Monday, November 1, 2010

Teamwork - the Holy Grail?

Is finding the right combination of people a bit like searching for the Holy Grail when attempting to create strong and productive teams? Does there always seem to be one misfit or a pair of individuals who just can't get along?

Whether it's a team of two, or a group of twenty, establishing cohesiveness among team members is a vital, yet elusive, component for success. Teams cannot be forced or artificially created.

So what's the answer? Rather than attempting to create perfection from the outset, or directing people to "work as a team" when clearly they cannot, instead develop naturally positive and constructive teams by removing the hurdles that preclude their success.

Essential Attributes for Team Success:

Fairness - This is achieved when all the participants of a team perceive that the task is being handled fairly, and that their required contributions are reasonable and appropriate. On a team, fairness yields cooperation.

Responsibility - Each member of the team takes charge of his own role in the project. Staff knows what they are responsible to do, and make the necessary choices and decisions to be sure that their part of the project is aptly carried out. You'll know this is missing when staff pass the buck or make decisions that damage or undermine other elements of the project (or the company).

Reliability - Here every member of the team recognizes that s/he can depend on the rest of the group. Personal accountability is increased as each makes sure her part of the project is done correctly and completely so as not to let other members of the team down.

Honesty - Mistakes happen and things go awry, but knowing that others will be honest at all times makes the challenge of dealing with these unknowns less daunting. When others are up front, team members have the freedom to focus on their task at hand, rather than fear what they don't know. A fearless team can accomplish great things.

While these four components are necessary for authentic teamwork to emerge, a fifth element deserves mention, and that is TRUST. As in any relationship, trust is attained over time. When staff has experienced the other four attributes being religiously followed, trust will naturally take form.

While excellent teams will evolve as FAIRNESS, RESPONSIBILITY, RELIABILITY AND HONESTY are exhibited; it is TRUST that catapults teams into an unbreakable cycle of success.

The first step to unleashing the true potential of your team? Find out what's holding them back.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Top 5 Challenges Impacting Teamwork

A healthy and positive working team is at the heart of most successful projects. Creating such a team begins with the individual well versed in the art of building relationships, and who understands the value of each team member.

But winning teams also face challenges. Being aware of the most common issues hindering teamwork and damaging positive working relations is a vital component of effective team management.

To get you started, we have identified the Top 5 Challenges Impacting Teamwork and putting a business at risk:

1. Changes in Staff (down-sizing) - When layoffs or turnover lead to the down-sizing of staff the impact is felt by all those who would otherwise "team" with those lost individuals. Staff not only experience a heavier workload, but may be asked to take on more responsibilities. They will have to re-establish their way of getting the job done, while suffering the loss of any friendships they've built.
Creating a sense of teamwork is an essential step to rebuilding the strength of the team.

2. Changes in Staff (hiring) - Not unlike down-sizing, adding to the team frequently causes employees to experience diminished teamwork. Adjusting to new personalities is only the start. Changes in responsibility if tasks are re-assigned and the inevitable concerns of being replaced may lead to lower levels of cooperation and create challenges for maintaining business functionality. As new lines are drawn, staff must adapt to the changes in their team.

3. New Project - A new project requires that the right group of people, with the right body of knowledge and the right amount of direction are working in harmony together. With such tenuous factors at play, how well the team functions is both a measurement of their individual strengths and their interpersonal compatibility. If flaws in their relationships emerge, teamwork issues will undermine the success of the project.

4. New Business Partnership/Alliance - Much like a new project, establishing an alliance or partnership necessitates the forming of a new team, but with the added challenge of assembling participants together who have independent goals or purposes. Creating a healthy level of cooperation and collaboration requires that participants establish deep levels of trust prior to beginning their joint venture.

5. Team Alignment - The most common struggle with teamwork comes not from change or upheaval, but from the routine problems that have yet to be addressed or which have proved difficult to resolve. Issues with team alignment can be recognized by the ineffective staff meetings, the department with a divided staff, and by the team members who point fingers of blame when a deadline is missed or a project goes awry. A cohesive and united team is distinguished by their natural level of cooperation, collegial attitude towards other members of their team, and by their ability to reach goals and meet deadlines.

As with any relationship, maintaining a healthy team is an on-going activity.

When working with teams, you don't get to check a box and say you're done or walk away once you've re-established a level of stability. You can however enjoy the benefits of your effort. By addressing teamwork issues you will notice staff become happier and more cooperative; turnover and complaints become minimized; and productivity and growth, which had been hampered by these issues, can finally be maximized.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Getting Them to Be Honest

People often ask how I get people to tell me things that they won't share with their manager, boss, or Human Resources. Part of my success is certainly that as an outsider, I present much less of a threat to an employee or staff member. Another reason may be an esoteric quality I bring that makes people feel safe. But beyond those intangibles which I cannot help you to acquire, here are six tips for bringing about complete and honest responses from those you desire.

