team and wondered “why am I here?” How long were you left wondering this – a few minutes then it all became clear? Or were you wondering for the entire project?

Not many of us love wasting time in our busy working days. So when we are involved with something like a cross-functional team, we want to know why we are there and what we are expected to contribute. Otherwise, wouldn’t we be better off working on something else? Yet it is a common issue for people working on cross-functional teams. This uncertainty can be exacerbated by managers who tell us we are involved, rather than asking or explaining the reasons.

If you are setting up or leading a cross-functional team, you will be a step ahead if you are able to provide participants with a clear understanding of their role and expected responsibilities right from the start. You are then more likely to have willing and effective team members ready for the first meeting.

Some tips to help you do this:

Choose representation carefully

Having the right representation on a cross-functional team is important. But don’t just think you need to choose ‘1 person from each department’. Challenge this commonly held belief. (NB: we are talking here about cross-functional project teams, not focus groups providing input) Ask yourself: “To achieve the project objectives, what representation is critical vs. nice to have?”; “Who is essential to the discussion and decision-making that will be required?” Too many people on a project team can be dangerous – a good number to work with is somewhere between 7 and 10, but this varies depending on the type of project. If you do believe you need a large group, consider having a ‘core team’ with major decision makers and a couple of sub-teams working on certain elements or piloting suggestions.

Choose roles, not people

When making decisions about representation on the team, it is tempting to consider the dynamics created by combining different personality styles within the one room. Although there will be cases when this is appropriate, generally a more successful approach is to consider job roles required first. In this way, it will be clearer to explain why someone has or hasn’t been asked to join the group. And, it will prevent your own assumptions and likes / dislikes from entering into a professional decision.

Be clear on responsibilities

When you are choosing roles to be on the team, consider what you expect them to be responsible for. Of course, as the team establishes itself, these responsibilities may change, but having an idea up front will help you communicate with the people involved and obtain mutual understanding from the start. Three questions to help you here: “What are the reasons that this role / person needs to be involved in the project?”; “What contributions might be reasonably expected of them during the project?” and “What would they potentially be responsible for  as part of the project work?”

Communicate the key points

Once you have determined your team make-up and they have been informed / asked to be involved, ensure that you have effective communication channels from the beginning. Although not always possible, it is ideal to meet one-on-one with team members in person. If this is not feasible, then a phone conversation is the next preference.  There are a number of items to cover with the team member to ‘get them on board’ – here is a suggested flow for the conversation:

  • Thank you for being involved in this project – your input will be very important to our success
  • You have been asked to be on this team because of <reasons for being chosen>
  • The objective of this project is to <cross-functional team’s reason for being>
  • It is likely that your responsibilities would be <expected responsibilities> and we will discuss this further as a group
  • Our time frame for the project is <timeframe and any relevant milestones initially known>
  • I would expect that your weekly / monthly time committment will be <time> which includes a regular meeting and follow-up work
  • What questions do you have for me before the project begins?
  • Thanks again for being involved. I look forward to working with you!

These tips may sound like common sense, however in a busy working day, it is often the little things that are rushed through or missed when cross-functional teams can feel like ‘something extra to do’. It is, though, the little things that will help you and the team you are leading to get off to a good start.

engagingPOTENTIAL: training, team development, coaching

Specialising in working with managers to develop extraordinary teams!

© Engaging Potential Pty Ltd