Sunday, August 28, 2016

How Effective is Your Team, Really?

There’s a great quote by the author Simon Sinek, who wrote, “a team is not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people who trust each other.” There’s nothing mind-blowing about this quote on the surface – but how often do teams spend real quality time assessing their genuine cohesiveness? And who’s the right person to be ensuring they have the best performing team, where each member trusts the other, both today and into the future?
Trust is a huge issue and not something that can be assessed accurately unless, to some extent, trust already exists within the team. Confused? It’s a bit like the chicken and egg. It’s unlikely that you’ll ever really know if you have a truly high performing, trusting team if the team doesn’t operate in a culture where full transparency is the rule and not the exception – and for transparency to exist you first need at least some degree of trust to be present or a genuine desire to get to a point where the team can trust each other.
The general rule in most organizations seems to be to ignore this part of team dynamics and just let the group sort out their problems if and when they arise; tacitly accepting that not everyone is going to get on and allowing levels of dysfunctionality to exist – without fully understanding the impact on team performance and hence optimum output. In fact it seems that unless the underlying mistrust starts to negatively affect short-term performance goals, the problem will be ignored, in most cases, simply because leaders don’t have the confidence and skills to deal with it.
This approach fails on so many levels (1) you’ll never optimise your teams true potential; (2) individual team members will not support their colleagues above the very basic level; (3) the team will not innovate best in class solutions due to the distrust among its members; (4) ‘underground’ splits occur in the team where often one section thinks they are superior to another part of the team and gain favour with the leader, creating messy silos of distrusting self-serving sub-teams.
Another sad fact about dysfunctional teams are that they are the playground of command and control type leaders. These leaders thrive on their team being dysfunctional as it gives them more power to manipulate the business environment for their own personal gain. They have absolutely no interest in developing a cohesive team, as they fear losing their own slightly misplaced perception of control. Further they do not subscribe to one of the core roles of a leader that being to develop each team member to their optimal potential – as they fear this may threaten their very existence.
So how does one reverse this trend? Here are some fundamentals;
1) You have to want your team to be the best they can be?
2) You want an authentic team where honesty is a core value – which leads to a trusting environment (note: genuine honesty can be hard initially as team members hear the truth about how they are perceived, often for the first time and their ego’s get dented; but in the medium to long term the team, through focused leadership, get over themselves and focus on a honest future together).
3) You’re prepared to invest the time to build a successful team.
4) You set ground rules so you create an authentic environment, not a bitchy one.
5) You focus on the benefits of building the best team of highly motivated individuals.
6) You’re prepared to set the example.
So the starting point is for the board and executive team to ensure that they develop a leadership philosophy that rejects any form of command and control leadership; and they set the example to encourage leaders to develop high performing teams as a core responsibility. This means that as a leader you must be prepared to deal with team dynamics head on and be prepared to invest time and effort in developing a culture of trust – however hard that might be in the short term – as failure to develop a team that trusts each other means you will have accepted mediocrity as one of your core business values.  
As Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, wrote; “remember teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.”
Besides reading the theory on team dynamics, business leaders can learn a lot from observing the best sports teams around the world where for example Phil Jackson (former coach and former player, currently serving as president of the New York Knicks) said “the strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.”
One strength of great sports team is their authentic communication – it’s one of the things that makes them stand out from the crowd of wannabe teams where, as the author Michele Jennae states “if we don’t communicate, we certainly can’t get much done and if we don’t communicate authentically, what we get done is less effective.” Players on and off the field are authentic about their strengths and weaknesses; they understand their primary team role; but are also prepared to support other teams mates as and when necessary – they know that if their communication isn’t authentic, the team will not play to its best potential and they won’t be the best.
It’s worth noting from a business perspective that this sports analogy isn’t saying the ‘dysfunctional’ team might not win – it just won’t win by the margin it could if it was working together as ‘one’ cohesive unit. And this is often where the confusion exists for the business leader – they see their ‘team’ winning and hence assume that things must be ‘good’ and don’t get involved enough in the team dynamics to understand that the winning is more ‘luck’ than due to the team ‘playing together’.
So it’s your choice as a leader, are you confident and good enough to truly examine your team dynamics to find out if you have an environment of transparency and genuine trust; and are you prepared to invest time and effort in developing the best team dynamics possible?
