Category: Team Performance

Teams in Transition?

Tree in transition

One of the real pleasures of my work as a team coach and facilitator has been supporting teams to get back in the room together, face to face over the last few months, after in many cases well over a year of staring at each other through a computer screen.  Teams are rediscovering the joys of connecting, having informal conversations over a coffee, and allowing themselves time to ‘be’ rather than constantly ‘do’. Conversations are deeper and more insightful, and solutions to sticky issues are more easily found.

One issue that comes up repeatedly in the teams I am working with, is the issue of transition.  Teams that have formed during the pandemic are now finding that Tuckman’s observation of storming before you can get to norming is very real, and team leaders are facing ambiguity about roles, responsibilities and expectations, structural reorganisations, and the challenges of a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world.

Organisational Health has been defined as the ability of organisations to align, execute, and renew themselves faster than their competitors can to sustain exceptional performance over time.  To sustain high performance, organisations must build the capacity to learn and keep changing and this involves investment in the people-oriented aspects of leading an organisation and connecting them to performance. It comprises core organisational skills and capabilities, such as leadership, coordination, or external orientation that traditional metrics don’t often capture.

Patrick Lencioni, in his excellent book “The Advantage: Why Organisational Health trumps everything else in business” (John Wiley & Sons; 2012) highlights stories of healthy organisations as places where politics and confusion have all but been eliminated and as a result, productivity and morale soar, and good people almost never leave.  You’re now probably thinking, tell me something new and if all this is true, then why haven’t more organisations embraced and reaped the benefits of organisational health?

And of course the simple reason is it’s hard.  It requires real work and discipline, over a period of time, and it must be maintained.  It needs sustained leadership, relentless focus and absolute clarity of expectations at every level.  Lencioni talks of four key steps you can take, and encourage your peers to do the same:

1.  Build a Cohesive Leadership Team – This first step is about getting the leaders of the organisation to behave in a functional, cohesive way.  If the people responsible for running your business are behaving in dysfunctional ways, then that dysfunction will cascade into the rest of the organisation and prevent Organisational Health;

2.  Create Clarity – The second step for building a healthy organisation is ensuring that the members of that leadership team are intellectually aligned around six simple but critical questions:

  • Why do we exist?
  • How do we behave?
  • What do we do?
  • How will we succeed?
  • What is most important, right now?
  • Who must do what?

Leaders need to eliminate any gaps that may exist between them, so that people one, two or three levels below have complete clarity about what they should do to make the organisation successful.

3.  Over-Communicate Clarity – Once the behavioural and intellectual alignment is under way, leaders need to over-communicate the answers to questions above.  Leaders of a healthy organisation constantly repeat themselves and continually reinforce what is true and important.

4.  Reinforce Clarity – In addition to over-communicating, leaders must ensure that the answers to the six critical questions are reinforced repeatedly using simple human systems.  That means any process that involves people, from recruitment and disciplinary to performance management and decision-making, is designed in a custom way to intentionally support and emphasise the uniqueness of the organisation.

So as the hard work of the autumn months kicks in,

  • How Healthy is your Organisation?
  • How do you re-focus your efforts on the people-oriented aspects just as much as the strategic or operational?
  • What actions could or must you take now?

Mark Greenfield

Always take the weather with you

It’s the morning after the night before.  England have lost on penalties in the final of the Euro 2020 football tournament and it’s raining stair-rods outside, entirely in keeping with the prevailing mood.

And yet, and yet.  In my very mixed emotions this morning, ‘Weather with you’ by Crowded House is playing on the radio, and I’m already reflecting on how this young team, led with decency, vision and compassion by Gareth Southgate, has ‘made the weather’, and brought so much joy and togetherness to our national discourse over the last month.
I don’t want to try and make immediate links to leadership and brilliant team working with clunky sporting metaphors, but it seems very clear to me that watching the England team in both interviews and in action on the pitch aligns with how we can effectively collaborate at work and achieve collective successes.  Some of the observations that resonated with me:

  • The Clarity of Purpose, based on personal Values that Gareth Southgate outlined ahead of the tournament, in his wonderful ‘Dear England’ letter:  https://www.theplayerstribune.com/posts/dear-england-gareth-southgate-euros-soccer
  • The understated Trust that players demonstrated, knowing who was where at any one time, clear that each always had each other’s back
  • Celebrating Successes, the collective joy the players showed whenever anyone scored or delivered an incisive pass
  • Taking Responsibility for actions, and not avoiding the Accountability that comes with it – as Southgate said last night: “it’s down to me in relation to who takes the penalties”
  • Offering visible Support and Compassion.  As Luke Shaw said of his colleague Bukayo Saka when he missed the last penalty: “He is devastated. But the most important thing for us now as a team is to be there for him and give him a big hug and tell him to keep his head up. It is a penalty shootout – anything can happen.”
  • Celebrating Diversity in all its forms, acknowledging what every member of the playing and support teams brought to the England side, and the belief in Playing to Strengths, whether bringing in the creative maestro Jack Grealish to unlock the opponent defence, or holding faith in the rock-solid defence of Maguire, Stones and Shaw
  • Team ‘Huddles’ on and off the pitch, for shared problem-solving, motivational pep-talks, praising, and celebrating wins, however small

So, as we hopefully view this sporting tournament as a hugely encouraging step towards the World Cup next year, or even if we are not remotely interested in football, the team leadership questions that my experiences over the last month raise for me, are (with due thanks to Crowded House!):

  • How do you make the weather as a leader, or member of your team?
  • Would your followers and colleagues describe you as someone who ‘always took the weather with you’?
  • What do you need most now to take the sunny, uplifting weather with you?

Mark Greenfield

The myth of the well-rounded leader

It’s performance appraisal time already for one of my clients. Managers are busy assigning individual ratings and reflecting on how people have achieved the things they were aiming for 12 months ago(!). A common part of this process is assessing performance against a prescribed list of behavioural competencies. Underpinning these competencies is an assumption: that to be a high performer, an individual should be good across the board, especially as a leader. No major flaws and a good balance of interpersonal and critical thinking skills. Decisive and action-oriented, but also strategic and non-directive, in equal measure. But what if that was a recipe for the “bland leading the bland” as Marcus Buckingham1, bestselling author and behaviour analysis expert, puts it?

Organisational practices like performance management processes, interview criteria and talent management systems all reinforce the need to be good across a broad range of factors. We hear it in stories too, about leaders with vision that are infallible and have no weaknesses. Incredible managers who know exactly what to do even in the most unprecedented of situations. Passion and a strong work ethic can overcome gaps or challenges of any kind …until they can’t. If this year teaches us anything about the world of work, it’s that existing organisational practices can be challenged and changed, and for the better.

Why is striving to be a well-rounded leader not necessarily a good thing?

Watch out for the significant downsides of trying to cover all bases. Here are three important unintended, but very real, issues that I have observed in my 20 years developing leaders:

  1. Lack of psychological safety as people feel reluctant to reveal weaknesses or disclose mistakes. Why should they when the leader doesn’t seem to have any? This makes it risky for people to put forward new ideas or alternatives and seriously stifles innovation.
  2. Failure to delegate and empower others (which is crucial for highly-skilled, technical professionals). All too often, leaders can become a bottleneck for decision making, which puts them under more pressure and frustrates everyone else.
  3. Struggle to really connect with people and create a foundation of trust and openness. With rising workplace mental health issues, and fewer opportunities to talk face to face, the importance of talking frankly about how things are going personally and professionally is hard to underestimate.

What is the alternative to being a well-rounded leader?

“The best people are spiky” (Marcus Buckingham1). Outstanding performers in any field of practice do not fit a mould, and in fact have clearly unbalanced attributes. Rafael Nadal’s left-handedness is so dominant that he literally runs around his backhand. He plays to his strengths to get results.

This is not just a feature of elite sports. Zenger and Folkman2 have carried out extensive research on leadership and their analysis of 360 assessments across 100,000 leaders is conclusive. According to them a “lack of weakness is not a distinguishing feature of the best leaders”. For clarity, this does not mean ignoring critical weaknesses (Nadal’s backhand is not an Achilles heel). Their research shows clearly that the most effective leaders, globally and across industries, those in the top quartile of performers, have a small number of standout strengths.

