The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Trust the Pattern

Trust the Pattern

Lately, with the news worldwide being somewhat bleak, I thought I’d write about trust -— since it seems to be waning a bit. Trust is something we commonly talk about in business, in leadership, in politics. It’s something we aspire to build and yet still seems challenging to grasp. So here’s my attempt to define trust and how it manifests in our lives.

The obligatory dictionary definition of trust (from Merriam-Webster) defines it as a “belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective.” Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, says trust is foundational and that building it requires vulnerability, which means apologizing to our family and friends, and to business colleagues when we’ve messed up; or getting real about what we don’t understand or when we need help.

But in working with people for years, I have come to believe that reliability

Boundaries or Bust

Boundaries or Bust

One person’s boundaries can become another person’s problem so it’s important to look at the perspectives of others before you articulate your boundaries. If you just can’t take on any more work, putting a boundary up is a good idea. But that work has to go somewhere, so think about the causal relationships between your boundaries and how they are received.

Communication patterns are important in being fair to others and yourself. Like a boat cutting through water...

Do Ask; Don't Tell

Do Ask; Don't Tell

If I have learned one thing by working with people in organizations, it’s that there’s much more telling than asking going on. As a business coach, my clients will expect me to ask, at some point in their session, “So what’s the question?”

Technological advancements, competition, globalization, pressure for increased productivity and chasing dollars all contribute to heavy workloads and little free time. So when asked for help, leaders tend to give a quick answer and tell employees what to do. It’s just faster and easier.

Providing a quick answer is the right response when in the midst of a crisis that requires immediate action. But giving a quick answer doesn’t work best when trying to build the capabilities of staff. Employees and leaders get into a pattern of asking and telling. And while that can be frustrating for both, breaking away from that pattern is harder than one would think.

Meetings That Matter

Meetings That Matter

Meetings are the organizational fulcrum where individuals work together cooperatively as a team. At their best, good meetings get people’s brains fired up. At their worst, meetings provoke a fight-or-flight instinct in the poor souls gathered at the table — they shut people’s brains down.

Meetings often follow an outdated arc of written agendas emailed days ahead, the reading and voting on minutes never to be seen again and robotic sharing of mind-numbing progress reports. Agenda items repeat ad nauseum as teams repeatedly fail to deal with real issues.

A team of researchers in Google’s People Operations (their HR) launched Project Aristotle, a research project designed to answer the question “What makes a Google team effective?” They learned that the five key dynamics that distinguish successful Google teams from others are:

Sweet, Sweet Reward

Sweet, Sweet Reward

Maybe leadership has hung inspirational quotes on the walls of your office, like: “Risk Equals Reward,” “Go Big or Go Home” or “Just Do It.” These messages beckon you to achieve more than you ever thought possible. So you do. Your team busts hard and accomplishes a clear, long-term goal. High fives all around! Now, go after the next big project waiting for you on the other side of the finish line. Wait, what now?

There needs to be a recognizable pause between one monumental accomplishment and the next. That pause can be filled with a simple celebration for what has been achieved. Not a mere slap on the back or an interoffice email, but an actual in-person celebration. Successfully completing a big hairy project doesn’t simply happen; employees expend a significant amount of time — so too should leadership expend critical thought into celebrating their employees’ stellar accomplishments.

A lame trophy, coffee mug or T-shirt is no reward for employees breaking their backs to achieve goals that propel their company forward. (Even worse is when leadership doesn’t choose the reward, instead asking someone else to because they couldn’t be bothered to sprain their brain.) Rewarding excellence is part of a leader’s job. There is nothing worse than working hard, day after day, with nary a nod of thanks. A leader’s lack of sincere...

Smarty Pants Don't Always Fit

Smarty Pants Don't Always Fit

Hiring is a confounding game. Some people have a great knack for it and an intuitive sense about people — but even they can get it wrong. The world-renowned Disney Institute hires “attitude versus aptitude,” and you would be wise to do the same.

Recently, I worked with a company who filled a position with great match for the technical skills needed for the role. But this new employee’s on-the-job performance created communication nightmares that led other long-term employees to quit. Within a year, the team was sinking...

Would You Like to Work For You?

Would You Like to Work For You?

Here’s an idea I share with my clients: We don’t actually get to decide what kind of leaders or communicators we are. Instead, the people in our lives decide the degree to which they value our impact. Whether you lead or manage people, look now through your employees’ eyes and ask, “Would I want to work for me?”

Years ago I interviewed 40 leaders, locally and internationally, to learn something about what made them tick. One question I asked was if they read about leadership or other topics to inform their actions. What I found was the leaders who read often were more concise and on-point during interviews. Those who said they didn’t read much wandered while answering questions. Recently, two clients sent me insightful reads on leadership. These clients are already on the path to being excellent bosses, conscious of the constructive impact they can and want to have with their employees. They read.

The Power of Failure

The Power of Failure

Bowling alley birthday parties were all the rage when my sons were little. In the interest of developing self-esteem, bumper pads filled the alleys to ensure the little tykes dropped some pins. By the time my kids were in high school, zero-tolerance rules were ubiquitous and helicopter parenting was a newly coined phrase in the American lexicon. Parents write papers, do research for student projects and are involved in so many facets of their children’s’ lives it can be dizzying. Those bowling bumpers, years later, are still firmly in place.

All of this unconscious hovering sends a tacit, unspoken message that mistakes are unacceptable while perfection is the ultimate parental accomplishment. My own father expects more from my accomplishments than I actually achieve, so in his eyes I always fall short. His need for me to be perfect has caused me to stop sharing my accomplishments with him. Such high expectations...