Remember “leadership is not about your ambition. It is about bringing out the ambitions of your team” ― Cheryl A. Bachelder, Dare to Serve: How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Are You Image Focused?

Your personal brand is your unique competitive advantage which is a precious commodity in today’s highly competitive business world; and your brand is significantly affected by your perceived image out in the big wide world. It doesn’t matter where you are on the career ladder or what skills and experience you have – unless you have somehow saved enough money for your brand not too matter anymore, how you ‘promote’ yourself and how you let others promote you will have a significant short-term and long-term impact on your perceived image by others – and hence impact your dreams and aspirations on a business and personal level.
As HBS professor Laura Morgan Roberts sees it, if you aren't managing your own professional image, others are; "people are constantly observing your behavior and forming theories about your competence, character, and commitment, which are rapidly disseminated throughout your workplace," she says. "It is only wise to add your voice in framing others' theories about who you are and what you can accomplish."
The art of developing our own brand is something that is lacking in many educational and business environments. Yet considering how important your image is in optimizing your potential future – the art of personal image and brand building should be a part of a teenager’s basic education from 16 years old at the very latest.
Professor Roberts highlights how “in the increasingly diverse, twenty-first century workplace, people face a number of complex challenges to creating a positive professional image. They often experience a significant incongruence between their desired professional image and their perceived professional image. In short, they are not perceived in the manner they desire; instead, their undesired professional image may be more closely aligned with how their key constituents actually perceive them. Members of negatively stereotyped identity groups may experience an additional form of identity threat known as ‘devaluation.’ Identity devaluation occurs when negative attributions about your social identity group(s) undermine key constituents' perceptions of your competence, character, or commitment. For example, African American men are stereotyped as being less intelligent and more likely to engage in criminal behavior than Caucasian men. Asian Americans are stereotyped as technically competent, but lacking in the social skills required to lead effectively. Working mothers are stereotyped as being less committed to their profession and less loyal to their employing organizations. All of these stereotypes pose obstacles for creating a positive professional image.”
The world has become a very critical and hypocritical place as we try to learn to come to terms with living our lives in such a public arena. The beauty about the human race used to be our unique individuality and yet this can feel like a curse in this new social-media focused world with people making blind judgements based on their own, often ignorant, ‘beliefs’ without even pausing to understand the situation and the facts. It’s quite scary just how quickly people are prepared to make huge assumptions and judge complete strangers based on as little information as a simple photo or set of words.
Professor Roberts reminds us that “even positive stereotypes can pose a challenge for creating a positive professional image if someone is perceived as being unable to live up to favorable expectations of their social identity group(s). For example, clients may question the qualifications of a freshly minted MBA who is representing a prominent strategic consulting firm. Similarly, female medical students and residents are often mistaken for nurses or orderlies and challenged by patients who do not believe they are legitimate physicians.”
She goes on to add that “In order to create a positive professional image, impression management must effectively accomplish two tasks: build credibility and maintain authenticity. When you present yourself in a manner that is both true to self and valued and believed by others, impression management can yield a host of favorable outcomes for you, your team, and your organization. On the other hand, when you present yourself in an inauthentic and non-credible manner, you are likely to undermine your health, relationships, and performance.”
30 years ago unless you were some form of celebrity or very successful business person, you were pretty much anonymous outside of your personal and business circle of friends and colleagues. You just had to worry about your ‘local’ image, which was pretty much in your hands to control. Probably 30 years ago people actually wished they could ‘market’ themselves more easily on a global scale, though it seems that we have gone from one extreme to the other.
In today’s business world “people attempt to build credibility and maintain authenticity simultaneously, but they must negotiate the tension that can arise between the two. Your ‘true self,’ or authentic self-portrayal, will not always be consistent with your key constituents' expectations for professional competence and character. Building credibility can involve being who others want you to be, gaining social approval and professional benefits, and leveraging your strengths. If you suppress or contradict your personal values or identity characteristics for the sake of meeting societal expectations for professionalism, you might receive certain professional benefits, but you might compromise other psychological, relational, and organizational outcomes.”
The desire to be noticed and be part of the ‘social media community’ must be tempered by the need to manage your personal image, both in the short and long term, to the extent that you feel in control of your ‘projected message’ allowing you to market yourself more effectively – which should be one of the core benefits of social media.