One of the key differences between leadership and tennis of course, is that leadership is all about the performance of others, not your own: it is a team sport. As a leader, you can call upon your team members and peers to bring their unique talents to any problem or crisis. This idea of ‘strengths-based team working’ not only gets the best from others, it also enables you as a leader to spend time using your own unique strengths. Using your strengths is energising, and evidence shows there are a number of benefits, including feeling happier, having more self-esteem, confidence and energy, less stress, and faster learning3.

This tells us something profound about being an authentic leader. It is a liberating way of overcoming the difficulties in sustaining performance and energy during extremely testing times.

About the Author

Andy Jenkins, MCIPD, is the Co-Founder of My Leadership Strengths and designer of the Developing Leaders in Health 360 Assessment


References:

1 Nine Lies About Work (2019) by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall

 

Creating a picture during uncertainty

image of jigsaw

One thing we can guarantee in life is change. Even if we chose to control our lives to minimise change, we cannot control external factors that influence how we do our work or live our lives. Covid-19 is such an example. During the period of crisis and national lockdown, businesses had to adapt overnight and discover alternative ways of working. Some sadly couldn’t provide services and were forced to close their doors; for them, the uncertainty of when and how they could resume has lasted for many more months than perhaps anyone expected. People typically find uncertainty to be aversive, experiencing feelings such as anxiety, frustration and anger (Carleton, 2016b)*. It is therefore imperative that leaders consider how they support teams through times of uncertainty. Don’t underestimate the need for regular communication, both at an individual and team level. If your organisational priorities have shifted, ensure everyone knows why, and most importantly, how their role supports the achievement of these goals. Make time for individuals to ask questions and to share their concerns. Whilst you can’t be certain you’ll have all the answers; actively listening will build rapport and help staff feel valued.

Imagine you and your team are completing a jigsaw but the only person who knows what the box top image is like is you! It could be a time-consuming and emotive process, where everyone is trying to contribute without the satisfaction of realising progress. But if you clarify the image on top of the jigsaw box, you provide clarity enabling everyone to work towards the same goal. It’s no different in business – your role as a leader is to help others understand the vision and key priorities and how collectively you can work towards this. As we venture into a different normal, doing this regularly helps manage uncertainty.

It is worth noting that for some this period of rapid adaptation has realised changes that under normal circumstances may have taken months or years. The successful adoption of digital technology for medical consultations; team meetings or education, for example, has demonstrated that industries can, in fact, adapt how they offer their services and can explore more flexible and agile ways of working for their people. As a team, take time to reflect on your achievements: how you worked together; the positive changes you have introduced and use this learning to inform future initiatives. The active process of reflection can support individuals to recognise their contributions and how they adapted during periods of uncertainty. This helps to build personal resilience, a vital resource when we are working in ever-changing environments.


Reference:

*Carleton, R. N. (2016a). Fear of the unknown: one fear to rule them all? J. Anxiety Disord. 41, 5–21. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2016.03.011

I’m in with the In-Crowd

I notice regularly in my work doing coaching, working with Governing Bodies or helping teams, how the organisation I am working in (let’s call them Organisation A) often views Organisation B as “the enemy”. If not the enemy, then the cause of many of Organisation A’s difficulties and certainly an easy target for blame. Of course there may be some truth in those assertions but the qualifying word “some” is an important one here.

Too often I think that Organisation B can be used as a sloppy scapegoat for issues that have failed to be addressed in Organisation A or for outcomes that were less than satisfactory. This also applies inside organisations where another directorate or team is the “whipping boy” because of perceived weaknesses or failings. Pointing this out as a coach or facilitator is rarely popular. It is sometimes helpful therefore to draw leaders’ attention to the fact that this concept of Organisation A as the “in-crowd” and Organisation B as the “out-crowd” has a sociological and psychological basis.

The notion of in-groups and out-groups was made popular by Henri Tajfel (a social psychologist) in 1971 in developing social identity theory. As we – on many occasions – get our social identity from the groups we belong to, people form self-preferencing in-groups very quickly. They may do this because of arbitrary or invented characteristics that discriminate their group from another. The theory also asserts that as we (in Organisation A) make group evaluations we do it in a comparative way that can easily lead to biases favouring our group in terms of the judgements we make and the behaviours we display. Put simply our (Organisation A’s) success is down to our qualities and abilities and any failures are down to bad luck and/or issues outside our control. In contrast any success for Organisation B is down to luck or the help they received. Their lack of success is because of innate personality and/or ability failings.

