The Truth about Teambuilding>
Changing the Team by Changing You

Contents:


So Now You’re a Team Leader

My parents did something very brave when I was 5. Daddy was a partner in a company that sold heavy construction equipment. His partners had what they thought was a great idea to make more money. They would go out and find, for example, a guy who was good at driving bulldozers (all “guys” in those days). They would convince him he could make more money if he bought his own bulldozer and did contract work. What they didn’t say is that knowing how to drive a bulldozer and how to run a business are two different things. If he failed, they could repossess the bulldozer and resell it at a huge profit. My father realized how unethical this was and tried to talk them out of it, to no avail. With my mother’s urging, he quit, despite having to support a full-time mother, two kids nearing college age, me, a mortgage, and a dog.

Don’t be a “bulldozer operator.” Even if you are only a part-time leader, the majority of your job is no longer about getting your personal work done. Your primary job is to help other people get their jobs done—not by doing their work, but by making sure they have what they need. I think the root cause of most team leader failures is the failure to understand this shift of priorities.

You will obviously need to learn about leading individuals. There’s some advice on that in this hypertext, but I will focus here on what scientific research says about leading a group. The skill set overlaps but otherwise is distinct from leading individuals or organizations.

Successful entrepreneur and consultant August Turak listed the differences between “management” and “leadership” at a North Carolina Technology Association talk. When I asked if he saw a role for managers, he strongly said, “yes,” because those are the people who have to execute the leader’s vision. That’s you!

In that vital role, you have the opportunity to give your team and company a strong competitive advantage by doing things differently from the majority of team leaders. As I quoted Patrick Lencioni saying in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, “It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.” For decades, scientists have been researching what allows one group to outperform another, providing the highest output at the lowest costs and stress. They have a strong understanding of the basics of creating high performance teams. But few teams put those basic elements in place.

Standard teambuilding such as outdoor “experiential” activities, indoor games, and even the popular personality tests do not do it, as you’ve seen. Those are fun and some might temporarily reduce some problems. But getting good at teamwork is exactly like strong athletic or artistic performance. It takes extensive training, regular practice, and continuous improvement based on performance feedback. Fortunately, the only part of that costing some money is the training part (even if just labor hours). The practice and improvement only need time and self-discipline. So you can get much higher return on investment (ROI) through true teambuilding methods that focus on forging agreements among members on how they will work together and do their work.

Assuming your group should be a true team, the best way for you to succeed as a team leader is to create a high performance team, obviously. To maximize the odds:

  1. Get input from your boss about what he or she expects the team to accomplish, in the form of suggestions for its purpose, performance standards, and goals.
  2. Create your own set of expectations in line with the boss’s and present them to the team—that is, set the general direction and boundaries for the team.
  3. Negotiate the specific goals, and then let the team decide how to accomplish them and what it needs.
  4. To do #3, hold team meetings at least weekly in which you accomplish the following list in addition to regular work topics. It is long, but you can do most of it by taking small parts of each meeting for as many months as it takes:
    1. Learn and implement formal meeting facilitation methods including the use of agendas, meeting rules, and action items.
    2. Help the team create a set of team rules and a procedure for self-enforcement.
    3. Negotiate a purpose or mission statement you and the team are comfortable with.
    4. Negotiate three to five SMART goals for the next year to work toward the mission.
    5. Have the team create written or diagrammed procedures for the bulk of its work.
    6. Help it create a communications plan listing all stakeholders—upper managers, partner teams, and internal/external customers—with what information each wants, when, why, and how.
    7. Help the team implement continuous improvement of its processes, quality, and customer satisfaction.
  5. As appropriate:
    • For bigger decisions and those that cause conflicts (or the opposite problem of “groupthink”), use formal methods for problem-solving, decision-making, and priority setting.
    • Make sure the team has enough resources (time, skills, goods, etc.) to do what you ask, and if not, adjust your expectations.
    • Show appreciation regularly in multiple ways.
    • Work with HR and your boss to implement team-based evaluations and rewards.

Details for all of this appear in my free teambuilding hypertext, The SuddenTeams™ Program. Or project teams can implement my open-source Scrum method for scaled Agile, Full Stack Scrum™.

If all this sounds like a lot of work, well, it is. That’s why they pay you the big… okay, slightly bigger… bucks. But if you want that next promotion, you have to set yourself apart from all those other team leaders at your level in the company or applying from outside. The only way to do that is to do something different: Don’t be a bulldozer operator.

The Hardest Part of Leadership: Changing Yourself

The hardest part of leadership is changing yourself. I know, because I have been battling to do it for years.

Managers, being human, always want to find reasons outside of themselves for things not going the way they like: “If only that vendor had delivered on time” or “…my employees cared about more than a paycheck.” In my Active Listening class, after mentioning complaints like those, I gave the class another complaint. “If you didn’t burn the toast,” I would say loudly, “I would not have had to hit you!” This always gets a vocal reaction. “The stereotypical excuse of the serial domestic abuser,” I point out.

Do you buy that excuse? Of course not. Next time you get arrested, try a line that puts the slightest blame for your behavior on your victim. See how well that goes over in court. The problem for the rest of us is there is zero difference between that excuse and you defending your poor communication by saying, “Do your job right, and I won’t have to yell at you.”

If you deliver a project late because a vendor delivered late, you did something wrong. You did not properly vet the vendor; or you did not put date commitments in writing; or you did not allow them enough time; or you did not choose the appropriate form of project management for the work (waterfall versus Agile). By the same token, employees will only care about their paychecks if you do not put them ahead of you in your priorities—and even ahead of your customers. More and more studies are showing that putting employees first motivates them to take the best possible care of your customers.

The events that trigger a reaction in you do so from a combination of genes, family background, and personal experience. Those triggers will always be there. However, how you react internally to those triggers, and how you express that reaction, are completely within your control. As discussed in “Stress: Distress or Eustress? You Choose,” I call this my “S-R/S-R” Model. When the doctor hits your knee with that little rubber mallet (the stimulus), your leg jumps (the response): S→R. We want to think our emotional reactions work the same way, but those happen in the brain. The trigger (S) creates an internal emotional reaction which in turn is the stimulus (R/S) for an external reaction (R).

This gives us two points to control ourselves. We can learn to reduce the degree to which we react to that trigger event, and failing that, to control the way we express (or don’t) the resulting emotion.

