Team building

September 7, 2018

Do you still ask questions?

Most parents will be able to relate to this story.  When our daughter, Rynn, was young, it felt like her favorite thing to do was to ask us questions.  At the top of her questions list (the ones that would sometimes push us to our limits) were “Why?” and “What is your favorite….?”.

It sometimes felt like she was working hard to try my patience. In reality, what Rynn was doing was using questions to sort and test all of the information that was coming at her. I am sad to say that there were days when I squashed her questioning. I limited her right to ask me my favorite anything for the rest of the day. Or I told her she had used up her quotient of “why” questions.  By and large, I think we attempted to answer most of her questions, even if it was only to say, “I don’t know” (a perfectly acceptable answer, by the way).

Comedian George Carlin said, “Don’t just teach your children to read; teach them to question what they read. Teach them to question everything.”

We stop asking questions

Somewhere along the line, we stop asking questions. We become hesitant because we are afraid we will “look stupid.” How often have you sat in a conference or a team meeting and didn’t ask the question that was floating around in your mind?  Sometimes you got lucky. A brave soul asked your burning question for you. But sometimes, no one did. When that happened, you walked away without the clarification or information you wanted.

Questions are critical thinking

Questioning is the heart of critical thinking. Through questioning, we explore issues. We evaluate alternatives and possible solutions. It is by questioning that we find new solutions to old problems.

At the beginning of our training sessions, we encourage questions. We repeat the cliché, “The only stupid question is the one that doesn’t get asked.”  And we really mean that. We want people to clarify and even challenge the material we are offering so that it becomes truly useful to them.

In our workshop on critical thinking, we teach that curiosity is the first of four skills fundamental to critical thinking, along with flexibility, awareness, and common sense. To underscore the importance of questions, we give participants a topic and ask them to create a list of questions about it. As they complete the task, we see heads nodding and eyes lighting up over the long list of questions they create.

Albert Einsten said, “The important thing is to not stop questioning.” To encourage critical thinking on your team, you have to encourage curiosity, and that means creating a safe space for questioning.

Critical thinking is one of the skills we teach to build strong managers and teams.  Let us know how we can help you.

January 2, 2018

Three Keys to Build Trusting Workplaces

We all know it. We are living in highly polarized times, where skepticism and cynicism are coming more naturally. The problem is, polarizing ideas don’t stay in the newspaper or on TV.  If we let them, they become part of our psyches and go with us wherever we go, including into our workplaces, our team meetings, and our individual interactions with colleagues.

Over the holidays, as many of you probably did, my family came into a couple of close calls with the political tension. Fortunately for us, no heated arguments erupted because in each case, someone on at least one side of the potential conflict displayed the following three critical behaviors that enabled the conversation to continue in a space of trust.

  1. Be Aware: Each of us have different opinions, different thought processes, and different beliefs.  They are all based on our personal experiences, including our successes and failures. We all see different shades of gray, or sometimes strictly
    black and white, when it comes to the conflicts that are swirling in current events. It’s never just about the words being spoken. It’s always about the extra stuff we add to the words and the “facts.” Be aware of what you are bringing to the table with yours.
  2. Listen to Understand: When you know your “stuff,” you can have self-aware conversations that allow you to stay more open to what the “other” has to offer. When you actually focus and listen to what the other person is saying, how they are saying it, and look for “why” they are saying it, you can begin to understand where they are coming from. You don’t have to agree with them; you just have to recognize that their experiences, their beliefs, and their intentions are different from your own.  Different –  not good or bad.
  3. Be Tolerant: When you can listen to understand, you can learn to have tolerance for ideas that are different from your own, motivations that are different from yours, goals and dreams that are different and are being affected by the conflict. Then, you can work to keep trust by tolerating differences, which are in fact the flavors that keep life interesting.