This bias (or rather a combination of biases) is damaging for team and organisation growth and development. While accepting that there can be comfort in formulating in-group/out-group distinctions, these barriers prevent understanding and dialogue between organisations, reinforce negativity and limit cohesion.

SO WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?

These 3 tips (from from Susan Krauss Whitbourne) may make you hold back in joining the clamour of negativity about a team/department/organisation that can otherwise easily occur….

  1. Recognise the arbitrary nature of many in-group/out-group distinctions. The example of pedestrians and motorists is perhaps the easiest one for understanding this point. As a motorist you may be frustrated by the activities of some pedestrians at junctions but when you become a pedestrian you may be concerned about the way motorists act and the danger that causes. Your in-group at one moment may be your out-group the next.
  2. Put yourself in the place of the out-group members. Think about times when you’ve been put in an out-group position and remember how painful that was. Try to think about your inner security by being confident about your own identity rather than denigrating others.
  3. Look for commonalities between the “in-crowd” and the “out-crowd”. What binds them together, where are they striving for the same goal, how has bias played a role in manufacturing division rather than seeking agreement and coming together?

But of course none of these can be acted upon unless the issue is recognised and challenged, and that would seem to me to be an important part of any leadership role. Stop the collusion, groupthink and the race to attribute blame for failings or lack of delivery outside your own team or organisation.

The Quarterly Action Plan

calendar

In this issue I would like to introduce you to an incredibly simple goal achievement tool that has had great success at all levels in organisations I work with.

In my advisory and consulting work I often come across teams (from first line managers to board directors) who have agreed common goals but who do not have a common approach to goal achievement. This means that all the team players are following their own route, in their own way setting their own objectives and there is no common purpose or common focus to the process.
Surprise surprise, some team players achieve the goal whilst others miss it by a mile. These teams have sadly become dysfunctional and ineffective.

Some of the teams are performing similar tasks e.g., clinicians, whilst the senior management team is made up of different disciplines, financial, operations, procurement, HR etc.

Bringing teams at all levels into effective working units to achieve key strategies and goals is a prime feature in my work. To speed up the need to achieve progress I created this tool which is called The Quarterly Action Plan.

Here it is:
The Quarterly Action Plan

The way this works is as follows:

  1. Team leader receives an action request from above e.g. strategy implementation, design a new process, improve performance levels etc.etc.
  2. They bring their team together and task them in say a 30-40 minute working session to agree the top 4 common objectives to achieve this goal.
  3. Having agreed the objectives the team now agree what tasks will be necessary for each objective in a further 30-40 minute session.
  4. Individual team members are then asked (working on their own) to define two objectives and tasks that relate to their specific area of work for a further 20 -30 minutes.
  5. Each team member then presents the objectives and tasks as they see them.
  6. The team then commits to the Action Plan and sets time for monthly reviews and updates.
  7. Team members now have a cohesive Action Plan with common objectives and tasks plus two goals that are specific to them.

Throughout the Quarter team meetings should include progress reports from each member so that the common areas are constantly in people’s minds.

Meetings on a 1 to 1 basis should also focus on that person’s progress.

Outcomes should be entered with date.

The method can be cascaded down to sub teams broadening the common purpose across different levels.

Notes will be added individually at Quarter end.

At the end of the quarter the team would meet to discuss the outcomes and set new objectives for the next quarter. Sometimes these objectives would be new ones and sometimes an objective needs to be carried over to the next quarter because more work needs to be done.

The exercise can also be run on a monthly basis as the Monthly Action Plan

The document is a simple MS Word file.

Just to summarise why this tool can be beneficial to you:

  • Helps to focus teams on collectively achieving goals via common objectives and tasks.
  • Highlights non performing team members who are challenged to achieve common goals.
  • Simple to use.
  • Can be cascaded down an organisation.

Also from our experiences seeing teams performing more effectively gives the team and you a great feeling!