If you were interviewing me for a job and asked the question about my greatest weakness, my answer would be a tendency to fight too long for a position I believe in if the other person cannot provide facts to refute it. Two weeks before first writing this topic as a blog post, I was guilty of that with a client. I irritated them unnecessarily before finally learning they were contractually obligated to a position they were taking. I don’t think their bosses should have signed that contract, but the client can’t change it, so I immediately acquiesced. My contribution to the issue was the failure to use my old journalistic skills to ask the right questions of the right people to identify this root cause quickly.

More disturbing was the return earlier in my career of an old tendency to sarcasm when pressing for the use of best practices. I intended the comments as tension-relieving humor, but often came across as condescending. I had to stop it. I did, but doing so was really hard. Most people consider me funny and my humor relies in part on the quick response. The danger is that things can slip out so quickly I do not properly assess their impact, especially when I am irritated. Better to skip a joke than risk doing damage with it.

Both of these problems had me highly irritated with myself. People who are making progress toward best practices do not deserve resistance to what they cannot change or sarcasm for what they haven’t yet.

I know this because I am a work in progress. What new clients cannot know is how much better I am at all of these things than I was five years ago, not to mention 20 years ago. Fortunately they also see the strengths I have developed, which research suggests raises my overall ratings as a leader despite my weaknesses, as you’ll read in the next article. My commitment to servant leadership for the sake of those around me at work—and to Zen practice for the sake of myself and everyone around me—require awareness that I cannot change those external stimuli that bombard me every day, but I am fully capable of changing how I react to those stimuli. If I can, you certainly can.

It starts by stopping the excuses. The Buddha described the challenge well when he equated the mind to a chariot pulled by seven unreined horses. It is difficult to get control from within the chariot. You have to stop, get out, and try to bridle each horse that tugs at you, starting with the biggest one. Tame that one, and the rest will be easier.

Some people do not like change, and thus leave themselves at its whims while wondering, “Why do these things keep happening to me?” Whether you like change or not is irrelevant. Change is inevitable. The only question is, do you manage change, or does it manage you?

Rethinking How to be a Great Leader

What if I said you could be a great leader:

  • No matter what your personality is?
  • Using whichever leadership style you prefer?
  • Without worrying about your weaknesses?

Guess what? That is exactly what I am telling you.

Read The Extraordinary Leader: Turning Good Managers into Great Leaders. The book’s authors straddle the gap between science and business practice. Jack Zenger has a doctorate in business administration, an MBA, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Joe Folkman’s doctorate is in social and organizational psychology and his master’s is in organizational behavior. Together they led Zenger Folkman, a leadership development firm with many client companies you would recognize.

Their book is based on 360-degree questionnaires used in their work, the kind providing results from above, below, and beside you in your organization’s hierarchy. The data covered 237,123 surveys on 26,314 managers in more than 100 companies. It focuses on the behaviors that separate the top 10% of leaders within an organization from the bottom 10% based on overall scores. The authors sorted these into 16 “competencies” in five categories. (Because the questionnaires were from different data sets, the rules of statistics did not allow them to do this using mathematical analysis, but they took steps to reduce the impact of their biases.)

One of Zenger and Folkman’s conclusions is that managers and companies look at 360-degree feedback the wrong way, in two ways. First, people focus on weaknesses. But the data show strengths are more important in affecting the ratings you get as a leader. No one who had a “fatal flaw,” a competency in the bottom 10%, was in the top 10% of leaders overall. But only one-third of the leaders had a fatal flaw, and the top leaders had plenty of weaknesses.

Furthermore, managers who over time improved one or two strengths would get higher ratings on all of the factors. There was a “halo effect” where being perceived as very strong in a couple of performance areas makes every area seem stronger. Zenger and Folkman envision the competency groups as five poles holding up a “Leadership Tent.” If one is too low, the tent collapses, but as long as there is some balance, raising one or more raises the whole tent. Having only five out of the 16 competencies rated in the top 10% was generally enough to gain the person a rating as a top-10% leader. In “one large group of managers,” having only one top-level strength put the leader at the 30% level overall. Simply adding one more strength moved the person to the 60% level.

This leads to the second mistake in viewing 360-degree feedback, according to Zenger and Folkman. Many assessments “compare leaders’ results and show how they compare with the average,” the authors write. “The unintended message… is that if you are in the midrange, ‘You are okay and okay is good enough.'” The focus should be on how one compares to the top 10%, they argue.

Their competencies and groups are (quoting directly):

  • Character: Displaying high integrity and honesty
  • Personal Capability
    • Technical and professional expertise
    • Solving problems and analyzing issues
    • Innovation
    • Practicing self-development
  • Focus on Results
    • Focus on results
    • Establish stretch goals
    • Take responsibility for outcomes/initiatives
  • Interpersonal Skills
    • Communicating powerfully and prolifically
    • Inspiring and motivating others to high performance
    • Building relationships
    • Developing others
    • Collaboration and teamwork
  • Leading Organizational Change
    • Developing strategic perspectives
    • Championing change
    • Connect internal groups with the outside world

They provide lists of behaviors for each. For example, under the first one above they said top performers “Act consistently with their words,” while low performers “Blame failure on others.” Behavior is what counts, Zenger and Folkman say. “People frequently confuse personality traits for leadership.”

Other quotes of interest included:

  • “We have studies from several organizations showing absolutely no correlation between performance appraisals and 360-degree feedback instruments.”
  • “In our research we tried diligently to discover the one, two, or three capabilities that were common for all extraordinary leaders. We failed.”
  • “People are people wherever they work… (so) the differences between people within any one organization are certainly as large or larger than those between organizations in the same industry, and probably between all organizations.”
  • “We are often stunned to see the number of people in middle-management positions in organizations who lack the most rudimentary of social skills.”

In the U.S. Marine Corps, they wrote, “enlisted men and women and officers alike are expected to express concern about questionable decisions and orders, and one of the biggest mistakes an officer can make is to ignore or squelch such questioning.”

“In contrast to most businesses, which go to much expense to test and assess people in an attempt to identify future executives, the Marines train everyone to lead.”

Like any manager, the book is not perfect. For example, Zenger and Folkman confirm one of my complaints about leadership writers when they say, “There are differences in the leadership behaviors and practices required at different levels of the organization.” But they do not separate team leaders from CEOs in their findings. That said, 360-degree feedback is taken from a small group including direct reports, so logic suggests the book is mostly about group leadership.

For me the most reassuring idea is that anybody can become a great leader. Zenger and Folkman mention research into prodigies, people supposedly born with amazing talent as musicians or athletes. “All showed interest in their talents, and all practiced from between two to four hours a day for 10 years,” they point out. People recognized as expert violinists had practiced over 10,000 hours. Few managers actively work at improving their leadership behaviors for 10,000 hours. This hints at a way you can get ahead.