Getting Them to Be Honest

1. Start by trusting them- In an effort to be discrete or to investigate a problem, Managers and HR often withhold their reasons for asking questions of staff. This creates a level of fear and discomfort in the employee, as it says, "Trust me" but not so subtly says, "I don't trust you". If you want your staff to trust you, start by trusting them. Before you begin asking them a list of questions, tell them as much as you can about what you're investigating and why their involvement is important. If you can't give full disclosure, help them to understand the reasons you can't say more.

2. Tell them why it's important - What is obvious to you may be obscured to someone else. If you want to know the truth, make sure the other person understands why you need to know. For example, if you're asking about an employee's work hours you may get resistance or half-truths due to fear that you're investigating claims for over-time. If you explained that due to recent crime in the area you want to create a "buddy-system" where no one leaves the building alone, you would receive a much warmer and more honest response.

3. Address their reasons for holding back
As you share what you can with your staff, address the known reasons they might resist sharing information with you. Step into their shoes. Could they be afraid of retribution? If the information they share leads to termination of another employee, will they benefit or be hurt by that change? Knowing why they would hold back allows you to attend to that resistance, and make them more comfortable in sharing what they know.

4. Confront dishonesty
We can all sense when someone isn't forthcoming or truthful with us. (By that same token, so can they! See tip #1). Confront this directly but respectfully, and avoid making accusations. I address this by saying - "I'm having a hard time believing...." Or "I'm sorry, that doesn't make sense to me". Then I press them to explain the situation better or differently.

5. Remove judgment
In asking for honesty, we're sometimes asking people to be vulnerable to us. When they must admit to a mistake, a lie, a bad decision, or an embarrassing detail, they are much more likely to do so if they feel safe. While you may not always be able to provide confidentiality or protection, you should always be able to offer acceptance and understanding. I find this, when done with complete sincerity, will help almost anyone to tell the truth.

6. Let them know of consequences
Sometimes there are consequences to what someone tells you. They may be in jeopardy, a co-worker or boss could get into trouble. When there is a consequence lingering, tell them what it is before you ask for the truth. The purpose here is not to threaten but to allay fear. Most of us fear the unknown much more than the known; by giving them this information, you help them to decide if they can cope with the aftermath. Sharing information about the consequence also works to establish trust and shows you respect their ability to come forward even in light of an unpleasant outcome.

As you work to establish trust in your workforce, keep in mind that fear is the biggest impediment to honesty. As you succeed in your efforts to dispel fear, you will be rewarded with the trust and honesty you seek.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Quick Tips to Prevent Conflict

Are you living in a Home Owners Association (HOA)?

Are you familiar with your Associations responsibility to provide IDR - Internal Dispute Resolution?

California Civil Code §1363.830 requires an Association provide a fair, reasonable and expeditious procedure for resolving disputes between the association and its members without charging a fee to the member participating in the process.

This means that any member of an HOA, who has a dispute with the Board, has the right to a conflict resolution process; and the cost must be borne by the Association.

Keep your Association costs down and consensus high by following these 4 Tips to Preventing Conflict:

1. Listen - Part of listening is working toward understanding. As a board member you may be tired of hearing complaints or the same old argument from a homeowner. Rather than tuning the person out, if you keep hearing the same information, ask him/her "What about that is important to you?" or "What am I not understanding about your concern?" You may not always learn something of critical importance, but by making the other person feel heard, you will give them peace of mind that you understand their concern.

2. Restate - Closely tied with listening, restating proves to the other person that clarity and understanding have been achieved. In the absence of this effort, others may view disagreement as misunderstanding - and continue to try to explain their position or concern. Restating does not imply agreement, but comprehension, and works both ways to ensure that communication is clearly articulated and understood. Restating may sound like this, "You're saying that... did I get that right?" Use restating whenever disagreements spark to be sure that the problem isn't simply miscommunication.

3. Make Requests not Demands - The moment you tell someone they 'have to do', or 'aren't allowed to do' something, they resist. It harkens back to our childhood and our desire for independence. We fight back and make emotional, not rational decisions. However, when you request that they do, or not do something, it's a different story. When you make a request, explain your reasons clearly, and ask them to join you. Handling it in this way creates a partnership of sorts, and while it may lead to further discussion, it won't lead to an emotional revolt.

4. Let Them Save Face -Consensus on any issue is hard to achieve, and often decisions will be based on "majority rules". Whether it is one difficult person or a group of homeowners that are unhappy with a decision, be gracious of your "win". Verbally acknowledge that while everyone's wishes were not met, that the decisions made were in the best interests of the Association. Flaunting a win when others are not happy only antagonizes and creates an atmosphere for additional conflict.