If you have any opinions or views please contact me.

Civility Saves Lives

Chris Turner

I had a really great experience eating a meal in a pub with my elderly mum a few weeks ago. Apart from the fact that the food was delicious and well-priced, what made a difference was that the staff were terrific – polite, attentive, informed in helping us choose and being particularly patient with mum’s indecision.  Not for the first time I was struck by the impact that great manners and taking a genuine interest in others can have to deliver a very rewarding experience.

This reminded me of a recent conversation I had with a Medical Director at an NHS hospital trust, and his enthusiasm for the increasing evidence base showing that civility between colleagues can greatly improve patient care and save lives.

Put simply, if someone is rude to us at work, even if this is mild to moderate, and not extreme, research shows that our bandwidth to complete our tasks can be reduced by up to 61%.  As we can often feel powerless and even humiliated, this reduction in our performance can have an enduring impact throughout the day.  Furthermore, when an incident of rudeness or incivility occurs in teams, there is a collateral impact on other team members: a 20% reduction in team performance and a 50% drop in willingness to help others.

This has a major influence on how teams work and deliver.  Research from Riskin and Erez (The Impact of Rudeness on Medical Team Performance; Pediatrics; September 2015) shows that the single most important fact that determines the output of medical teams is how they treat each other.

So, if there is now strong evidence that when we work with someone who is civil and treats us with respect, we feel empowered and encouraged to work at our best, and the reverse is undoubtedly true, what is our challenge as leaders?  Maybe it starts with saying please and thank you routinely? Asking your colleague about their weekend, and holidays at this time of year? Avoiding rolling our eyes if someone continues to repeat things you’ve heard before? Tackling unacceptable behaviours in others proactively rather than expending wasted efforts going around them?

I would like to acknowledge the excellent work of Chris Turner and Civility Saves Lives – a project with a mission to promote positive behaviours and share the evidence base around positive and negative behaviours https://www.civilitysaveslives.com.  A fascinating TEDx talk by Chris Turner from June this year can be seen here:

Resilience in difficult times

Austerity, uncertainty and other pressures can drain energy and sap our resilience. And yet we know that energy and resilience are fundamental to delivering positive results, well-being and engagement. Here we offer a few ideas of how sustainable resilience can be fostered in a difficult workplace climate.

What is resilience?

Many define resilience as about ‘bounce back’; this is fine in respect of a trauma and significant life events. However the focus here is on resilience in the context of grinding workplace pressures, uncertainty and regular change. This type of environment needs people who can maintain their well-being and keep positive, every day. Thus we regard resilience as being about strength and flexibility.

What are the benefits of resilience in the workplace?

The benefits can be summarised as:

  • Individual: reduced burnout; higher attendance levels and increased motivation;
  • Team: positive team work; increased collaboration and a greater ability to manage complexity;
  • Business/ organisational: higher productivity, improved customer service and greater workplace safety.

How can resilience in the workplace be developed?

We can each do something to strengthen our personal resilience, however difficult the current situation.
A good first step is to be self-aware. To understand one’s own triggers and what works for you. Each of us responds differently, the important point is to know ourselves and be aware what triggers may get us thinking negatively and going down that path of limitation. The inner voice can be powerful, loud and destructive. We need to understand our own thinking patterns and notice when we are giving ourselves negative messages – be they about ourself or our situation. Once noticed, at least one can recognise it. That is the start of choosing to change one’s thinking patterns. Not easy but do-able.

It is equally important to focus on our strengths and to ensure that regularly we do tasks that we enjoy and make us feel good. As part of developing our self-awareness we can ask: what do I REALLY enjoy doing? What qualities do I have that motivate and energise me? By drawing on these one can add some positive aspects to each day.

Resilience is vital to personal well-being and to team performance. It can be fostered and encouraged, whatever the context. The starting point is for each of us to acknowledge it is important and to keep attention on how they can strengthen own resilience. As this habit develops, others will appreciate the shift and gradually it becomes like a pebble in a pool – go on, drop a pebble and see where your ripples reach.

Otis Elevator Company UK

Facilitation of a series of diagnostic interventions focus groups leading to the design and delivery of a four-day development programme for Executive and senior leaders

What was the issue?