Make sure you are focusing on the right competency, though. Zenger and Folkman report on a project manager rated low on her technical skills. She did all the usual stuff to improve those only to have her manager say, “I don’t know if any of this is ever going to make any difference until you have the guts to speak up in a meeting and share your knowledge with people.” Communication was her problem, not level of expertise.

The authors also say it is not necessary to change your self-image to change your behavior and therefore ratings. “Social psychologists confirm that the easiest way to change people’s character, as expressed via their attitudes, is by getting them to behave in a new way.” Whether or not you think you can be a top-rated leader, put real effort into behaving like one and see what happens. Like a good entrepreneur, “Fake it till you make it.”

Source: Zenger, J., and J. Folkman (2009). The Extraordinary Leader: Turning Good Managers into Great Leaders, McGraw-Hill: New York.

Geeky Fandom Adds More on Raising Leader Ratings

I admit it. I gushed. I said those stereotypical words, “I’m a big fan.”

Rock god? Movie star? No. I’m a team science geek. I said them to Jack Zenger, co-author of The Extraordinary Leader. In a 2012 presentation, “7 Reasons Why Strengths-Based Development Just Works Better,” Zenger brought to life the lessons from the book described above.

“We use hard science to develop good managers into extraordinary leaders,” one of his slides explained. Given my evidence-based approach to teambuilding, you can see why I liked that. He spoke to an equally appreciative audience at a meeting of the American Society for Training and Development’s Research Triangle Chapter.

He talked about the human tendency to focus on our weaknesses, wondering aloud if it hearkened back to our parents. Bring home a bunch of As and one C on a report card, and what gets the most attention? The C. Based on his research described in the previous post, he identified seven reasons why that focus is not the smart way to improve your leadership skills, he said. Let’s go through them from his slides, quoted in italics below.

Building Strengths is the Only Way to Become an Exceptional Leader.” Using 80 of those leaders in a financial firm as a case study, he noted that those who focused on improving their weakness only raised their overall ratings to the 50th percentile among their peers: average, in other words. Improving on strengths until at least three were in the 90th percentile of peers raised overall leadership ratings to the 80th percentile. In the book, he and Folkman specify this refers to three strengths from among the 16 factors of leadership identified in their analyses and listed in the previous topic.

A Strengths Focus Produces Greater Improvement.” In that same case study, those who focused on weaknesses gained 12 percentage points in their leadership ratings. Strength-builders gained 26 points. Plus, Zenger said, there is an “extender effect” which “tends to drive out some of the bad behavior.” The reason could be as simple, he said, as time: doing more good behaviors means less time for doing bad behaviors.

The Organization Benefits.” In another set of 81 leaders from a telecommunications company, the teams of top-10-percent leaders compared to the bottom-10-percenters had:

  • Customer satisfaction ratings of 60% vs. 35%.
  • Employee engagement ratings of 80% vs. 30%.
  • Only 25% of team members considering leaving the company vs. 60% (half of whom usually do leave within 18 months, he said).

These kinds of numbers have bottom-line effects. At Sears, one slide reported, “For every 5-point improvement in employee attitude, customer satisfaction goes up 1.3%, which in turn increases revenues 0.5%, or $250 million per year.”

Broader Spectrum of Development Methods Available.” Trying to correct one or two weaknesses limits you to the methods applicable to those factors. Working instead on a half-dozen strengths to take them further up raises your options dramatically.

Motivation Increases.” Motivating yourself to practice something you are good at is easier than pushing yourself to eliminate a bad habit.

Positively Impacts the Culture of the Organization.” Focusing on strengths across your enterprise moves “the culture away from a ‘looking for mistakes and weaknesses’ mindset.” Zenger cited a series of studies by other researchers that closely observed top management teams during strategic planning. The scientists determined the ideal ratio of positive to negative comments was 5.6-to-1. I thought of Stephen Covey’s concept of the “emotional bank account” from Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He wrote that you had to make regular positive comments about someone to get away with a negative comment without injuring the relationship.

Much More Fun to Work on Strengths.” Enough said.

Going into the Q&A, Zenger had a throw-away line I am stealing. “I’ll find out what’s on your mind, and you’ll find out if I have one,” he said drily. He was asked if there is one competency more important than others. “‘Inspires & Motivates’ seems to be,” he said. A key finding in his book was there is no one strength common to all leaders, so I interpreted his statement to mean that is the most common.

He recounted the story of a 7th-grade teacher decades ago who asked every member of her class to write one positive thing about every classmate. She wrote down for each student what the others had said and gave out the pages. Years later, she went to the funeral of one of those students after he was killed in the Vietnam War. She noticed in the open casket a piece of paper with her handwriting. It turned out to be the one with the positive comments. The father came over and said his son had carried it with him into battle. Other former students there came to her with various stories of how they used that piece of paper daily. “What is it about letting people focus on their strengths?” Zenger asked rhetorically. “I think there is something kind of magic…”

What are you good at as a team member or leader? Are you better at those behaviors than most of your peers? If not, contemplate how much fun you could you have and success you could add by trying to get better at those behaviors.

True Teamwork Requires True Grit

In 1907 early psychologist William James wrote, “We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental resources… which only exceptional individuals push to their extremes of use.” Americans who quit high school and later take a test to prove similar knowledge (the “GRE”) do not do as well in their careers as people who stick it out until graduation. You surely know very smart people who do a lousy job of their jobs, or lives.

The previous topic alludes to research concluding that “in chess, sports, music, and the visual arts, over 10 years of daily ‘deliberate practice’ set apart expert performers from less proficient peers.” The quote is from Angela Duckworth at the Univ. of Pennsylvania and other psychology researchers in a 2007 journal article. Their literature review confirms what you already know: Smarts don’t always equal success. Other possible explanations such as personality factors don’t either.

Based on biographical information about successful people dating back more than 100 years; similar academic research; and “exploratory interviews with lawyers, business people, academics, and other professionals,” Duckworth’s team developed a hypothesis. “We suggest that one personal quality is shared by the most prominent leaders in every field: grit.” They “define grit as perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress.” Though related, grit is different from self-control, a more “in-the-moment” skill, and need for achievement, which does not necessarily translate to actual achievement.

There was no test for grit, though, so they made one. Creating a test that will pass scientific scrutiny requires a lot more work than throwing some questions into survey software. But that effort resulted in a test that both teenagers and adults tend to answer the same way every time and, as you will see, consistently relates to later success.