Professor Roberts concludes by reminding us that “first, you must realize that if you aren't managing your own professional image, someone else is. People are constantly observing your behavior and forming theories about your competence, character, and commitment, which are rapidly disseminated throughout your workplace. It is only wise to add your voice in framing others' theories about who you are and what you can accomplish. Be the author of your own identity. Take a strategic, proactive approach to managing your image.”
Roberts, L.M. (2005). Creating a Positive Professional Image. Harvard Business Review, June []

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Does Your Organisation Encourage Learning From Failure?

Whether your organisation learns from failure will be very much dependent on your organisations leadership and the culture they have created. I’d suggest that the stronger and more confident the leadership, the more likely the organisation will have a culture that encourages ‘innovation’, is not risk averse and responds positively to failure – though not if the failure reoccurs.
It’s the organisations that have weak leadership – those people over promoted or promoted based on past performance – where risk aversion is the norm, and failure is a word that you only hear whispered in hallowed corridors and never openly discussed or debated as a ‘tool’ for organisational, team and individual learning and development.
In an article by Julian Birkinshaw and Martine Haas entitled ‘Increase Your Return on Failure’ (Harvard Business Review, May, 2016) they suggest that “though leaders know that they must tolerate and even embrace failure in the pursuit of innovation and growth, most will still do anything they can to avoid it” (p.91), yet when something doesn’t go as planned, it’s an opportunity to challenge your default beliefs and adjust accordingly. Birkenshaw and Haas recommend spelling out what the project has taught you about each of the following;
1. Your Organisations Strategy, Culture, and Process;
2. Your Organisations Leadership Style:
3. Yourself and Your Team;
4. Your Focus on Proactive/Reactive Planning and Re-Planning; and
5. Your Approach Future Projects and Trends – i.e. Key Learning Points.
Birkenshaw and Hass highlight how venture capital firms are very disciplined about examining their ‘failure review process’ by asking direct questions like, are we learning from every unsuccessful endeavour? Are we sharing these lessons across the organisation? And is this helping us improve our strategy and execution? (p.93).
Arrogance is a ‘common and historical’ block to both seeing and accepting failure. Edward J Smith the captain of the Titanic famously said when asked how he could best describe his nearly 40 years at sea just before that fateful voyage – “Uneventful. I have never been in an accident and I have never seen but one vessel in distress in all my years at sea. I have never seen a wreck and have never been wrecked, nor have I ever been in any predicament that threatened to end in any sort of disaster of any sort.” This arrogance was so strong that it perpetuated throughout the whole crew, to the extent that a steward on the Titanic when asked if it was true that the ship was unsinkable, replied “Madam, God himself could not sink this ship.”
Pamela Waymack stated in her 2006 article, “management’s overconfidence and failure to see its own vulnerability contributed to the sinking of the Titanic. Neither historic track record nor size and prowess are a match for a market in flux. We cannot assume that our organisations are invincible. A seaworthy captain with a spotless record for 40 years was no match for a field of icebergs,” (p.41).
One thing that is certain in today’s turbulent global economy is that markets are nearly constantly in flux – and to stay ahead, or even just to stay in business, organisations can’t be scared to fail occasionally and embrace must be mature enough to see failure as an integral part of their forward thinking strategy. Having a workforce that isn’t frightened to be innovative and think ‘for’ the organisation is worth its weight in gold.
We have to remember that as humans we are actually used to learning from failure – as innocent children we learn so much from failure, like touching that hot stove to falling off our bikes. We have a natural internal failure assessment process seemingly from when we are born – so it is already part of our DNA – and only poor organisational cultures or bad leaders inhibit and scare us into hiding from failure. If you’ve ever worked for an organisation that doesn’t accept failure – then you’ll remember the psychological impact this had on you as an employee and how your productivity, motivation and general engagement is negatively affected. In these situations it’s a lose-lose for all involved – though the leadership sadly never seem to recognises it.
As Birkenshaw and Haas conclude “failure is less painful when you extract the maximum value from it. If you learn from each mistake, large and small, share those lessons, and periodically check that these processes are helping your organisation move more efficiently in the right direction, your return on failure will skyrocket,” (p.93) 
Birkenshaw, J. and Hass, M. (2016). Increase Your Return on Failure. Harvard Business Review, May, p.88 – 93.
Waymack, P. (2006). Managing the ice in the waters ahead: Lessons from the Titanic. HFM, Vol 60, Issue 7, p.38-41.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Are We Returning to Command and Control Leadership?