Otis in the UK had been experiencing significant churn in their senior leadership in recent years, and with several Managing Directors having been in post for short periods, there was concern that the leadership, strategic direction and priority focus was inconsistent and disparate.

A new MD was recently appointed to lead the UK organisation and the senior leadership team were also new and didn’t know each other particularly well.  Otis in Japan had already developed their vision, mission and strategy and the intention was to do the same in the UK with an event to create high level company goals, develop underpinning strategic priorities and facilitate team cohesion to deliver.

Since employee engagement from UK surveys was not particularly high in Otis, Healthskills was asked for ideas and support to deliver a four-day developmental timeout programme, involving the senior leadership for the first two days, with a larger group invited for days 3 and 4 to develop specific projects to deliver on strategic priorities.

What did Healthskills do?

In collaboration with core members of the senior leadership team (SLT), Healthskills conducted a diagnostic phase before development of the programme, consisting of:

  • A series of semi-structured telephone interviews with the SLT aimed at building relationships with individuals; to ascertain their views on successful outcomes for the programme; to identify their views on what was working, what wasn’t and what needed to change across the organisation and how. 15 members of the SLT and a cross-section of 20 members of staff from Otis were interviewed;
  • An online organisational culture questionnaire was completed by 230 individuals from across the organisation to provide a robust survey of ‘the way we do things round here’;
  • A team functionality and cohesion questionnaire was conducted with the SLT.
  • Comprehensive feedback was provided to the Managing Director and relevant senior leaders from OD and HR and used as a platform for scoping discussions to design the programme.
  • The four-day event was then designed, consisting of:
    • Days 1 & 2: With the SLT, a focus on high-performing teams, feedback from interviews and cultural survey, refinement of vision and values, and development of high-level strategic initiatives;
    • Day 3 & 4: A team building event, followed by group project development and operational plans to deliver the strategic priorities with the SLT and 50 next level leaders;
  • An evaluation meeting to review outcomes, successes and challenges and provide recommendations for ongoing development

What were the outcomes?

  • The SLT embraced new ways of thinking and especially the need for change, and highlighted the need to develop trust and the ability to challenge each other more consistently;
  • The wider next-level leader team invited to join SLT were a positive and engaged group and they lent a richness to the contributions from the senior team about culture change;
  • Development of a ‘Wave 2 Change Champions’ group to lead groups to take strategic priority projects forward;
  • A behavioural framework was developed that provided insight into how to live the agreed values and understand how to hold to account;
  • Recommendations made for an ongoing SLT development programme consisting of interventions focusing on: 1. Exploring team foundations, developing trust and mastering conflict; 2. Discovering team behaviours that achieve consistent commitment; 3. Building team depth, sessions to enable the SLT to deal with ‘sticky’ issues and behaviours while understanding how to embrace accountability and focus on collective results; 4. Sustaining team cohesion, incorporating team coaching.

What our client said

I thoroughly enjoyed the days there Mark it was really well put together and you have a great team. I hope we get to work together again soon

Your event is still shaping the business, there have been some challenges but that’s why we get paid 😀 personally things may be changing for me at OTIS and I may have a promotion depending on a job win which we may hear about next week

Accelerating Team Performance

Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology.  It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.

Patrick Lencioni

Accelerating Team Performance

Whatever stage your organisation is at from start up, merger or collaboration to restructure, Healthskills can support your teams. The challenge for leaders, managers and in fact any member of a team in organisations is to understand and implement effective team-based working with their colleagues and business partners.

Our approach is based on a considerable body of research which shows that when teams are performing optimally they will:

  • Have high levels of trust
  • Be capable of robust challenge
  • Have collective commitment to action plans
  • Hold each other to account
  • Focus on collective results

Often mistaken as five distinct issues, in reality they are all interrelated and highly effective teams consistently focus on all five levels to deliver on their aspirations and goals.  We work with senior leadership teams and Boards, front-line teams, cross-functional or matrix teams on bespoke programmes based on an initial discussion of objectives, co-design of the approach, dynamic interventions and evaluation of outcomes.

To discuss how a tailor-made programme can benefit your organisation please get in touch: