Why Is My Team So Ineffective?

Teams are as prevalent today in the workplace as water coolers in the common area. This is rooted in the nature of project work, often requiring knowledge and skill from disparate groups expected to work together. The rollout of a new technology or improved business process often requires coordination among business managers, external consultants, marketing, training or sales groups, each working toward a common objective. Often, the coordination produces more cross-team dysfunction than success.

Telstra CEO and exec team hit the call center for strategic leadership perspective

Telstra -- the Australian telecom giant -- brought the executive team into the sales and customer service office to hit the phones. The video below is a company-produced PR piece, so we have to take it with a grain of salt, to be sure. No matter what the intention of the media team, we simply can't underscore the raw power of this sort of upside-down perspective change. As you watch the short video below, note the reactions of the "buddy" team coaching the executives; as much awe as the CEO has for the consultants, as much pride as the marketing chief felt when she sold her first phone package, giving the sales team a chance to "coach up" is one of the most powerful team-building exercises you can offer a close-knit staff.

It's just a few minutes -- I hope it puts as big a smile on your face as it did mine!

Are you leading your teams honestly? Bring the "lifestyle business" ethic to teamwork

How Female Entrepreneurs Define Success - The Entrepreneurial Mind

The good Dr. Jeff Cornwall picked up on a concept out of Erin Albert's new book, Single. Women. Entrepreneurs. I haven't read the book yet, but from the review, it sounds like it is worth picking up. The central idea of Cornwall's post is that younger entrepreneurs, led by new views of entrepreneurship from Gen X and Y women, are choosing a different sort of model as they begin to grow their businesses. From Dr. Cornwall:

"Women, especially Generations X and Y, want to make their business and personal lives and aspirations work more in harmony," Albert said. Because of this, they choose to limit the size of their businesses and not pursue outside funding from investors or loans to fuel more growth.

This approach to entrepreneurship is referred to as pursuing "a lifestyle business."

However, every business should be viewed as a lifestyle business. If you choose a business deliberately based on your goals, aspirations and values, you can create a business that is an intentional reflection of the lifestyle you'd like to live.

Ours is not an entrepreneurship blog, nor is this a post focusing on start-ups. But that last line is priceless -- it's a reminder to think about what it means to live and work intentionally. Why? Because authentic people are better communicators, better trust-builders, and deliver better, more consistent results on teams.

One of the most consistent complaints we get from leadership teams in crisis is that they don't have enough "buy-in" from team members. It's such a nebulous word, buy-in, and as it turns out, it's a couch for all the ills that come from individuals not bringing their full attention and honesty to the teams to which they belong.

Our first objective: find out what is in the way of team members participating to their fullest. Which typically leads to the first action of bringing authenticity to tough teams: cut those who don't honestly want to be involved.

Teams have personalities, and they'll model the behavior you bring to the table. If you're living and leading authentically, honestly, you'll attract those to your team who want to deliver the same.


"Jeopardy" is a platform for challenging our assumptions about people. Seriously.

"Jeopardy!" and man vs. machine: Artificial intelligence will always be a step behind -

Steven Baker is author of the up-coming "Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything." If you haven't seen the three-part match, the finale will be broadcast this evening and Baker will be updating this post with real results shortly after.

First, this passage from his op-ed in the LA Times is worth a chuckle (Watson, if it isn't clear, is the name of the computer competitor):

Once, when queried about a famous French bacteriologist, Watson skipped right past Louis Pasteur and responded instead: "What is, 'How tasty was my little Frenchman?'" (the title of a 1971Brazilian movie about cannibals). Even worse, Watson churned away for nearly two hours to come up with such nonsense. Things have changed.

Yes, funny. Funny to a fault, actually. The real message is one of shifting priorities in our offices. We've written much recently on efforts to rethink how we manage our people, how important they are to the way process and technology interact. But the advent of a super-computer that is actually competitive on a show like Jeopardy feels like a more important message than one of simple entertainment.

So, we offer this question: are you using your teams to complete the tasks that are worthy of their capabilities? Your people are (generally) a vastly underused resource. Consider the challenges you are giving your teams and the trust you give them to deliver creative results with minimal supervision. In most cases, getting great results from them will hinge more on giving them challenges that are up to their ability rather than the converse: that you have staff whose collective ability is not up to the tasks they are given.

Baker summarizes:

The rest of us will adapt to the invasion of question-answering Watsons by focusing on work at which the human brain excels — and will leave the rest to machines. We've already outsourced long division, spelling and much of our highway navigation to machines. Now we'll look to them more and more to dig through mountains of data and come up with answers for us. This should free us up to do what remains uniquely human, at least for now: generating fresh ideas.

UPDATE: Wired has a terrific set of pictures inside the Watson facility, if you fancy a tour.

Jackie Gilbert, Jeff Cornwall take on honor in negotiation, offer insight into team behavior

Eight ways to save face for someone else | Organized for Efficiency

Jackie Gilbert is a professor of management at Middle Tennessee State University. This weekend she posted her thoughts on the importance of saving face for others in negotiations with some good tips that serve to remind us all how we're perceived in negotiation. It's a good post and worth a quick read.

From Gilbert's post:

Although in theory we appear to espouse the values of mutual respect and democratic management, how often are these values forgotten when we are faced with an annoying situation? Our desire then to embellish our ego, to trounce an opponent, or to vindicate ourselves at another’s expense may take precedent over conducting ourselves with a sense of decorum. In these moments of self-righteousness indignation, we seem to forget the Golden Rule, or as Tony Alessandra so eloquently coined the term, the Platinum Rule® – treating others as they wish to be treated.

The good Jeff Cornwall picked up her lead in a terrifically interesting direction: entrepreneurial bullying.

Sometimes entrepreneurs just can't help themselves. They get so wrapped up things like making the business model work and growing their ventures that they can lose perspective on their actions. They may talk about the importance of acting ethically and building a positive culture, but the pressures of the entrepreneurial journey can lead to behaviors that do not match their words and their intentions.

When we focus on our individual needs first and only, we loose sight of potential horizons still clouded to us. This becomes critically important in process, system, or departmental integration projects; as soon as you open the door to bringing service centers together you're begging for critical examination of what's good, what's bad -- what to keep, what to trash. This involves judgement, and people hate to be judged.

That's where Cornwall's insights ring so true. When you're asking people passionate about processes they've created to give up those processes for something different, the success of implementation becomes deeply rooted in how you collectively arrive at that decision.

Tony Schwartz on Change, Habits, and Will at HBR

Six Keys to Changing Almost Anything - Tony Schwartz - Harvard Business Review

This morning's post from Tony Schwartz has great fodder for discussion. Of most interest to us is number 4:

It's also easy to go to the other extreme, and take on too little. So you launch a 10-minute walk at lunchtime three days a week and stay at it. The problem is that you don't feel any better for it after several weeks, and your motivation fades.

The only way to truly grow is to challenge your current comfort zone. The trick is finding a middle ground — pushing yourself hard enough that you get some real gain, but not too much that you find yourself unwilling to stay at it.

We see all too often organizations tepid on making the ultimate commitment to change play in the extremes. Going too far and thrusting teams into change beyond their readiness can signal both poor planning, and a back-pocket attempt to ensure change efforts fail at the will of the status quo. Not going far enough can signal a team that isn't ready to make big change, and most likely doesn't fully understand the goal of change initiatives.

Schwartz calls this the danger of "Competing Commitments." From number 5:

Here's a very simple way to surface your competing commitment. Think about a change you really want to make. Now ask yourself what you're currently doing or not doing to undermine that primary commitment. If you are trying to get more focused on important priorities, for example, your competing commitment might be the desire to be highly responsive and available to those emailing you.

For any change effort you launch, it's key to surface your competing commitment and then ask yourself "How can I design this practice so I get the desired benefits but also minimize the costs I fear it will prompt?"

By our experience, he's vastly underplaying the point. The biggest danger that lies in uncovering competing commitments is the subconscious unwillingness to veer off the path of the status quo. Integrating teams across functions, units, service centers, and so on, counts on our collective ability to show benefits powerful enough to lead those with deeply entrenched habits that may fly in the face of our objective. It takes great leadership and skill to navigate those waters; Schwartz's is a great piece to continue our thinking here.