Category Archives: Teams

Don’t Fix It, Prevent It

Most managers got where they are being good under pressure, reacting quickly without flinching in the face of adversity. Most managers get their juice operating in the red zone.

The best managers are most effective by sensing pressure before it builds, preventing blow-back that requires extraordinary effort (and overtime). They don’t flinch because they meet adversity early on when there are lots of options. The best managers stay out of the red zone through planning, anticipating, cross-training, delegating and building bench strength in the team.

It is not extraordinary effort that makes a great manager. It is ordinary effort looking forward. It is not heroically fixing a catastrophe, but creating a sensitive feedback loop that prevents the catastrophe in the first place.

If We Lie Down with Dogs

If we lie down with dogs, the saying goes, we get up with fleas.

We become like those people we hang out with. We are programmed with mirror neurons to imitate those around us. Human learning is based on imitation. We connect with those around us because we imitate them, their mannerisms, their language, their behavior. One person yawns, contagious. Our mirror neurons cannot resist.

In paleolithic times, this was survival. Walking down the path, confronted with our friend, we can see the terror in his face. Our mirror neurons kick in and contort our face identical. That contortion stimulates hormones in our body so we feel the same fear, the same panic to turn around and run. We do not have to see the dinosaur to feel the fear, we only have to see our friend’s face. The good news is that we do not have to outrun the dinosaur, we only have to outrun our friend.

We are programmed to be like those around us. Beware who you hang out with. You will become like them.

Be intentional about who you hang out with. You will become like them.

Slide Food Under the Door

“Why, do you think the company made you a manager, last week?” I asked.

“I am not really sure,” Maggie replied. “Many, on my team, have been here longer than me. They are smarter than me. They are older than me. And most of them are men.”

“All true,” I smiled. “So, why you?”

“My manager told me, things run better when I am around.”

“And, why do you think that happens?”

Maggie paused. “These guys are really smart. Engineers, you know. But, they don’t seem to work together very well. It’s not like they fight, they just focus on their own work, without thinking of what is going on around them.”

“And, you?”

“I knock,” Maggie laughed. “I knock and slide food under the door. Not really. I pull them out of their shell, get them to talk to each other. In that instant, they can be quite helpful to each other. Doesn’t seem like a big thing, but, bigger problems get solved when that happens.”

“So, why do you think the company made you a manager, last week?”

What’s the Benchmark?

“So, what do you think?” asked Lenny. “How do you think my team is doing?”

“I don’t know. How do you measure how you are doing?” I replied.

“That’s the thing. We aren’t sure what to measure against. We got some studies of companies that are sort of like us, but the benchmarks they use seem so different. They just don’t make sense.”

“Two things,” I said. “Pick what you think is important. Start measuring now.”

“But, what do we measure against? How do we know if we are doing okay or not?”

“Measure against yourself. So many companies chase each other’s tail around and end up back where they started. Figure out what is important to your customer and measure that. That’s all your customer cares about. What else matters? Measure the second day against the first day. Measure the third day against the second day. Pretty soon, you will see a trend. Before you know it, you will have one year’s worth of data. Start measuring now.”

Nip the Bud

There are many ways to manicure a tree. Unwanted branches can be hacked off or buds can be nipped.

On a team, when performance does not meet expectations, it creates a gap. It’s the performance/expectation gap. In the near term, the gap is short and our options-to-fix are many.

As a manager, the longer you procrastinate the fix, the wider the gap becomes. In the long term, with a wider gap, the dissatisfaction is greater and our options-to-fix are fewer.

Nip the bud or hack the branch.

On Your Left

It was a late weekend morning. I was headed south on A-1-A, returning from a solo bike run to Boynton inlet. The headwind was light, but enough to knock the speed to an even 19mph. Three hours into the ride, I was in no position to hammer the wind, yet impatient to keep the speed up.

“On your left,” was a friendly heads-up as an unknown rider with fresh legs slipped in front. I downshifted and picked up the reps to catch his wheel. I settled into the quiet space of his draft at 21mph. Seconds later, I sensed a third rider on my tail. Now we were three.

For thirty minutes, we snaked down the road, changing leads, holding 21, taking turns on the nose. I was struck with the purity of teamwork between three people who had never met before, with only three words between them, “On your left.”

A team will never gain traction without a common purpose.

This was a team with nothing, except a common purpose, executing skillful manuvers, supporting each other, communicating precisely with each other. There was no orientation, no “get to know you session,” just a purity of purpose.

When your team works together, how clear is the purpose? What is the commitment level of each team member to that purpose? You don’t need much else.

Stand on the Chair and Scream

As the team left the room, Mandy had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. There were lots of promises from her team, but in her heart, she knew that only ten percent of the project would be complete on time. It was, as if, Mandy should stand on a chair and scream at the top of her lungs, “I really, really mean it this time. We have to get this stuff done.”

Those of us who have children know the futility of standing on chairs and demanding. It is pretty entertaining for the children, but hardly effective.

In what way could Mandy create an atmosphere to drive higher performance toward the goals set by the team? If standing on chairs and screaming doesn’t do it, what does? Most Managers are not aware of, or do not leverage team accountability. Managers assume the role of the bad guy and essentially let the team off the hook when it comes to holding each other to account for performance.

Turn the tables. In your next meeting, when a team member reports non-performance or underperformance, stop the agenda. Ask each team member to take a piece of paper and write down how this underperformance impacts their part of the project. Go around the table and ask each person to share that impact in one sentence. Around the table once again, ask the team to create an expectation of how the underperformance should be corrected. Finally, ask the underperformer to respond to the team and make a public commitment to action.

Team members, holding each other to account is a very powerful dynamic.

The Smartest Person in the Room

Don’t try to be the smartest person in the room. Dialogue is not to see who is right and who is wrong. Dialogue is about discovery.

The most important discovery is self-discovery. Have the humility and the courage to allow other team members to see your authentic self. It is your authentic self that needs the help.

Comfortable with Discomfort

The armed and dangerous team tackles the tough issues. Its members run toward the fire, not away from it. Armed and dangerous teams become comfortable with discomfort. The pit of discomfort often holds the real issue.

When a team is comfortable and in total agreement, there is high likelihood they are not dealing with an issue of high consequence. It is only when there is disagreement and debate, where the team is in discomfort, that important issues are on the table.