Using these behaviors in the workplace will allow you to back away from polarization to more trust-based communication. Understanding yourself allows you to be more open and transparent with others. Openness enhances trusting individual relationships and, as a manager, helps you to build stronger, more effective teams.

September 27, 2017

Bosses: the good, the bad, and the clueless

I’ve had good bosses, bad bosses, and at least one totally clueless boss. One of the best bosses I have had had really strong people skills.  She understood the need to encourage and develop each member of her team. She knew how to build trust, and you always felt like she respected you as a professional.

Bad Bosses

photo of three light bulbs representing good, bad, and clueless bossesThen there are the bad bosses. I have had several of those. One of the worst I ever had was totally self-focused.  Everything he did had at its core how it would advantage him. He never admitted making a mistake. Would never admit any weakness. And you knew you should keep your mistakes and weaknesses to yourself or else this guy would take advantage of them.

Clueless Bosses

The most clueless boss I remember working for very early in my career was a boss who had no idea that there are boundaries between personal and professional that must never be crossed. Did I trust this guy?  Heck no! Was there a feeling of respect among the team?  Sadly, no.

What Kind of Boss Are You?

To check yourself to be sure you aren’t being a horrible boss, here are three questions you can ask yourself and your team:

  1. Is there a strong level of trust within your team? (Do you admit your mistakes and weaknesses and make it OK for them to admit theirs?)
  2. Do your employees feel respected?
  3. Do you place importance on encouraging and developing each team member?

If you don’t get “yes” answers to question #1, stop there.  You’ve got work to do and we can help. We work with managers and teams to get this fundamental right.  When they do get it right, it makes an amazing difference to the team’s productivity and longevity, and to the company’s bottom line.

September 5, 2017

A meeting or a team — where are you headed?

As you walk out your door, which would you say to your colleague or assistant? “I’m going to a meeting about the anniversary celebration” OR “It’s time for my anniversary celebration team meeting”?

WhPhoto of a successful teamat difference does it make, you ask? The words may sound innocuous to you, but they communicate a lot. There is a big difference between attending a meeting and being part of a team. At least I hope so.

In the first instance, it’s all about some third-party activity, that thing you have to do, that meeting.  But in the second instance, you acknowledge personal involvement — you say you are part of a team.

Projects can live and die based on the level of commitment of the project team members. You can walk into a meeting with the intent to check off a “to do,” perhaps trying to avoid getting any additional action items assigned to you. OR you can walk into a team gathering determined to do your part to ensure success for the team.

Words are important. They reflect mindset. They set tone. They power success … or failure.

I know.  I’ve gone to a lot of meetings. I’ve worked on lots of teams. The feeling in the room is absolutely different when people gather as a team. It’s palpable.

Look at your calendar.  How many meetings do you have to check off today?  How many opportunities do you have to meet with effective teams?

August 25, 2017

A Case Study in Team Dysfunction: The U.S. Congress

Imagine what our country might look like today if each body of Congress approached their deliberative responsibilities as Team America instead as opposing sides (Team Republican and Team Democrat). What results could they achieve for us, their bosses, if they worked collaboratively, demonstrated trust, and showed their primary commitment to be to America?

In his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, author Patrick Lencioni sets out a model for a highly effective team, a team that can get solid results over and over again for the organization. When not working properly, the five parts of the model create dysfunction and break the team.cropped American flag

Commitment to the team

In 2017, both bodies of Congress are highly dysfunctional. To begin with, they don’t walk into the doors of our majestic Capitol Building and claim their places on Team America. Like a dysfunctional organizational team, they stay busy defending their individual departments and agendas, either their parties, their states, their districts, or their donors.

Trust within the team

When you look at Lencioni’s model, at the very heart is trust, the ability to be vulnerable to one another, to admit mistakes and to bolster each other’s weaknesses. What we see from the outside are people jeering at each other, competing for agenda victories, and often publicly looking for ways to undermine or deride each other. At least, that is how it looks from the outside, from the press conferences, the performances at State of the Union addresses, at places where we could see a demonstration of Team America, but we never do.