In their first study they found that people with higher levels of education scored higher on the Grit Survey. However, people who are older had more grit, too, so the first study of the test could not prove causality. Maybe grit led to more education, but maybe more education led to more grit, or other untested factors raised both education and grit. So they did more studies reported in the same journal article and found that grit ratings predicted:

  • Level of education better than did personality factors.
  • Grades at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point better than scores on the Scholastic Achievement Tests (SATs) designed to predict college performance.
  • Whether cadets would make it through the rigorous first-summer’s training better than correlations to self-control ratings or to the set of measures used to decide who gets into the academy.

Self-control related to first-year grades more than grit, however, highlighting the difference between the two. Grades require you to make yourself study instead of party in this moment, whereas grit is more about sticking to your education over four years. In a study of children in the National Spelling Bee, grit did not directly relate to kids making it to the final rounds. However, it did relate to how much practice they put in, which in turn was directly related to final performance. In short, “gritty children work harder and longer than their less gritty peers and, as a consequence, perform better.” The fact that grit was measured before the bee, added with the range of factors grit relates to, makes it more likely grit caused those outcomes.

In each case, grit predicted success better than intelligence. In fact, in the population of smart, accomplished people at West Point, people with higher grit also had lower SAT scores! “It is possible…” the team writes, “that among relatively intelligent individuals, those who are less bright than their peers compensate by working harder and with more determination.”

Duckworth’s team continues, “In our view, achievement is the product of talent and effort, the latter a function of the intensity, direction, and duration of one’s exertions toward a goal.” Notice this is not about working harder; it is about working longer without switching objectives. In a 1985 study of world-class performers, few of whom were recognized as talented by their early teachers, “accomplished individuals worked day after day, for at least 10 or 15 years, to reach the top of their fields.” Research by Duckworth and others since 2007 continues to find grit associated with success in various areas. I asked a young friend of mine who earned two bachelor’s degrees at once, now works two jobs, and was headed for medical school to take the test. He scored a 4 out of 5 (5 being highest grit).

If you’re wondering how this relates to teamwork, think about the various methods you or your team leaders have tried over the years to improve cooperation and communication among team members. How many of those efforts were consistently applied over years… months… even weeks? For that matter, how many amounted to more than a few hours of concentrated “teambuilding?” Success at the goals of better team performance does not come from short-term practices equivalent to self-control. It comes from regular practices enforced over and over again. When I train and coach teams to use Agile project management, it takes four to five months, and they keep using the discipline for years.

We have to be careful about applying research on individuals to teams, because there are big differences in the psychologies. But this topic isn’t about the team; it’s about the team leader. It’s about the perseverance with which the team leader does the right thing to improve their team instead of going for the quick fix that doesn’t actually fix anything. Do you have the grit that takes? Find out by taking the survey. The great thing about grit, though, is regardless of where you start, you can get better. Giving up on improving your teamwork because it seems too hard is the one guaranteed way to fail.

To take the Grit Survey:

  1. Register: http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/register.aspx.
  2. Go to “Questionnaires> Grit Survey.”

Source: Duckworth, A., C. Peterson, M. Matthews, and D. Kelly (2007), “Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 92(6): 1087.

“Oughts” Can Prevent Best Practices

If I had time to go back to school, I would get a Ph.D. in organizational behavior. I’ve already done more research than some dissertations required. Doctoral programs sometimes ask what your central research question would be. Mine is, “Why do managers fail to implement proven best practices?” The percentage of managers I have observed who are using a majority of management best practices is in the single digits.

An elegant set of studies by three researchers from different fields has taken me closer to an answer. Shu Zhang is in the business school and Tory Higgins the Department of Psychology at Columbia Univ., while Guoquan Chen is in the Department of Human Resources and Organizational Behavior at Tsinghua Univ. In their article on the studies, they list examples where “people are copying a managing behavior from someone else, called a role model, after directly experiencing this behavior earlier as its recipient.” They also discuss research showing that pressures to fit in can overwhelm one’s “personal values and attitudes.” Not everyone follows the leader or the crowd, though, so what makes the difference?

Zhang, Higgins, and Chen conducted four lab studies and a fifth among working managers looking at how the following factors interact, their study article says in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology:

  • Copying the management methods of an authority figure.
  • Whether or not the study subject (the potential copier) liked that style.
  • Whether or not the style fits best practices.
  • The subject’s “concern with duties and responsibilities (‘oughts’)” versus “concern with hopes and aspirations (ideals).”

For example, in the first study, college students took short tests similar to the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). Beforehand, they completed assessments that checked whether someone had more of a “prevention focus” (on “oughts”) or “promotion focus” (on ideals). An example of the former is someone so careful they would score low on: “Not being careful enough has gotten me into trouble at times.” A promotion person, the article says, would score high on: “Do you often do well at different things that you try?”

Each section of the fake GMAT test was worth either zero or five points. Some people were scored harshly. They had to get all three questions in a section right to get the five points. Other people only had to get one question right. Told there was another method of scoring, all were also told that the method used for them was better for learning, and why. (Both explanations were fiction, but of course the subjects didn’t know that.) Then they were asked to rate whether they were satisfied with the method used for them. Finally, everybody was asked to grade another student’s test, and each individual had to choose either the harsh or lenient method of scoring.

The results showed that someone with a high prevention or “oughts” focus was likely to use the same method used on them to grade papers even if they didn’t like the method. The received method had no significant impact on the choice by the ideals-focused people.

The three other lab studies, each using different sets of students, changed one variable at a time. One ignored the normal focus of the students and instead triggered them into being either ought- or ideal-focused for the moment. It got the same results as the first study. Another dropped the claim, to some students, that one method or the other was a best practice. In this study, the copying behavior was more likely among the “ought” people if they were in the group told that the method fit the best practices, showing that following a norm mattered. If the unknown authority figure behind the test scoring did not know tell them the method was a best practice, they were more likely to choose the method they liked better. The last lab study found that when told the opposite grading method from the one they got was the best practice, many prevention focus folks still used the method their tester used for them, though the effect was weaker. In all cases, the ideals-focused people kept doing their own thing.

