Saturday, December 29, 2012

Fixing a Broken Team - Part 4: What are people really concerned about?


When you sit down to listen to individual members, common themes will emerge.   I have found most often that people are looking for the very thing that they can’t get while they are underperforming: they want respect.  When a team is in turmoil, they often produce less and complain more.  The first thing you need to do is assure them that things can be changed, but it’s going to take work and probably some approaches they haven’t used before.   An honest appraisal of the situation is critical before you make promises of what will change. 
Your response to the team (after some serious listening).  “To build a reputation (and ultimately to gain respect) our team needs to demonstrate results in a way that are clear to the organization.” Oftentimes people can only see their local situation, and the needs of an executive to clearly see resource loading is not their concern.

If you're in Middle Management (and many people are) I have posted a few ideas that may be of value.

Kind regards,


Fixing a Broken Team - Part 3 - Build Trust

You’ll feel weird the first few days on the team.   You won’t have enough information to make a good decision.  You won’t know all the nuances of the jobs people do.   You’ll feel a bit shallow in your responses, but you can still win the day.   Straight talk is the source of trust.  People will want to know if their jobs are safe, and if they can trust your word.  Those first few weeks are critical.  If you don’t know an answer, say so.  People know when you’re bluffing. 

This is a shot taken in Montana ... one of the most beautiful places on earth ... a place of solace, a place to think ...

Fixing a Broken Team - Part 2: Lead with confidence, not with your ego


            In the midst of crisis and ongoing poor performance, when the new leader comes in, everyone is skeptical.  They’ve seen all the high priced help come and go, and they’re still here.  But they still want to believe that someone can help them.  Take courage.  This is not going to be easy, but dig in and plan for their success, not yours.   People are always curious about someone who really wants them to be successful, and is willing to sacrifice ego, position and status to ensure they’re successful.  Humility is always a safer starting point, by the way, since you don’t have nearly so far to fall.

Fixing a Broken Team - Part 1

I sat down with each of the employees on the team I had been assigned to.  One by one, they shared their tales of woe.  “We can’t get any support from anyone!” She said, hysterical.  “Why won’t these people listen to us?” He screamed, angrily.  “I can’t get parts for my customer,” came another retort. 

That was my introduction to management.  I was hired to supervise a call center and tech support operation.   They were the most beat up group of people I had met in business.  Three years later, that team won the highest award at Johnson Controls. 

Every manager has had to face, at one time or another, a promotion into a broken team.  

Each of us as managers is sometimes faced with the challenge of mending a group of people who are exhausted, downtrodden and just plain dejected.  Teams fall apart for many reasons: disparaging comments about their effectiveness, ineffective team members, excessive management turnover, unclear mission, and failure.   The risky part of these teams is they become self-fulfilling prophecies because poor team chemistry leads to poor team performance which leads to blaming which leads to a death spiral of ineffective performance and on and on. 

When we are called into a conference room and told we’ll be moving into “X” team, we sometimes hold our breath, knowing the risks involved with managing a broken team.  Things can go wrong. There is no question that rebuilding a reputation takes time and deliberate effort. This article offers several actions you can take to retool and rebuild.  Teams don’t often fit a linear change path, but they do respond to deliberate, thoughtful and persistent leadership. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Leadership Blind Spots

The most important thing I learned in Driver's Education was not how to parallel park! The most important thing I learned was 'check your blind spot.'

Candidly, that bit of coaching has literally saved my life multiple times throughout the past several decades.  A blind spot can mean destruction while driving a car, but I often wonder whether executives recognize the danger of leadership blindspots.

Here are a few ...

  1. My way or the highway - we would think this sort of thing would be gone with the Gen-X and Millenials ... but it remains a top blind spot for many.
  2. I don't need any feedback - here's one that reeks of ego.  This is normally reserved for those who do not want to hear about dangerous flaws that may be impeding their success.
  3. Feigned commitment - Leaders who nod their heads in approval willingly during key meetings, but only do so for appearances.
  4. An unwillingness to get one's hands dirty when the chips are down.  Leaders who are 'above all that' send a powerful message about the real work of day-to-day operations. 
  5. Illusion of participation - in change management and organizational development, we coach people to be very careful of providing an illusion of participation, only to default back to one's own ideas.
Blind spots come in all shapes and sizes ... they can be remedied with candid openess to criticism.  Yes, criticism ... not simply 'feedback' but real criticism that articulates the danger of the blind spot, the short-term impact of the blind spot, and the long-term, career damaging blind spots that can run someone off course forever. 

What are your blind spots?  Have you considered what they might be?  Have you asked for true criticism of your style by a trusted colleague? 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

IT System Introductions - Keys to success #1

~Sir Winston Churchill
While Sir Winston Churchill was referring to war, his thoughts are accurate for IT System Introductions.
The notion of change failure is legendary, as is the volume of articles that follow IT failure.  Ultimately, IT failures do not look back far enough into the project to determine the roots of failure. 
Most IT projects are viewed as beneficial to the organization and likely to succeed.   Yet, a major source of failure is often overlooked.  Executives, overwhelmed with stars and dollar signs in their eyes, neglect the key thing that will make the project a success: “what are we getting ourselves into?”  They neglect hard Due Diligence. 
Thus, the missing component in large IT projects is a serious commitment to diagnosis, including diagnosis of (1) the magnitude of the change, (2) expectations of the change, (3) systems linking to a primary system [integrations] and (4) the pain of the ‘societal’ aspects of the project.  I will take each of these in turn.

Begin with the beginning: Communication is the cornerstone

Mark Twain wrote “A Classic is something everyone wants to have read, but no one wants to read”

Communication is the one thing all organizations talk about, but few make the effort to improve it.

People believe that communication is happening all the time, simply because people talk.

Poor communication has an adverse impact on performance  ...

When people do not understand each other, they make costly mistakes.

Here are some reasons why ... I'll go into each in the weeks ahead .. but for starters, consider whther your organization has communication problems resulting from ...

  • The accelerating pace of organizational life
  • Managerial Sound bites
  • Lack of patience
  • Lack of clarity by the sender
  • Poor timing of communication
  • Physical space of communication
Think communication is easy?  Think again ... poor communication processes are costing your organization money every minute of every day.