Conflict guiding the team

The effective team model includes conflict management, and we know there is plenty of conflict in Congress. Unfortunately, Congress rarely chooses to get us a win-win by working collaboratively. The modus operandi usually is to compete for an outcome that benefits only their side’s agenda, that claims victory for their side. Of course, in the long run, that damages America by creating a gridlocked Congress unable to fix our crumbling bridges, our skyrocketing medical costs, or the growing economic and cultural divides of our people.

Accountability to the team

In addition to trust, conflict management, and commitment, to be an effective Team America, Congress also has to be accountable to the full organization: the American citizenry. Yes, I know the ballot box is supposed to be the answer to that, but, oh boy, what it costs today to even run for office. Congress people themselves bemoan how much time they have to spend fundraising for the next election rather than putting their full-time concentration on what they were sent to Washington to do: make things better for Team America. Imagine in your organization, on your team, if you told your boss you couldn’t meet your deliverables because you had to spend most of your time raising money to cover your salary. Would your organization say, “Oh, OK?” Probably not. I think they’d realize that if you met your deliverables, gave the performance you were expected to give, and maintained a high level of productivity, your “salary” would cover itself.

Results as a team

The final piece of the model is getting results. No trust, poor conflict management, not committing to the team, and a lack of accountability inevitably lead to poor results, or no results for Team America. How long would a team exist in your organization if they never produced results? Or if the results only benefitted a small segment of the organization when they were supposed to benefit all? I think we both know the answer.

Is it possible that Congress could become Team America? As one of their bosses, and as part of the organization known as America, you should think about what results you want for your organization and what you expect them to do as a team.

March 27, 2017

The Value of “Being Nice”

Let’s define some common ground around the word “nice,” especially in the workplace.  I believe that niceness is a huge motivator for employees. The thing is, you have to know what “nice” equates to for each employee, because remember, you are a great manager, and great managers motivate employees individually.  beingnice

So let’s take a quick look at what you need to do to be “nice” to employees. First and foremost, you can’t be authentically nice to an employee if you don’t know what’s going on in his or her world. To know that, you have to actually talk to them. That’s why we consistently encourage managers to have frequent one-on-one meetings with employees. Not only can you monitor work progress, but you also keep tabs on your employee’s well-being. You learn what is important to them and what they value. You can gauge whether they are doing work that is important to them and achieving things that fulfill their values. If you are listening to employees and supporting their values, you can score huge “nice” points.


Do your employees consider that where they work is a “nice” place? You know that means different things to different folks. In those regular one-on-one conversations you are having, you should make it a point to learn what working in a “nice” workplace means to each employee.  For example, some people will consider the place they work nice if they are paid well. For others, a nice work place is one that allows them to achieve, to move up the ladder. For some, it will be all about the experience of their physical space. And for still others, it is going to be about whether they have the opportunity to do research and solve problems, or they are allowed to be giving and helpful, even outside their own specified tasks. What does that mean to you?

It’s all about what they value.  If you, as a manager, or as an organization, are not acknowledging and supporting their values, they won’t see you as “nice.” If that’s the case, they likely aren’t going to work for you very well, or very long.

Our 12 Driving Forces™ tool helps managers identify what their employees value, what drives them.  We use it with teams to help build engagement.

November 16, 2016

Keeping Everyone on the Same Page

I keep coming back to the value of communication.  It underlies everything we do.  The success of every task, every project, every goal, every interaction depends on how well we communicate with each other.  "What if, and I know this sounds kooky, we communicated with the employees."

Following are three things you can do to ensure that you are communicating in a way that keeps everyone around you working on the same page, toward the same outcome.

