Tag Archives: teams

State of Panic

“Tell me how it sounds, to focus the mental state of the group on the real issue,” I invited.

Darla took a deep breath. “I have been thinking,” she started.

“Good, using I-statements is good.”

She started again. “It seems to me that we are not making progress on the project we started last week. I expected to see some changes in our process already, measuring some of the samples coming off the line. AND, I see the same team doing the same thing we have always done. No sampling, no inspection. I am curious.”

“Good, I like I am curious.”

“I am curious about the way you feel about the project. We are all in the room. Everyone will have a chance to participate. I would like each of you to speak for yourself. Who would like to start?”

“I like it,” I said.

“But, what if no one says anything. What do I do then?” Darla was visibly off center.

“You put the issue on the table. Your team will now go into a state of panic. You have moved the mental state of the team from collusion behind your back to a state of panic. Every manager before you has always rescued them from this panic. Believe me, your team has specific feelings about this project. They have verbalized those feelings at the water cooler. They pair up at lunch and talk about the way they feel about the project. You are drawing those same conversations, that they have already practiced, into the team meeting, so the team can deal with them. Your primary goal at this point is to outlast the panic.”

Is It a Real Issue?

“How do you change the mental state of a group?” I repeated. “What do you think is slowing down the pace of the team?”

“Based on what we have talked about, the reason the team is slow-walking the project is that they don’t believe in it, and that if it fails, they will get the blame,” Darla explained.

“How will you explain that to the team?” I asked.

“You want me to confront the team, tell them they don’t believe in the project?” Darla pushed back.

“The most effective managers are not those who tell people what to do. The most effective managers are those who ask the most effective questions. Ask a question.”

Darla composed herself. “Wouldn’t it be better to talk to each team member privately. This discussion is a little scary. If I talk to the group together, they might gang up on me. They might all walk out, quit.”

“Every issue that affects the group, must be dealt with by the group. Your job as the leader is simply to put the issue on the table.”

“I have to tell you,” Darla looked uncomfortable. “My stomach is upside down just thinking about this.”

“If your stomach is upside down, then you know you are dealing with a real issue.”

Two Sides to the Contract

“Darla, you are a new manager, here, been on the job for three weeks,” I started, “but in that three weeks time, you entered into a contract, an unspoken contract with your team. Here are the terms of the contract, as you described to me.

“You have some new projects to roll out, with your team’s support and cooperation. You enlisted the efforts of the team toward these new projects. If the team digs in and supports the new projects toward the goals you defined, then you, as a manager will be successful. This is the way you see the world, this is your assumption. This is the context as you see it.”

“Okay, sounds good so far,” Darla nodded.

“But, remember a contract is an agreement between two parties. I am not sure the other party in your contract agrees with you. Based on your description, here is the way they see the world.
– Darla is our new manager and she has some new ideas, that sound like the old ideas from the last manager we had. We are not sure these new ideas are really any good, may be doomed to failure and we are going to get blamed for not working fast enough or paying enough attention to quality.

“If the project is not successful we are going to get stuck holding the bag, all blame will land on us. Yet, if we can slow-walk the job, stiff arm direction and show proof why the project won’t work, why, if we can do that long enough, Darla might quit and we will be off the hook. It was a bad idea in the first place.”

Darla began to absorb the new story of events. “So, the problem is not the pace of the work or attention to quality. The problem is the mental state of the group.”

“How do you change the mental state of the group?”

Did the Personality Change?

“How do you change the mental state of the team?” I asked. “How do you get the team to engage in different behaviors?”

“You mean, like that personality test I took when I started here? I didn’t think you could change someone’s personality,” Darla pushed back.

“Darla, if you go into the sanctuary of a church or temple, are you likely to be loud and boisterous, or quiet and reflective?”

“Quiet and reflective,” Darla responded, not sure where I was going with this.

“And, if you are at a sporting event and your team scores a goal, are you likely to be quiet and reflective, or loud and boisterous?”

“Loud and boisterous,” Darla smiled, still unsure of the point.

“Did your personality change?” I asked.

“No.”

“Then what did change?” I prompted.

“Well, the circumstance changed.”

“Exactly, the circumstance, the venue, the context changed. Your personality did not change, the context changed. And when the context changed, behavior followed. How do you change the mental state of your team?”

“Change the context?” Darla floated.

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?”

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.

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.

Most of the Time, It’s the Manager

“Oh, man, they did it again!” Ralph exclaimed, covering his face.

“And how did you help them screw up?” I asked.

Ralph peeked between his fingers. “What do you mean? I didn’t have any part in this.”

“I know, I know,” I agreed. “But if you did contribute to the problem, what was it?”

Ralph started to chuckle, hands now propped on his hips. “Well, if I did have a hand in this, it was picking this group of knuckleheads in the first place. And I probably didn’t explain what needed to happen very well.”

“Indeed. As a manager, before we jump to blame the team, it is always important to ask the question.

“How did I contribute to the problem?

“The Manager is usually at the center of what goes wrong.” -Tom