Tag Archives: team

Slow Way to Change the Culture

From the Ask Tom mailbag – on Quickest Way to Change the Culture.

Question:
Okay, I got what I wanted about hiring new people who are more into process than firefighting. But how do you change the current team, whose culture has been more about firefighting than process.

Response:
Changing culture is a long term journey. It requires patience, persistence and paying attention. Same scenario for maintaining the culture you want.

Behavior – it’s all about behavior. We can put teamwork posters on the wall, but that doesn’t mean a thing. Culture is about behavior, not posters. Culture is that set of unwritten rules that governs our required behavior in the work that we do together.

It starts in the debrief, the post-mortem, the project review. That’s why you have to pay attention. You have to pay attention to behavior IN alignment and behavior NOT IN alignment. When you see it, you have to call it.

I like to use a group setting after a project, because I want lots of people talking, not just me. In fact, I just want to ask questions. Let’s stick to process vs firefighting, here are my questions.

  • When we attack a problem, using a process (checklist, model, protocol, step sequence) what are the major benefits in the result? [Your group or team should be able to come up with a dozen or so benefits.]
  • If those are the major benefits, what stops us from using that process? [Your team should be able to come up with a dozen excuses not to use the process.]
  • So, let’s look at the process. [You do have a process, don’t you, because if you don’t have a process, you may have to go back to firefighting.]
  • In what way can we stick to the process next time to get the results we want? [Here is where I go back to the excuses to reveal them for the head-trash they are.]

And I use this de-brief often, just asking the questions. BTW, this is a simple gap analysis.

  • What do we want?
  • Where are we now?
  • What’s in the gap, keeping us from getting what we want?

Rinse, repeat. Often. Slowly, the group will turn. Patience, persistence and paying attention.

Move a Team Out of Its Mediocrity

“Why the long face?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Julia replied. “I have been working here for six months as a manager. And I feel like I have a mob on my hands. It’s almost like I need to dis-empower the team to get them to stop fighting me. I have a group of long time employees, comfortable in their mediocrity. They work together, almost as a team, to try to stop effective change or create resistance to it. They are very powerful for several reasons. First because we can’t fire them all and second because they have become a fixture in the organization and the idea of eliminating them is almost not an option.”

“Are there things that need improving around here?” I probed.

“Without a doubt. But, every time I suggest something, I get stiff-armed. Or they agree with me, and do the opposite behind my back.”

“Perhaps you should stop suggesting things,” I wondered out loud.

“But, we need to make changes in our processes, to become more efficient,” she protested.

“Who is going to execute those changes?” I wanted to know.

“Well, my team has to.”

“Then, who has to come up with the ideas and how to implement them? Here is a hint. The answer has nothing to do with ideas and execution. The answer has to do with your role as a manager.”

The Problem Isn’t Your Boss

“You seem a bit frustrated,” I said.

“I am, I am,” Drew replied. “I think I do a pretty good job in my role as a supervisor. We have a complicated process with long lead items and seasonal demand. During season, we build to order. Off season, we build to stock. We have certain constraints in our process that slow us down and sometimes things stack up when we overproduce some of our sub-assemblies. All in all, I keep things together pretty well.”

“Then, why the frustration?”

“If I could spend the time analyzing the way the work flows through, look at some things that could be done at the same time, understand where the bottlenecks are, I think we could get more through the system.”

“So, why don’t you do that?”

Drew thought for a minute. “Every time I start flow-charting things out, I have to stop and take care of something gone wrong, something we are out of, a team member who didn’t show up for work. It’s always something.”

“What happens when something goes wrong?”

“I get yelled at. My boss tells me to stop thinking so hard and get back to work. The time I spend working on the system just increases my workload beyond what I can get done in a day,” Drew complained. “I am constantly reminded that my primary function is to make sure that orders ship. I just can’t convince my boss that if the company is to move forward, we need to spend time looking at the sequence of steps to make things run smoother.”

“If you keep getting dragged back into day to day problem solving, fighting the fires of the moment, what is the solution? Who else on your team could buffer some of those problems?”

“Nobody. I am the go-to guy. There isn’t anyone else, and there is only one of me.”

“So, the problem isn’t your boss, it’s you,” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“You will never be able to work on larger problems until your team becomes competent at the smaller problems. You can never be promoted to a higher level role until you find someone to take responsibilities in your current role.”

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.”