Tag Archives: team

Before the Team Can Get Better

“I am really disappointed in my team,” Carole began. “I really need to get them to step up their game.”

“Whenever I watch a team,” I replied, “to see how it is performing, I always end up watching the leader. Most times, the competency of the team reveals the competency of the leader.”

“Are you saying that the lack of performance of my team, is my fault?” Carole defended.

“No, I am saying, before the team can step up, it’s the leader who has to step up. Before the team can change, the leader has to change. The team you have right now, is the team you deserve. If you think your team should be more effective, you have to become more effective. Your team and their output is the product of your effectiveness as a manager.”

The Team Will Never Be Much Better Than the Leader

“So, I have the team I deserve,” Sheri nodded.

“Yes,” I agreed. “And understand the team you have, will never be much better than you. If you want the team to get better, who has to get better first?”

Sheri was still nodding in agreement, but while her head was moving, her brain was pushing back. She still wanted to lay the blame on her team. “Okay, the team did not do what they were supposed to do, but you seem to say that it is my fault.”

“Fault, schmaltz,” I chuckled. “I don’t care whose fault it is. But, I do hold you accountable for the output of the team. All crumbs, always, lead to the manager. As the manager, you control all the resources for the team. You control the work instructions, you pick the team, you pick the number of people on the team. You pick the roles for people to play, you design the workflow. I hold the team member accountable for showing up and doing their best, but I hold the manager accountable for the output.”
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Leading With Power

“But, I am the team leader,” Marion protested. “The company made me the manager. They gave me the authority to lead the team. But, when I look back over my shoulder, I am not certain that everyone is following.”

“So, you are the leader?” I asked, without waiting for an answer. “You believe, as the leader, that you are now vested with certain authorities?”

Marion shifted her posture. She was suddenly, not quite so sure. “Well, that’s what I understand about leadership,” she finally replied.

“Marion, let’s think about being a leader, not as a person, but as a role that has to be played. What is leadership? What are its authorities, what are its accountabilities?”

“Well, I assign tasks for people to complete. I determine what people do, or what they don’t do.”

“Anybody in power can do that,” I said. “Just because someone has the power, doesn’t mean they are a leader. Someone with power can simply be leading the team astray, screwing things up for everyone.”

Making Progress, an Inch at a Time

“I don’t get it,” Kerry said. “This time, instead of solving the problem, I asked questions, to get the team to solve the problem. They still responded just like before. They wanted me to solve the problem for them.”

“Perhaps they didn’t believe you,” I replied. “You did something new, to solve the problem. Perhaps the team didn’t take you seriously. Progress is seldom made, in leaps and bounds, because you tried something new. Progress is more likely made an inch at a time, repeating things that work. Success seldom comes by doing the right thing once. Success comes through your habits, those grooved behaviors repeated time after time.”

“So, what should I do?” Kerry baited me.

“I don’t know, what do you think?”

“I guess, next time, I will ask questions again, put the problem back on the team. I have to make it a habit.”

The Disabling Manager

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You say that one of the primary roles of a manager is to bring value to the problem solving and decision making of their team. Just exactly how do you do that?

Response:
Most team members, once they have completed their orientation and training, can handle most of the routine stuff. It’s the difficult decisions, the difficult problems they need help with.

How does a manager bring that help? How does a manager bring that value?

Some managers make themselves indispensable by providing all the answers, solving all the problems and making all the decisions. Yet, every time a manager solves a problem for the team, the team is disabled from solving that problem for themselves. Over time, the team is reduced to a helpless group that is crippled by its own manager.

The most effective managers are not those who solve the tough problems for their team. The most effective managers are those that ask the most effective questions.

People can only learn what they are capable of learning. The most effective managers are sensitive to that gap and fill it with questions. Real learning requires real change. The most effective managers anticipate that change and meet their team in that crucible.

Documenting Work Flow Issues

“I don’t understand why we are going to meet with the team about the new floor layout,” Shannon pushed back. “I mean, it’s a bunch of good guys, but they don’t understand the big picture of work flow and why we need to rearrange things.”

“And, you do?” I asked.

“Well, yes. I watch the unnecessary steps. I watch us move material around four or five times in the storage area before it finally moves to staging a couple of months later. I watch people searching for raw materials in unnumbered bins. I watch people pull unmarked boxes down to see what is inside.”

“Do you think you missed anything? That checklist inside your head, is that all the workflow issues we have? Are you sure you noticed everything?” I pressed.

“Well, not everything. There will always be something,” Shannon shrugged.

