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January 2012 Archives

The Power of Patterns of Behavior

Published on: Jan 30, 2012 | Tags: General, Team Leadership, Productivity, Culture, Systems

It is that time of the year when health club attendance increases. Frustrating as it is for those who are there throughout the year, it happens every New Year. People make resolutions that involve healthy living as evidenced by a new workout regimen. If you are one of the frustrated few, never fear because the numbers will decline to very near where they were in December within a couple of months. This is an annual dynamic I have lived through for several years. It has been said that we humans are creatures of habit. For that reason new workout routines don’t last long. We live in patterns of behavior that, while can be changed, usually are not. That makes observation and awareness of behavioral patterns a critical skill for a leader.

Your team, if it has been together for any length of time, has established patterns of behavior. You participate in these patterns, which you usually experience as an unexamined, unconscious part of your day. The ones you notice are probably creating pain for you, but the fact that it is a pattern suggests you have not done anything that really changes it. You may have inherited behavioral patterns another leader set in motion and you are not sure what can be done about them. The importance of identifying your team’s patterns becomes clear when you consider that short term productivity and long term direction will both be determined by them.

As a leader there is another important reason to pay attention to the patterns of behavior in your team. You are creating them. The patterns that exist in your team, if you have been leading it for a period of time, are there because of your action or inaction. The leader is responsible to develop a team whose behavioral patterns support individual and group success. As you observe your team, including you, determine which patterns support individual and group productivity and success. Alternatively, define the negative behavioral patterns that undermine the group. What do you think will happen if you proactively move your team from unproductive to productive behavioral patterns?

The Impact of Context on Your Team

Published on: Jan 23, 2012 | Tags: General, Team Leadership, Productivity, Organizations, Management

Don’t be a victim. As a leader, don’t let those on your team be victims. You are victims when you blame your problems on those outside your group.

“If they (whoever “they” are) would quit changing things we could get our job done.”

“If other groups would cooperate with us we could satisfy our customers.” 

“Our conflicts are caused by others; we would be fine if it weren’t for senior management’s unclear expectations.”

I have heard these and other expressions of frustration in teams that struggle to come together for success. Do you see a problem with this mentality? The belief positions someone else with more control over you than you have over yourself. This is not to say that external influences do not exist, or that they do not exercise power.

If you want to lead a group of people you have to be aware of the context in which the group exists. That context is an organization. Every organization is different. As a leader, your awareness of this context positions you to lead your team effectively. If you describe your organization as a hostile, unsupportive place then guess how your people will experience it? If that is how your team members describe it to you, they reinforce this contextual interpretation for each other, even if you counter with positives. This does not change because you expect them to deal with it. It is a fact that some companies are designed to create a positive context for the work group level of organization, but even in these companies external factors related to change and expectations can be interpreted as hostile at the work group level. So how do you avoid the victim mentality?

The first step toward contextual awareness and interpretation is the neutral view. If you think about it, there are positives and negatives in any organization. As far as I am aware there are no perfect ones.  Before you judge your context or allow your team members to do so, describe it from the neutral view. Look at it and describe it without judgment. Here is a brief example:

Our company operates at a fast pace and expects everyone to be focused on customer service. New leadership is creating concerns about job security and change of direction. Basic communication between departments with some competitiveness creates tension between managers. Managers are provided with resources to be successful with the expectation that goals are met.

The information about this fictional company is factual and neutral if you suspend judgment of it. There are both positives and negatives in this description that can be considered, but only after the neutral description. Can you make a list of the positives and negatives from your perspective based on the description? If you do, you will see opportunity as well as risk. Once you focus your team on the positives that create opportunity you have taken the first step to the potential that exists in your context. Can you describe your team’s context neutrally? 

The Information Leaders Ignore

Published on: Jan 16, 2012 | Tags: General, Team Work, Team Leadership, Productivity, Systems

I know you have had the experience of buying something new after careful search only to notice how many others have that same item. This always happens when I purchase a new automobile. I seek out the vehicle that I want and usually think to myself, “I have not seen many of these on the road.” By the time I arrive home in my new car I will have noticed several just like it. That is how our minds work. We are always ignoring more than we are observing. Our senses are trained to ignore sights, sounds, smells, touch that we have accepted as normal. This is true in every area of life. We disregard much of what is going on around us, and actually must do so to avoid information overload. There is a significant amount of information available to leaders, yet as in other areas of life, most of it is ignored. 

When you think about the people you lead at the workgroup level, what comes to mind? What do you notice as their leader? You may want to make a list of your first thoughts. It may be the person who is creating turbulence for you or others on the team. Perhaps there are performance challenges, or there is too much work because the company has increased responsibility with no new personnel. No matter how long the list of what you notice, there will be an additional list of what you are ignoring. Therein you as a leader discover an opportunity to improve the dynamics of your team. 

One method of observing what you may have ignored is to consider what is between the members of your team. For the most part your observations are of people. You may observe positive and negative behaviors that form your opinions of them. Some of this behavior may be ignored, but not because you are unaware of it. You may believe there is not much you can do about it, or your current options to address it are beyond the drama you want to deal with today. Look at what is between your team members. Is there trust or suspicion? Is there communication or avoidance? Is there conflict or collaboration? When you make this list you will clarify the context your team members operate within. 