Then the researchers took the question to the “field.” They surveyed 51 high-level bosses and up to three of each boss’s subordinates. Each survey asked the boss to rate a former supervisor, and the subordinate to rate the boss, on how much the person’s former or current supervisor used six management tactics:

  • “Work Facilitation”—Making the subordinates’ work easier to complete (by providing resources, etc.).
  • “Directive Leadership”—Giving clear expectations.
  • “Legitimate Power”—Providing good reasons for doing good work.
  • “Monitoring”—Micromanaging.
  • “Coercive Power”—Making the subordinates’ work harder to complete.
  • “Negative Feedback”—Using criticism instead of praise.

Note that the first three are best practices. When subordinates reported that a boss was using one of the last three, and the boss reported his former supervisor used it or a related one, the boss usually had scored high on the prevention (“oughts”) scale. As in the lab studies, this occurred even if the boss had not liked the method when their supervisor used it.

If our boss did it, the researchers suggest, we assume it must be the norm. When we move into a similar position, we therefore copy it. But here’s where things get tricky: We don’t realize this. Norms affect us “in such a nonconscious way that people underestimate or deny the impact of norms on their decisions,” they write, citing four other studies. In the current studies, people asked why they made the grading choices they did reported internal reasons such as, “I like it being strict; it makes people improve,” even when they clearly had been manipulated. Ought-focus bosses seemed to know those poor management tactics were bad, yet they still used them according to their subordinates. The former-boss norm was stronger than the abstractly understood norm.

The best way to combat unconscious impacts on your performance is to be aware of them. Have you resisted trying the recommendations in this hypertext? If so, you probably came up with lots of reasons why it wouldn’t work in your organization (even though you employ human beings, like every other organization) or it would take too much time (even though not taking the action is wasting more time). Next time that happens—like in the next five seconds—ask yourself this: Is that the real reason you resist? Or is it because your role model doesn’t do things that way?

Source: Zhang, S., E.T. Higgins, and G. Chen (2011), “Managing Others Like You were Managed: How Prevention Focus Motivates Copying Interpersonal Norms,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 100(4):647.

The Ethics of Being a Real “Team Player”

“Be a team player” is one of the most abused phrases in business. Most of the time, what it really means is, “Shut up and go along with everyone.” You know: the way people at Enron and Lehman Brothers were “team players.” How did that work out for them?

At a local chapter meeting of the Association for Corporate Growth, Jacob Blass of Ethical Advocate made a convincing argument for the “bottom-line implication” to emphasizing ethics within a company. His company offers ethics training and an elegant solution for anonymous reporting and investigation of ethical issues. A former psychologist, he reported on a study that found 45% of companies are experiencing fraud at any given time, which in turns mean every company eventually will. Running the math shows that fraud adds 7% to company costs in the United States. But fraud is only one form of unethical behavior. As Blass said, it ranges from cheating customers to harassment in the workplace, so throwing in legal costs and negative judgments would probably drive the figure for all ethical issues much higher.

Changes in federal enforcement could make this all the more pertinent to business owners or top managers. “If an organization is convicted of a federal crime,” Blass said on a slide, “its failure to maintain ‘an effective compliance and ethics program’ may result in the assessment of harsher penalties.” We’re talking a 400% increase, Blass wrote.

You may be stunned to learn who commits fraud. About half are senior managers, Blass said. This isn’t just about line workers stealing pens. Most, 93%, had no prior record. Another study showed that 43% of people admitted to some form of unethical behavior on the job, and 75% admitted to having observed it but not reported it.

Among that last set, the top reason cited was because reporting the behavior was “not being a team player.” This was a much higher percentage, 96%, than fear of retaliation, coming in third on the list at 68%. Blass said people think, “It doesn’t affect me, so I’m not going to do anything.”

But it does. Ethical lapses hurt the company’s bottom line, and thus each team member’s job security and any profit-sharing. Many unethical behaviors will directly impact the reputation of the team or individual team members, in turn harming credibility, persuasiveness, motivation, and, ultimately, careers. I know of a situation at a nonprofit where a series of lapses, each in itself relatively minor, added up to drive out the organization’s top fundraiser.

Staying quiet is not “being a team player.” Researchers use the term “groupthink” to refer to the behavior of teams so averse to confrontation that everybody goes along with the first or easiest idea—or more often, the boss’s idea. Some have pointed to the Bay of Pigs disaster during the administration of U.S. President John F. Kennedy as an example. The CIA proposed an invasion of Cuba by exiles to overthrow Cuban President Fidel Castro. Naysayers did not feel comfortable speaking up, and the April 1961 invasion was a horrid failure costing lives on both sides, damaging the U.S.’s reputation, and requiring another $53 million to free imprisoned invaders.

When the Soviet Union placed missiles in Cuba, an event facilitated by the invasion fiasco and triggering a crisis in October of 1962, Kennedy wisely recognized the teamwork problem. He ordered people to speak up, promising no retribution for disagreement. Open debate in the White House led to a nuanced response that provided a peaceful resolution.

I asked Blass during the Q&A how he would get people to redefine being a team player to include speaking up. Having already stressed the need to “draw a clear line in the sand” about ethics through explicit, repeated communications, he now added that a leader must “walk the talk.” He gave a wonderful example from his own experience.

He was running a company whose building did not have enough parking spaces for all of the workers. It had implemented a rotation system for parking in which he included himself. From his office window, he was able to see people cheating. He sent out a memo asking, do you want me to name names in a company meeting, “or do you want me to treat you like adults?” The cheating stopped.

What also needs to stop is the use of the phrase “be a team player” as a cudgel to force people into supporting positions that are not supported by the facts. Persuasion, not retaliation, will move your team toward the high performance that ultimately reduces everyone’s pain.

Don’t be an Example of the Peter Principle

An article about America’s generals shows that Laurence Peter nailed a universal truth back in 1969: “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.” What some call “The Peter Principle,” after the title of the book it appeared in, has had examples in every company I have worked with. Unless you are a CEO, there probably is nothing you can do to prevent it except this: Don’t be an example.

The 2013 article in The Atlantic by Thomas Ricks, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning war reporter, opens with a story of the U.S. 90th Infantry Division during the Battle of Normandy in World War II. When its commander, Brigadier General Jay MacKelvie, was found “sheltering from enemy fire, huddled in a drainage ditch along the base of a hedgerow” while his division “bogged down,” he was replaced the same day. So were two of his three regimental commanders, including a West Point graduate only in command a month. A few weeks later, the man who replaced MacKelvie was replaced. During the four years of that war, 10% of the 155 division commanders were removed, plus five (higher-up) corps commanders.

“In the (U.S.) wars of the past decade,” Ricks writes in contrast, “hundreds of Army generals were deployed to the field, and… not one was relieved by the military brass for combat effectiveness.” In Iraq, only one high-ranking officer was removed, a colonel.