“So, let’s turn your single set of eyes and ears into twenty sets of eyes and ears and ask some simple questions of your team.”

How to Create Individual Accountability

One by one, each team member volunteered some specific action where they had contributed to an overall slowdown in throughput on the floor. Julia listened well. Ed wrote the ideas on the board.

The group had come full circle to Ralph, the remaining hold-out. “Well, I still don’t think I contributed to the problem. But if I did contribute, the only thing I can think of, is that, about a year and a half ago, I stopped filling out the weekly production schedule. Things had become so routine, I didn’t think we needed it. I am not sure that we need it now, but, anyway, that’s my idea.”

“Thank you, Ralph,” Julia said softly. “Ed, write that up on the board.” She looked around the room. They had added eleven more ideas to the original sixteen. But these were different.

“I want to thank you all for taking this first step. We have 27 things we need to look at, but more importantly, you, as a team, are now in position to make something happen. Until this morning, you all thought the problem was with a machine or a batch of bad materials. Only in the past few minutes, you each talked about how you, individually, were responsible for the way we work.

“It is only when you understand that you are responsible for the problem, that you can take responsibility for fixing the problem. I can’t fix it, only you can fix it. As a team, we are ready to take the next steps. Let’s take a break. See you back here in ten minutes.”

How to Find Unproductive Behavior

The team worked for another 40 minutes. They had sixteen ideas on the board, but Julia wasn’t satisfied. “These ideas are good,” she said, “but not sufficient. Let’s take a different approach. I want you to think about yourself. How have you individually, contributed to the lack of throughput around here?”

Ralph was quick out of the gate. “It’s not my fault!” he proclaimed loudly.

Julia smiled. “Ralph. I know, but I still want you to think about it. It’s not your fault, but if it was your fault, how have you contributed.”

Ralph was a little surprised. No one ever dared asked him to consider that he might be the problem.

“I’ll go first,” said Max, letting Ralph off the hook. “When I am bringing materials into the warehouse off the truck, I just start stacking them up in the receiving area. But, we have so much stuff coming in, I stack it too close to the first staging area. Before they can set up the first staging, they have to move everything I just stacked up in the way.

“I had thought about saying something, but I was too pre-occupied with getting the truck unloaded.” Max had just laid it out there. Again, there was silence. Julia let it build.

“Ed, write that up on the board,” she said.

“Who has the next idea?”

How to Get a Team to Grapple with the Real Issue

Ralph began to fidget. By all counts, things should be better than ever. Volume in the department was up, but profitability was sinking. Julia, the new department manager had put the issue on the table. “How do we get the red line to turn up?”

She had warned me earlier that there would be friction. “Things get uncomfortable. Your stomach turns upside down. But you know you are dealing with real issues when your stomach is upside down.

“We can go one of two ways. We can avoid the issue so our stomachs feel better. Or we can work through the issue and make real improvements.”

Ralph spoke up first. “Well, I think we need a new machine on the line. We were promised a new machine by our last manager, but he got fired before we got it. I think our problems would be solved if we just got the new machine.”

In my briefing before the meeting, Julia told me they would blame the problem on one of the older machines. Truth be told, she said, that old machine had more uptime than any of the other equipment on the floor. There were never any materials stacked in front of it waiting. The old machine was definitely not the bottleneck, it was just an excuse covering up the problem somewhere else.

“Ed, write that on the board,” said Julia.

“Write what?” said Ed. “You mean the machine. I don’t think the machine is the problem.”

“Doesn’t matter. Ralph thinks it might be the problem. We are going to look at it, so write it up on the board. Alright, who has the next idea? How do we get the red line to turn up?”

How to Establish Purpose Across a Team

Julia was working quickly, but there were times when it seemed she was going oh, so, slow.

“Sometimes, you have to go slow so you can go fast,” she explained. As a new manager, working with a veteran crew, she had some significant hurdles to overcome. And the team had some significant changes to make. Though the volume in their department was growing, their profitability was sinking to barely break-even. This whole service line was in trouble.

“We have to make some changes and we have to make them fast. But first, I have to build a platform to make those changes.” Julia was firm in her belief about the steps she was taking.

“So, tell me about the slow part?” I asked.

“Instead of arguing about the way we do things, I have to establish discussions of purpose. I started with Ralph, then two other guys who have been around a while, then the rest of the team. All the conversations were different, but they all ended up in the same place. I got every team member to talk about a significant project and why it was important. In each conversation, I wrote the essence of the story on a 3×5 index card. Tomorrow, I am going to use that as leverage.”