Same-page communication

1. Share. It’s time to put the mind-reader expectation to rest, everywhere.  Every time I try to read someone’s mind, I fail.  How about you?  But there is a workaround.  When we can’t read the other person’s mind, and when they can’t read ours, then we have to share what we are thinking as clearly as we possibly can, and we have to encourage others to question us for clarity. We have to build a climate within our team or group that really makes our employees and co-workers understand that the only stupid question is the unasked one.  We start that by role modeling, by asking questions ourselves, especially in front of and with our employees. When everyone feels comfortable with asking questions, you have a much higher chance of having people on the same page.

2. Listen. Successful communication depends as much on our ability to listen as it does our ability to clearly explain.  We have to listen and hear. To listen effectively, you have to stay focused on the other person.  That means being present with them. Maintain eye contact, observe cues about the emotion behind the words (pace of speech, tensing of body language, glazing of eyes, etc.). People can tell when you are thinking about yourself (your next answer, your defense, etc.) instead of encouraging them with questions and clarifications. The minute you find your mind wandering away from the other person, stop and get back in the moment with them. That way, the two of you stay on the same page.

3. Agree. As managers, or as members of a team, we too often fail to agree about what we should communicate about our decisions to others and how we should communicate it. See if you resonate with this situation.  The management team is meeting about some important issues.  At the end of the meeting, nothing is disclosed to you. But the manager of the production team shares what he heard in the meeting, and you get that information secondhand.  Similarly, the manager in purchasing shares with her team, and you hear about that in the breakroom. But you get two different stories, and neither have all the full picture. Because the management team didn’t agree what they would share, when they would share it, and how they would share it. Now, rumors and misinformation have begun and you can’t trust any of the information because much of it is contradicted.  If only they had agreed upon which decisions to communicate and how to share them, everyone could be on the same page. Wouldn’t that be an engaging way to treat employees?

July 25, 2016

Hiring: How good are you at it?

As a manager, how do you approach “getting the right people on the bus?” Jim Collins (Good to Great) and many other business gurus tell us that we will fail to grow until we master this important ability.Find The Right People, message on paper, smart phone and coffee on table, 3D rendering

If that’s the case, perhaps it’s time to add a little science to the process.  Today, many companies rely on “everything in the kitchen sink” job descriptions, which invariably include “other duties as assigned.” What does that get you, really? You need a benchmark to compare job candidates against.

Create a Benchmark

To start, creating a benchmark, have the people that understand what it takes to be successful in the job to identify the top 4-5 duties that are really critical. Call these “key accountabilities.”

Then have those same job experts identify the personal traits that the job needs, such as:

  • Behavioral/communication style (Does the job need someone who makes quick decisions, someone who prefers lots of analysis, someone who is comfortable in front of the room, or someone who is a strong relationship builder?)
  • Motivational preferences (Does the job need a person who values return on investment, or people, or problem solving?)
  • Soft skill competencies (Does the job need a person who is persuasive, creative, a self-starter, has customer focus, is resilient, etc.?)

When you establish the key accountabilities and identify these essential personal traits that the job needs, you have established a measurable benchmark. Then you can compare your job candidates to the benchmark to gauge the likelihood of success.

Yep, this adds a little science to the process and reduces the need for “going with your gut.” We can help you put this in place, and in turn, increase employee retention. Email me if you want more science and less guesswork in your hiring process. 

July 12, 2016

Three teamwork lessons from driving The Dragon

U.S.129 from Tennessee to North Carolina includes 11 miles of white-knuckle roadway that is referred to locally as The Dragon. After driving it recently with my husband in our Grand Caravan van, I realized there were some lessons worth sharing — lessons about the impact of past experiences, missed opportunities, and the importance of unspoken questions.