The article goes on to detail the host of major military mistakes made in Iraq and Afghanistan. (I’m ignoring here the debates over political mistakes.) Ricks provides examples where Gen. Tommy Franks refused to provide resources that could have captured Osama bin Laden in 2001 or prevented the escape of a large al-Qaeda/Taliban force. He shows how Franks and later commanders focused on immediate goals over long-term success. Read Dwight Eisenhower’s memoir of WWII, and you’ll see he was well aware how his decisions during the war could impact the difficult rebuilding of Europe afterward. Ricks says separate reviews by the Pentagon and the Rand Corporation showed military leaders thought the post-war transition in Iraq would be easy.

One line from the article leapt from the page: “During World War II, top officials expected some generals to fail in combat, and were prepared to remove them when they did.” The Peter Principle argues that once someone starts moving up, they will keep being promoted until they land in a position where they are over their head. Their performance is too poor to be overlooked, so they don’t get promoted further, but they don’t get demoted either. That may be because the person above them has risen to their level of incompetence.

I was in a start-up years ago that had grown to 250 people and supplied a key part to a massively successful product. Five years old, the company had no group-level budgets and used no project management despite consistently failing to deliver on its promises. Finally the company imploded in layoffs and limped along until it was sold to another company for a fraction of its earlier value. The founders made some money, but they could have made so much more with far less pain to many people. The CEO was an outstanding money raiser, but he was clueless as an administrator. Without changing jobs he had risen to his level of incompetence because the needs of the job had changed. But he and the board of directors refused to see it.

Elsewhere, the head of the Project Management Office at the most chaotic business I’ve ever been in told me she did not feel qualified for her mid-manager position. Over time it became clear she was right. But there was nothing preventing her from becoming qualified. The mistakes she repeated had nothing to do with project management. They involved people management skills, which can be learned. She, her boss, and the company had missed the most fundamental truth about management: When you become a manager, your job is no longer technical; your job is helping other people succeed. The classic example is that of the top salesperson who gets promoted to leadership of the sales organization, only to see sales go down. The company does not teach him or her how to manage, and it just “lost” its top sales person!

There is little you can do about the Peter Principle in your company, unless you are in a high-level position (at which you are competent). But you can stop yourself from being a model of it. One reason I have resisted the normal corporate career route is fear that I would eventually reach that level. I know I am good at transforming teams or groups of teams, and when I do that well, those teams no longer need me. So even though I am good at coaching other team leaders to do that and thus could probably rise a level or two without problems, I instead have organized my career to move sideways to other teams that need what I am definitely good at.

If you choose the traditional upward route, there are steps you can take to prevent creeping incompetence:

  • Focus your self-training on people and administrative skills instead of technical ones.
  • Put what is best for your employees over short-term personal career gains, because their success will reflect well on you.
  • Think carefully about the possible negative consequences of each decision, not just the positives.
  • As you move up, remember that you cannot possibly control the daily efforts of 20 or 200 line employees. You really only manage the people who directly report to you—your team, in other words, not their teams.

To stop yourself from falling to the Peter Principle, I believe there is a simple rule. Either succeed by moving from mountain to mountain, or never forget that the mountain below you is what provides your high-altitude view.

Sources:

  • Peter, L., and R. Hull (1969). The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong. William Morrow: New York.
  • Ricks, T. (2012), “General Failure,” The Atlantic 310(4):98.

How to be a Team Leadership Genius

As we’ve seen, you don’t have to be—in fact, can’t be—born a teamwork genius. You can become one. Here’s how:

Practice.

Simply being a team leader is not “practicing.” I mean you have to:

  1. Seek out best practices from a variety of sources.
  2. Try them and measure the results.
  3. Be willing to admit that they:
    • Failed, if the data show they did.
    • May have succeeded (or failed) for reasons other than you think.
    • May not have gotten results as good as you could have using other practices.

In short, you have to actively search for data or expert opinions that go against what you want to believe, and put those to an honest test.

These thoughts coalesced as I finished The Borderlands of Science: Where Sense Meets Nonsense. Author Michael Shermer has two degrees in psychology and a doctorate in science history. As the publisher of SKEPTIC Magazine, he has been featured many times on television and radio shows. (For one, he ran an experiment proving a famous “psychic healer” produced results no better than you or I could.)

I read his book for fun, but different themes unexpectedly connected with my teamwork research. Not an ideologue, Shermer takes a harshly logical approach in dividing science from nonsense that would upset New Agers, yes, but some scientists as well. Quantum mechanics and evolution are solid science, he says. Yet he classifies Freudian theory as a “nonscience” alongside astrology and Holocaust rejection. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) and leading theories in physics and cosmology are on the “borderlands” in between, like hypnosis, all fated to go one way or the other over time, Shermer says.

Science has always had ideas that start as nonscience. However, only a few pass a series of tests over a generation to become reliable. I think you can use his questions for separating scientific ideas from wishful thinking to separate useful teambuilding techniques from time wasters:

  • “How reliable is the source of the claim?”
  • “Does this source often make similar claims?”
  • “Have the claims been verified by another source?”
  • “How does this fit with what we know about the world and how it works?”
  • “Has anyone… gone out of their way to disprove the claim, or has only (supporting) evidence been sought?”
  • “In the absence of clearly defined proof, does the preponderance of evidence converge to the claimant’s conclusion, or a different one?”
  • “Is the claimant employing the accepted rules of reason and tools of research, or have these been abandoned in favor of others that lead to the desired conclusion?”
  • “Has the claimant provided a different explanation for the observed phenomenon, or is it strictly a process of denying the existing explanation?”
  • “If the claimant proffered a new explanation, does it account for as many phenomena as the old explanation?”

The book has eye-opening analyses on the role birth order and generational change play in people revolutionizing science, and busts the “The Beautiful People Myth” that pre-industrial tribes were harmonious protectors of nature (they weren’t). He also provides advice backed by history on becoming more creative without wandering into nonsense:

  1. “Be sensitive to the important problems in a field to be solved, and ignore those that are unimportant or unsolvable.”
  2. “Educate yourself with as much knowledge of a subject as is available, and if a skill is involved, practice, practice, practice.”
  3. “Respect both the knowledge and experts in the field, but do not be afraid to challenge anyone or anything.”
  4. “Look for new ways to solve old problems and try something no one else has ever done… Listen to your critics, but do not let them dictate your thinking.”
  5. “Communicate your new ideas with others in the field. Intellect dies in isolation…”
  6. “Generate lots and lots of creative products to give yourself an extensive variety from which to select those most likely to survive… in the cultural marketplace.”