What’s happening to leadership these days? The number of articles and ‘posts’ on the topic have increased exponentially over the last decade advising current and wannabe leaders of the most effective behaviours to engage in with their staff and how to inspire and motivate them for success – a win-win for all involved. Yet this desired image of effective leadership seems to be sadly lacking on the ground, in the actual workplace, all over the world.
In fact I’d suggest that leadership as a focused ‘technique’ is being replaced more and more with command and control type approaches to getting things done – where people in positions of authority are reverting back to being managers; and in many cases failing to lead all together.
I seem to be meeting more and more managers who lack the very basic leadership qualities and who are quite happy managing for results, rather than leading for results.
There are probably many reasons for this current trend, including;
1. There is just too much conflicting literature on leadership for anyone starting their careers to be sure what actually is the most effective style or technique. This is mostly due to the over commercialisation of the topic and sadly this trend is unlikely to end in the short-term. Every week someone is coming up with a ‘new’ style definition of leadership claiming ‘their way is different’ and in the end, as with over selling anything, ‘we’ are devaluing the very basics of leadership.
2. We’ve always known that command and control styles that mirror results orientated management gets the job done. It may not optimise your long term growth or operating results; and definitely won’t lead to a motivated workforce that is self-driven towards continuous improvement and innovation – but then stakeholders and markets don’t seem to be that interested beyond ‘the moment’ any more – so the old fashioned command and control approach gets them what they want. With a labour market that has changed significantly in the last 15 years, managers are confident of being able to find people to fill jobs – and since they are just looking for people to do as they are told – they take the approach that they know their labour pool is healthy across most sectors, so why care about people.    
3. Where are the role models? And hence where do youngsters pick up the basic values that contribute to great leadership these days? The media, especially the news media, has also changed over the last 15 to 20 years where they will readily admit that they are in the entertainment industry first and the news industry only second – as it’s all about ratings. Where are the inspirational leaders like Nelson Mandela – a man who showed so many strong characteristics and behaviours of exceptional leadership? Instead, for example, our future leaders are exposed to a selection of potential US presidential candidates verbally abusing some sector of society, as this is considered more entertaining than anything else and considered news worthy these days – and the young viewer is expected to be mature enough to see past the ‘entertainment’ and not be swayed by the potential leader of the free world not actually behaving like a leader should.
4. Who actually cares? Poor leadership has been becoming the rule rather than the exception over a couple of decades now and it appears that no one really cares. It seems to be part of the new accepted business model that employees are not ‘committed’ to their organisation anymore, so managers don’t need to be too bothered with the concept of inspiring and motivating them – they are just there for a pay check, have little ambition and will pretty much do as they are told.
Really?  Maybe that’s what poor leaders are telling themselves – but in my experience most, if not all, employees dream of working for an organisation that cares about them; and will create an environment where they can reach their full potential. It’s the chicken and egg story – it’s because employees haven’t been led effectively that they have thrown in the towel and decided “if you can’t beat them join them”.
If organisations desire to be the best they can be then they need to start paying real attention to their leadership approach. This doesn’t mean going and asking employees what they think – as these employees already operate in an environment where they don’t feel safe and hence will not give an honest answer. Too many organisations are fooled by thinking their internal surveys tell them everything is working perfectly and can’t see what is really going on. It takes a very special CEO who will create the right environment to identify the ‘real’ problems in his or her organisation and then put in place the solutions to fix them.
If you’ve worked for a great, inspirational leader you’ll know the difference it made to your whole approach to life – not just business but everything. The energy that you felt working in this kind of environment and how you actually enjoyed your job. It’s not just a short term thing; and the inspirational leader creates the right environment that allows you to grow and develop, often allowing you to find latent skills you didn’t even know you had. This is a win-win for everyone.
And that’s the simple difference between good and poor leaders – good leaders create an environment where everyone wins; the employee, the organisation and the leader – where the poor leader creates a win-lose environment where the leader wins and the organisations wins in the short-term, but the employee loses and so does the organisation in the long-term (compared to what their full potential would have been offered them).
Let’s get back to basics – let’s simplify great leadership, so that it’s clear to everyone – and let’s put the commercialisation on hold and build the next generation of great leaders across the world. The more we confuse people about what great leadership is in the workplace, the longer poor leaders will flourish.