Category Archives: Teams

Practiced, Grooved Behavior

“But, I thought my team was competent. They have worked under this kind of pressure, solved these kinds of problems before,” Marion reported.

“So, what do you think is the problem?” I asked.

“I know we spent a lot of time working from home over the past couple of months. And, now we are back in the office most of the time. Things are different. People stick to their cubicles, practice social distance. It’s like Men-in-Black erased the memories of how well they used to work together.”

“What’s missing now, that was there before?”

“They seem out of practice. It’s not like they are screwing everything up, but they used to be tight. Now, every hiccup creates a little team stumble.”

“Marion, you say they are out of practice. What have they been practicing?”

She chuckled. “They have practiced being apart, practiced being disconnected, working alone, not talking to each other.”

“We are always in practice,” I said. “Just sometimes we practice stuff that’s counter-productive to where we want to go. We get good at what we practice. If we practice being lazy, we get good at being lazy. If we practice enough, it becomes a habit. Don’t practice things you don’t want to get good at.”

Getting to the Defect

“So, how did it go?” I asked.

“I thought my team was on the edge of revolt,” she replied. “But, turns out, they solved the problem for me.”

“How did that happen?”

“I knew how I wanted this problem solved, but, instead of telling the team what to do, I just asked questions and listened. At first, the ideas went in the wrong direction, so I asked the question in a different way. I was surprised. They gave me the solution I was looking for. And, before I could say anything, they volunteered to fix the problem.

“It seems the defect on the plastic parts were all from the same lot number. Sherman volunteered to run the defective parts over a grinder to remove the burr, but it was Andrew who surprised me.

“He volunteered to call the molding company and find out what was causing the burr. In fact, he left the meeting for five minutes and had the answer. The molder knew there was a problem with that lot, but didn’t think it would matter. He has since fixed the problem, sending a short run over for us to inspect. Andrew said he would be standing by.”

“So, why does this surprise you?” I asked.

“Instead of a confrontation, turns out, all I had to do was ask two questions.”

“So, what are you going to do with the rest of your day?”

Most Difficult Thing To Do

Cheryl was impatient to get to her meeting. She knew how this get-together would be different. Her behavior would be the first to change. Instead of a one-way interaction, Cheryl planned to ask questions and listen.

“I know listening is important,” she said.

“It is the easiest thing to do and also the most difficult,” I prompted. “Tell me, what will you be listening for?”

“I will be listening for good ideas to solve this Quality Control issue,” Cheryl was quick to answer.

“That’s a good start, but the solution isn’t the hard part. Heck, they know the solution. The hard part is getting the solution executed. That’s where you have been getting push-back.”

Cheryl glanced at the ceiling, then at the table. “You’re right. The resistance has been implementing the inspection program. I will just have to try to understand their position better.”

“Cheryl, it’s more than listening for understanding. Understanding only gets you halfway there. You have to listen for discovery. You have to discover where their position intersects with your position. Only when you find that intersection, that common ground, can you begin a conversation to build the best solution. When you find that common ground, you will begin to build the trust necessary to gain the willing cooperation of your team.”

Cheryl lifted her pen to the paper on the table. She drew a line and wrote “the team.” She drew another line crossing and labeled it “me.” Where the lines intersected, she wrote “the starting place.”

A Curious Child

My coffee was piping hot, hazelnut with a little cream. Cheryl’s meeting was to start in a few minutes. She was determined to turn things around with her team. She was hired as a troubleshooter in Quality Control, but finding the problem and fixing the problem are two different things.

“So today, you said you were going to listen?” I asked.

Cheryl nodded “Yes.”

“What position will you be listening from?”

The question caught Cheryl off-guard. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

“The way we see the world is often influenced by our position. In fact, you have listened to your team before, but you were listening from a position of judgment, so you didn’t hear what they had to say.” I stopped to let that sink in. “What position will you be listening from today?” I repeated.

“I guess I will be trying to understand their point of view.”

“Not bad, but not aggressive enough to be effective. What position do you want to be listening from?”

Cheryl was stumped. “Curiosity?” she finally blurted out.

I nodded. “So, when you sit in your meeting today, you will be listening from the position of a curious child?”

Cheryl smiled.

“And curious children always have a lot more fun than stuffy Quality Control managers,” I said. “Curious children often invent interesting ways to solve problems.”

Listen More, Talk Less

“So, what are you going to do differently?” I asked. Cheryl had just received some brutally honest feedback from her team. Rather than become defensive, she was taking it to heart, a really tough move for Cheryl.

“As much as I know that I have things figured out,” she said, “that doesn’t seem to hold water around here.” Cheryl was truly struggling. She knew her team needed to make some changes, but she knew she had to make some changes first.

“So, what are you going to do differently?” I repeated.

“It’s almost like I have to do everything differently. The worst part is, that I can look at a problem and immediately know what to do. But I am going to have to lead my team through the problem solving process to make any headway with them. It just takes so much time.”

“Cheryl, sometimes you have to slow down before you can go fast?”

“I know,” she replied.

“So, what are you going to do differently?”

“First, I am going to have to listen more and talk less.”

“Good. When is your next team meeting?”

“Tomorrow.”

“Let’s meet about a half hour before and talk about how that meeting is going to be different.”

That Feeling in Your Stomach

Cheryl was waiting in the conference room when I arrived. I could see that her meeting had some unexpected twists.

“I felt like I had been fed to the wolves,” she started. “You were right, they said the problems with the finished goods were my problems. They said that I was responsible for the 2 percent increase in failure rate.”

I nodded. “So, how did your stomach feel?”

Cheryl looked genuinely pissed, but maintained her composure. “It was upside down. You could have cut the tension with a knife.”

“That’s good,” I said. “When your stomach is upside down, you are almost always talking about a real issue that needs to be out on the table.” Cheryl may have been looking for sympathy. “So, what did you say?”

“I practiced that stupid speech we talked about, so that is what I said. I told them that I needed their help. It felt strange. I didn’t like it. I felt like I was leaving my reputation totally in their hands. I felt like I was losing control.”

“And how did they respond?” I asked. “Did they argue with you?”

“Well, no,” Cheryl replied. “They were mostly silent. Then Hector pulled one of the parts from the reject pile. He pointed out a burr that was in the same place on every part. Sammy spoke up and said they had run short on that same part the week before. Get this. Because they were short, they used the rejected parts to finish the batch.

“They said they would have asked me what to do, but that I had been yelling at them, so they all kept quiet.” Cheryl stopped.

“It was a tough session?”

“It seems I was the problem. Yes, it was a tough session.”

Process and People

“I feel a bit overwhelmed,” admitted Melissa. “There are so many things that can go wrong on this project, and I’m just not sure if I can manage it all.”

“You are right,” I replied. “You cannot manage every detail. Success consists of the execution of a hundred things, most of which cannot be managed.”

“Then how?”

“Most things we accomplish as managers consist of process and systems with elements that can be measured and managed. But that is only part of the story. Success also requires elements like focused attention, cooperation with team members and commitment to the result. Those are elements, difficult to measure, but more importantly, almost impossible to manage. You cannot manage focus, cooperation and commitment. This is the people side of management, and people don’t want to be managed.”

Melissa was silent, thinking. “The people side is more difficult than the process side, and maybe more important. I think I would take a mediocre process with some fired up people, over a spectacular process with a poor attitude.”

Mental Fitness

Five miles into the ride, the warm-up is over, we turn south on A-1-A and set up the pace line. Today, we have five riders. It was a weekday, so the ride will be a quick 28 miles.

Mike takes the lead, Scott follows, then Rob, Henrik and me. There is a southerly flow in our face, so Mike pulls an easy 19-20 to the first set of buildings. The route ducks behind some condo towers and in the swirl, the speed climbs to 21. By now, the gaps are closed and the line becomes efficient. To be a part of this team, each member takes a turn on the nose, maximum effort into the wind. Macho and ego may play a part (of course it does), but it is the responsibility of the lead bike to keep up a respectable pace. If the leader on the nose sees the speed drop off, it is time to move left and signal the pace line up. A short respectable pull is more appreciated than a longer pull that slows down the line.

As the leader moves off the nose and back to the rear of the pace line, it is important to maintain enough speed to hook on the back and close the gap. A brief lapse in concentration and the pace line can run right past. If too much space opens up, the last rider might lose the wheel in front and suddenly find themselves off the back.

If I could only catch Henrik’s wheel. Four feet, three feet, two feet, hold the gap. Don’t lose the wheel again. Mike comes off the front, Scott moves up, Mike will hook up in another 30 seconds. Close the gap. If Mike hooks up and I lose Henrik’s wheel, we will both be off the back.

The interdependence of the team requires each member to show up rested and fit. Each team member is responsible for conditioning, nutrition, overall aerobic fitness and strength.

When you look at your team, do they show up rested and fit? Does each team member take responsibility for their own conditioning, to support the interdependency of performance? Business projects often require long hours, focused concentration, dogged determination, stamina. Success requires a clear head. It takes more than a willingness to close the gaps. It takes fitness (mental and physical) to execute, to move the bike (project). How fit is your team? What does fitness look like for you?

Easy Now, Hard Later

From the Ask Tom mailbox –

Question:
I often think, especially in my coaching and team development but also in personal goals, about the hard part. I recently read another blog post about getting to the hard part in anything we undertake and how at times we can have the tendency to want to avoid it. How do we continue to enable or encourage the people around us to focus on the hard part. I want nothing more than the success of the people in my life.

Response:
This is a classic addiction curve. What is easy now, gets hard later. What is hard now, gets easy later. This is also the procrastination curve. The busy curve.

David Allen, in his book Getting Things Done, provides a model to work an INBOX (or a to-do list). Work down the list, anything that takes less than two minutes, do now. If it takes more than two minutes, schedule it, delegate it or put it into a project loop. It’s a sucker punch model. It’s too easy to knock out all the two minute tasks and too hard to work on the stuff in the project loop.

Easy to understand, we know what we (and our team) need to do. We just don’t do it. It’s too hard.

Embedded in David Allen’s model, down in the bottom right hand corner is a piece of brilliance. It’s called next action. I call it robust next step, or robust first step. When I encounter anything that looks hard, I just ask, what is the robust next step? And, if I can do that step in less than two minutes, I do it now. Even if it’s hard.

Critical for Growth

Nicole was still stymied over our discussion about the role of the supervisor. “But if I am not actively working on the line with everyone else, I don’t feel like I accomplished anything at the end of the day.”

“Nicole, let’s talk about the value-add of the supervisor. While your team members do the production work, your job is to make sure production gets done. The value you bring to the party, as the supervisor, is that the work is complete, at the target volume, at the defined quality standard and on time. To make that happen, your job is to schedule the appropriate materials, schedule the appropriate team members and make sure the right machines are available. Your value-add is consistency, thoroughness (no gaps) and completeness (the job gets finished).

“The Mom and Pop operation, just starting out, doesn’t have to worry about that stuff. They just have to finish today’s job for today’s customer. As organizations grow, as volume increases and there are more customers than you can count with fingers and toes, these are the issues that make or break a company. Is the right volume of product (or service) produced, of consistent quality, on time? Successful supervisors are responsible for taking the organization to that next level. It is a different sense of accomplishment, yet critical for the company to grow.”