Step 2 may be the most important. You’re already read on this page that researchers have estimated people become recognized experts after they have practiced something for 10,000 hours. Shermer challenges the myth that Mozart spontaneously began writing music at an early age and produced flawless first drafts. Shermer shows how stories of “a-ha” moments like Newton recognizing gravity when hit by an apple, or Einstein discovering relativity in a dream, were either false or made possible by years of preparation. This reminded me of performers who become “overnight successes” after years of plying their trades in obscurity. Shermer trots out an old joke referring to a famous music venue in New York City:

Q: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

A: “Practice.”

(When I lived in New York, I would wryly answer, “Take the Double-R train to 57th Street!”)

Do you really want to be a better manager; be respected by your peers and employees; earn more money; move up the chain, or have a reputation that keeps you well employed as you move around? Then you have to change the way you do things. Actually try the suggestions you’ve seen in this hypertext. Implement The SuddenTeams Program or Full Stack Scrum™. Try different approaches to situations at work. Hold regular “lessons learned” meetings with your team, identify action items, and follow up to ensure they happen. Those 10,000 hours equate to roughly five work years of actively trying to improve.

I know you can name bad managers who rose through the ranks by simply putting in their time or knowing the right people. What you can’t name is the thousands of other people who wanted to rise by any means and didn’t. Since you have read this far, I think you don’t want to be either type.

Source: Shermer, M. (2001), The Borderlands of Science: Where Sense Meets Nonsense. Oxford Univ. Press: New York.

When You Lead is as Important as How

One of the myths of teambuilding is the idea that leadership is a set of well-identified traits that work in most situations. But scientific research says this is false in several ways. I became more convinced as I finished reading the book chapter reviewing the current state of team science by J. Richard Hackman and Nancy Katz of Harvard Univ., which I first wrote about in “Asking the Right Teamwork Questions.”

First off, “researchers over the years have been unable to identify the particular traits or behavioral styles that reliably distinguish great from so-so team leaders,” Hackman and Katz write. Even the strongest correlations are so weak, they aren’t very helpful. The same is true for leadership styles, none of which have proven “the best” across different circumstances. The attempt by researchers to identify which style is best for which circumstance has produced results too complex for any leader to apply. The authors say a more useful focus is competencies, “things the leader knows or knows how to do” rather than either personality traits or behavioral styles.

A great emphasis is placed by most leadership bloggers and authors on what you do day in and day out, on the “manager as coach.” But what you do at the start of a team or project has far greater impact on team performance, Hackman and Katz say. One study they cite found that the initial structure had four times the impact of later coaching. “Moreover, well-designed teams benefitted greatly from competent leader coaching and were not much hurt by bad coaching,” they write. “Poorly designed teams, by contrast, were not helped by competent coaching—and were devastated by bad coaching.”

In that study, business administration researcher Ruth Wageman of Dartmouth College set out to avoid some of the pitfalls of field research, such as depending on team managers’ and members’ opinions about how their teams did. She did so by including multiple sources and hard performance data. For example, a team was included in the study only if three managers at different levels felt it was superb or ineffective by Wageman’s three-part definitions. And final performance ratings were based on data such as response and repair times, parts expenses, machine reliability, and customer satisfaction. In addition, managers and members of each team were interviewed using pre-defined questionnaires and completed 108-item survey forms. The focus in each was how often certain behaviors occurred, not what people thought of those behaviors.

Her study report in Organization Science said team structure ratings were based on how many of the following were true:

  • “Group has clear membership and is stable over time.”
  • “Statement of purpose for the team is clear and is about ends and not means.”
  • “Number of members is adequate for the work and no larger” (4-7 members in this case).
  • “Team is composed of members with substantial (diversity) of task-relevant skills…”
  • “Team has a group task such that members must work together to accomplish it.”
  • “Team has objective performance targets that are ‘stretch’ goals.”
  • The team has openly stated norms that members are expected to experiment with procedures, seek out best practices, take action to solve problems, and discuss “what different members have to contribute to the work.”
  • “80% or more of available rewards are contingent on the team rather than individual performance.”
  • Task-relevant information such as machine data and customer feedback is provided to the team at least weekly.
  • “Educational system provides training and technical consultation.”
  • “Group is provided with the basic material resources it needs to accomplish its work.”

“Self-management” was defined as the degree to which the team members took responsibility as a group for their work results, actively monitored their performance, and took steps to improve. Coaching behaviors were drawn from the interviews (not predefined) and seemed to clump into six categories. Behaviors that supported the team’s self-management were considered positive and included rewarding the team informally for working as a group and teaching it new problem-solving techniques. Negative behaviors included bypassing the group to direct individuals or deal with customers, running group meetings, and pointing out problems in the group (rather than helping it spot them). Other coaching behaviors had no effect on self-management. The study did not compare self-managed teams to those with leaders, and higher self-management behaviors did not directly relate to performance. Instead, team design impacted both self-management and performance.

Wageman also looked at worker satisfaction, and at quality of group processes by using ratings of statements like, “Every time someone tries to straighten out a work group member whose behavior is not acceptable, things seem to get worse rather than better.” Findings included:

  • Leader coaching did not directly affect quality of processes, instead helping or hurting by supporting or interfering with self-management.
  • Self-management, in turn, impacted quality of process.
  • The link between coaching and self-management was only part of the reason that good coaching raised worker satisfaction and bad coaching lowered it, meaning coaching also had some direct impact.
  • Good team structure design raised quality of group process ratings, but not worker satisfaction.
  • Neither positive nor negative coaching had a direct impact on performance, but positive coaching helped group processes and negative hurt worker satisfaction.
  • Though not discussed by the author, her data showed that level of self-management, monitoring of performance, managing of performance, and worker satisfaction were all correlated with performance. Perceptions of group process quality were not, however.

Wageman concludes that “decentralization and major structural change” are the two ways leaders can “make real differences in team effectiveness.” She says a research focus on those areas “may be more fruitful in the long term than continuing to search for the best kinds of day-to-day styles for leaders to use in interaction with their teams.”