It is the context that determines some of the behaviors you may have listed earlier. You know that your leadership investment is paying off when your team’s interactions represent a great team environment. If not, you should consider what context represents relationships that support performance and accountability. Herein you will discover your opportunity. Make a list of what is between team members. Develop another list of what should be between them. Then develop a plan to move your team from one list to another in a manner that affects them all positively. As you practice awareness of what is between those on your team and lead them to a positive team culture everyone should benefit.

The Two Responsibilities of Team Leaders

Published on: Jan 09, 2012 | Tags: General, Team Work, Team Leadership, Management, Productivity

In some groups individual performance is not an issue. When everyone goes into his or her corner the work gets done. The challenge however is when these individual performers need to work together. They may not communicate with each other well, meetings can be unproductive, and conflict may linger unresolved. No one in the group wants anyone else to impact the way he or she approaches individual responsibilities. Group members survive requirements to work together and return to their independence as soon as possible. There may be a small clique in the group, but it is not inclusive and suspect by those not in it. Alternatively, some work groups enjoy great relationships. People get along with one another, enjoy opportunities to meet and work together, and do not experience much conflict. When they work individually the intention is avoid anything that creates conflict with another person on the team. These two scenarios are played out in companies of various sizes, in many locations and different industries. They occur in executive teams and with front line employees.

 The examples represent two extremes. The first group is task focused to the exclusion of relationships while the second is so relational that task completion may suffer. Both reflect the practices of the group’s manager if he or she has been in the leadership position for any length of time. If the manager is focused on individual task performance as he or she assigns work, gives feedback, and rewards individual accomplishment it should be no surprise the group consists of individual performers focused on individual work. In the second scenario, the manager focuses on relationships for team performance. He or she wants everyone to play well together, have positive interactions and maintain a peaceful, interactive work environment while getting the job done. In this case we should expect a group that is happy together but perhaps less productive on an individual basis. No one wants to upset another team member. It is a common challenge that managers face as they attempt to coalesce both individual performance and team performance.

A leader takes the first step in bringing individual and team performance together by accepting the two responsibilities of a team leader.

1.      Build the Team

1.      Fulfill the responsibility to the organization for performance

 Do you notice anything interesting about the list? If not look again. It’s not a typo. The two responsibilities are equal. When you accept the position of manager, leader, executive, boss, or any other title with accountability for people who work together you are accepting two responsibilities of equal weight. If you focus on individuals to get the job done you will have a group that cannot work well together hindering overall performance. If you focus on the group at the expense of individual responsibility you will have a happy team that may not get much done for fear of upsetting someone. The key to leveraging the opportunity that exists in this polarity is to make every activity a team building activity. Consider, in every instance, how your choices impact the group and the individual. Then make the choice that is beneficial to both.

Starting 2012 with Purpose at Work

Published on: Jan 03, 2012 | Tags: General, Productivity, Self Leadership, Team Work

I was working with a group on some of the challenges they faced in leading self well at work and asked them to list activities that they do which are demotivating, monotonous, uninspiring, or boring. Every person has work responsibilities that fall in this category. These are usually the ones that we ignore, dread, and put off until they have to be done. They are approached with low motivation and done to meet the basic requirements that someone has placed on you. The reason I asked the group to list them is to determine if there was a way to bring meaning to the dreaded tasks. As we discussed the list, one person in the group said that he hated one of his responsibilities was because there was no purpose in it. Perhaps that is why we dread these types of tasks. I know that meaningless tasks do not engage me. How about you?

 Recent research by the Corporate Executive Board quoted in a story by Forbes writer Meghan Casserly listed the number one driver for employee retention as job-interest alignment.  This is no surprise. You want to do work that is interesting to you. But will every part of your work ever be interesting to you? Probably not, and if not, what are you going to do about it. If you are fortunate the portion of your work that disinterests you is minimal. If not you may consider your job mundane and monotonous. Yet even if it is a lesser percentage of your responsibility, you may still avoid it and put it off like a trip to the dentist. One common practice is to play the victim and blame it on management or the company for expecting you to do something that you don’t like. You might succumb to the reality of uninspiring job responsibilities by believing this is how it is and just accept it.

While it is true a good leader will work with you to align your interest and job, whose responsibility is it to make your work interesting to you? When you assume this responsibility you take the first step in making 2012 different from previous years. The idea is to find purpose in tasks that have historically fallen into the “I don’t like to do this” category of work. While purpose may not equal enjoyment it can bring meaning to the work, resulting in a higher level of fulfillment for completing it. Ask these three questions about any such task or responsibility:

 1.      Why is this task important? - As we discussed the lack of importance for the task described by the person in the group previously mentioned, he did not seeany value in completing the responsibility. As we talked about the reason it was done, he discovered that the result of the task was not important to him, but it wasimportant to others and the company.

2.      Who benefits when the task is done well?  - When you struggle with jobs you don’t like who are you focused on?  You may find purpose in recognizing itdoes make a difference for others. You might consider asking them if you can do the job in a way that will create even greater benefit to them

3.      What difference will the well done task make over time? – You may take a short term view of those job responsibilities you don’t enjoy. Consider thedifference the results you are generating make over time. You may find that tasks you don’t enjoy have impacts over time that are bigger than you previouslyrealized and therefore become more purposeful for you.

 As your recognize the importance of the task and its benefit to others you may find yourself more engaged and motivated, as well as seeing yourself as a greater contributor to others and the company. The result can be the discovery of more purpose in your work for 2012. I hope you have a great year!

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