1. Past Experiences.

I called the drive a white-knuckle experience.  That was true for me, but not my husband.  I have been involved in two very bad wrecks: one in college during which the van I was riding in hit a slick spot and rolled.  I crawled out the back of the van with only a concussion.  The second was actually a bicycle wreck during which my brakes failed.  I smashed the bones around my eye and one of my wrists pretty severely. These two incidents have caused me to be a nervous passenger, with a deep-seated fear that the brakes will fail unexpectedly. Sometimes I think I have overcome that fear, until I drive roads like The Dragon.  In work situations, each of us brings past experiences into every situation, experiences that may have caused subconscious fears, or cause us to make faulty assumptions.

Photo from

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In a team, we have to look for those when people react or perform other than we think they should.  What experiences are they bringing to the situation?

2. Missed Opportunities.

This was the second time we have gone on one of our adventurous drives.  And the second time that I didn’t get to stop at the overlook I wanted to. This time, people were parked in such crazy ways that there was no room for us. But I caught a glimpse of the view as I looked back over my shoulder. Breath-taking!  As was the scene from the other overlook we missed a couple of months ago. I won’t be going back on The Dragon, so I am sad that I didn’t get to savor that view.

Does your team miss important opportunities, either because of poor planning, moving too fast, or because other things or people block the way? It’s hard to go backwards.  But you can move intentionally forward looking ahead for opportunity.

3. Unspoken Questions. 

After we got to the other side of The Dragon, my husband commented that he didn’t want to go back that way because of the stress it put on the brakes.  I didn’t ask what he meant right away.  I made an assumption that we must have a brake problem that I didn’t know about.  I rode in silence for several minutes, getting more and more stressed (just when I thought we were back on solid ground!).  We finally stopped at a store, and as we were walking around, I convinced myself to clarify his comment. So I asked, “How bad are the brakes?” He looked at me quizzically, so I reminded him of his comment. “Oh,” he said, “It just isn’t good for any brakes. Ours are fine.”  One simple question, one moment of asking for clarity, could have saved me that additional stress.

How often do you, or your team members, fail to ask that one little clarifying question that could take stress out of the situation?  Remember, the only stupid question is the unasked one.  Yes, I know.

If it feels like your team is always driving The Dragon, let’s talk about how we can help you work together more effectively.

June 29, 2016

Does your organization have winning teams?

Everyone wants to be on the winning team, don’t they?  It feels great to be seen as a winner, and to get the rewards that come from winning.

If winning is such a positive thing for employees and organizations alike, why aren’t all teams winning teams? According to a Clear Company survey, “97% of employees and executives believe lack of alignment within a team impacts the outcome of a task or project.”

Wait, what exactly does “lack of alignment” mean in a team?  I think for teams to be in alignment, they need a minimum of the following four keys:Winners Versus Losers Concept

1. A common goal:

To win, you have to know what the end result i s that you want to achieve. Not only do you need a stated goal, but you also need everyone on the team to have the same understanding of what that goal really is, and agree to the approach to achieve it.

2. Commitment:

Once you have developed your goal, you’ve got to get everyone’s buy-in.  That doesn’t mean you twiddle your thumbs until you get consensus.  That is not what commitment is about. What you do need is for everyone to put their ideas and thoughts out on the table to be considered. And you need to consider each thought, opinion, idea, etc. When people are heard, they are much more likely to get on board. To put the icing on the cake, everyone should verbally acknowledge their commitment.

3. Open communication:

Now you’ve got a goal that everyone has bought into. So now you just move forward toward the goal, right? Well, yes, but there’s more to that. You have to be communicating openly throughout the process, telling each other when things are going well, and when they aren’t working. And you have to keep each other up-to-date on progress.

4. Trust

Last, but probably most critical, is having real trust among the team members. Each of the previous keys adds to the sense of trust in the team. When you are communicating openly, working toward a commonly understood goal with equal commitment, you begin to be in relationship with each other. You open yourself to understanding what team members need to succeed and you find ways to share small successes along the way.

These ideas sound so very commonsense, don’t they?  But too many organizations don’t implement them.  If you need a little assistance (or a lot) in making teams that win, contact me and we’ll get to work right

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