Overall it appears from the research there are four times in a team’s life-cycle when a leader can have a strong impact, Hackman and Katz report:

  • Before the team first meets, “when the leader can structure the group and arrange for resources and contextual supports that facilitate competent teamwork…”
  • At the start of work, “at which point the leader can bound the group, help members become oriented to one another and to their collective work, and foster collective motivation to perform that work well…”
  • At the midpoint, when “the leader can help members reflect on and improve the appropriateness of its performance strategy…”
  • After the project is done, “when the leader can help members learn from their collective experiences and thereby strengthen the group’s overall complement of knowledge and skill…”

You may know the famous stages of group development I critiqued in earlier topics, “Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing.” This model is often quoted as gospel, but Hackman and Katz put the last nail in its coffin for me. Based on research I’d already seen, in The SuddenTeams™ Program I pointed out that a team can be in two or more phases at once, and that the performance curve through the stages is bouncy instead of smooth. The “curve” looks more like approaching and climbing a mesa. The typical team struggles along for the first half of its lifetime, then suddenly around the midpoint figures things out and shifts to a much higher level, my book says and Hackman and Katz confirm. This happens regardless of the time period. In a three-month project, it happens around six weeks; in a three-year project, around 18 months.

If you’re thinking this doesn’t apply to your team because it doesn’t do projects, it does. “When there is no deadline or it is ambiguous, groups do not establish a pace for their work and tend to flounder,” Hackman and Katz say. When I help a non-project team re-organize, we create performance standards and a continuous improvement plan with deadlines.

Note that two of the four times listed above that leaders have the most impact occur around the team’s start. If your team does not have a formal team structure, you have given up 50% of your chance to influence how well it performs. To understand why this is, consider one reason. Elsewhere in their chapter the authors talk about how an understanding of “who knows what” in a group increases group performance. All of the factors they say support this knowledge are best done at the start and/or require formal structures:

  • “interdependence built into the team task, since that gives members both occasion and incentive to learn from one another”
  • formal team structures that promote:
    • “psychological safety”
    • “group potency or efficacy” (belief in its general or specific capabilities)
    • “strong identification with the group”
  • the leader’s references to the team’s “objectives, strategies, and processes”

This hypertext will give you plenty of other reasons.

For project teams past the midpoint, you’re probably too late. For everyone else, though, there is a simple solution: Start over again. Want to be a better leader? Install the team agreements science says will improve your team’s performance more than what you do on the typical day.

The time is now.

Sources:

  • Hackman, R., and N. Katz (2010), “Group Behavior and Performance.” In Fiske, S., D. Gilbert, and G. Lindzey (eds.), Handbook of Social Psychology (5th ed.), Wiley: New York.
  • Wageman, R. (2001), “How Leaders Foster Self-Managing Team Effectiveness: Design Choices Versus Hands-on Coaching,” Organization Science 12(5):559.

Do More with the Same

Team managers and members are often asked to meet slowly increasing demand without more help: in short, to do more with the same. You can do this (up to a point) by increasing their group productivity, which I’ll define as “output quantity at a given level of quality per operating dollar.” The goal is to help a group attain the:

  • Highest possible output given resources available.
  • Lowest possible costs given customer requirements.
  • Lowest possible stress on employees, which reduces long-term costs (turnover, absences, health benefits, etc.).

Scientific consensus and workplace results say the way to do this is to put a formal teamwork structure in place. In contrast, let me describe the typical well-functioning team in American organizations based on my direct observations, readings, and talks with workers.

Team meetings are fairly informal, starting with a round of status reports from the leader and members, and focused on discussions about current problems and decisions about who is going to do what to fix each. Those discussions are open and usually respectful, and the leader often goes along with the team, though everyone understands the decision is his or hers to make. Deadlines may or may not be set, and those agreements are not written down except maybe by the assignees. Heated discussions break out on occasion, but don’t turn personal, at least in the meeting. The team’s processes are not documented, or if they are, they are outdated, not followed, and rarely referenced in discussions. Primary tasks are handed down from higher in the hierarchy with little or no input from the team, which pushes back on some tasks to mixed results. Those tasks and deadlines change for what seem like arbitrary reasons, and the team misses a significant percentage partly due to unrealistic expectations from above. The team’s work output and quality is not measured in any objective way. People grumble about upper management often. The members gripe less about the team leader, whom they consider a good boss though with a major flaw or two they’ve learned to live with. Stress and overwork are regular complaints from most members. No one has been fired in years, possibly including one or two the others think should have been. People move on to other jobs or teams at a rate of 10% to 20% per year.

Notice I said this is the typical “well-functioning” team. If you’re there, congratulations, you’re well ahead of the average team. But you are at least 20% less productive than you could be, and could possibly double your productivity based on my results in working with similar teams. No, I’m not exaggerating.

The biggest block to achieving the productivity goals above is human bias. By that I mean the rules of thumb and information filters all humans use as shortcuts in our decision-making (per “How Your Brain is Fooling You”). Because of these, many team leaders reading this topic will think, “My team is doing okay.” That may be true—or your subconscious mind may be fooling you. Even if your conscious mind is right, is “okay” good enough for you?

Assuming the answer is “no,” answer some other questions. Does your team have:

  • A written mission or purpose statement?
  • SMART goals related to its work?
  • Measurable standards for its work?
  • An SLA or SOW with each customer (internal or external)?
  • A method for creating and tracking action items to ensure they get done?
  • Efficient team meetings in which decisions are made and no time is wasted?
  • The resources it needs, according to team members?
  • A communications plan including weekly progress reports?
  • Open debates without much conflict?
  • Strong motivation, morale, and engagement?
  • Formal project management methods for complex, unique jobs?
  • A continuous improvement plan?
  • Team-based evaluations or pay?

If you answered “no” or even “I think so” even once, you have identified a means for productivity growth. The SuddenTeams Program and Full Stack Scrum site have specific, free steps for changing your answer.

The second-biggest block to top productivity is the argument, “We don’t have time for all that.” But you are already spending that time. Holding current output steady, if you could cut the labor hours required by just 5%, you are currently wasting 104 hours per person (2,073 labor-hours per year X 5%). In my TeamTrainers work, I literally guaranteed that implementing any one of the missing items from the list above would increase efficiency enough to cover my fees, because such a small change in output or costs is required. You can easily implement any of these on your own in less than the 2-1/2 weeks of labor time you would otherwise waste this year, and the savings will continue in future years.

Do you put money into an IRA or 401(k)? Why? You could be having so much more fun with that money. Buy a boat. Buy a goat.

Instead, you discipline yourself to take away from your immediate happiness because you know it will pay off later. That means you already recognize the value of sacrificing a little time or money now to make things better in the future. All I’m asking is for you to apply the same concept to your work, for your sake, for your teammates, and for your stakeholders.

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