There IS an “I” in Team

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

As much as some don’t want to hear this, there is an “I” in team – there is simply no getting around the fact that teams are comprised of individuals. If you crush the individual character and spirit of those who form your team, how can your team operate at its best? It cannot. The strongest teams don’t weed out or neutralize individual tendencies, they capitalize on them. The goal of a leader is not to clone him/herself, but to harness individual strengths for the greater good of the team, and for the overall benefit of the organization. This is best accomplished by leveraging individual talents; not stifling them.

The simple fact is that no team can maximize their potential by ignoring or minimizing the strengths of  individual members. While smart leaders seek to align expectations and to create unity in vision, they understand this has nothing to do with demanding conformity in thought, or perspective. In fact, savvy leaders do everything possible to inspire non-conformity in approach. It’s only by stretching the boundaries of “normal” that organizations can fuel change and innovation.

If unique perspectives, philosophical differences, and dissenting opinions are viewed as an opportunity as opposed to a set-back, growth and development are certain to follow. What I like to refer as “positional gaps” are best closed by listening to all sides, finding common ground and then letting the principle of doing the right thing guide the process. When a leader develops the skill to transform negative conflict into creative tension, they have found the secret sauce for developing high performance teams. Mature leaders see individual differences as fuel for development, not as barriers to success.

It is absolutely possible to build very productive relationships with even the most adversarial of individuals. Regardless of a person’s original intent, opinion or position, the key to closing a positional gap is simply a matter of finding common ground in order to establish rapport. Moreover, building rapport is easily achieved assuming your motivations for doing so are sincere. I have always found that rapport is quickly developed when you listen, care, and attempt to help people succeed. By way of contrast, it is difficult to build rapport if you are driven by an agenda the other party sees as being a threat to their success or security.

While building and maintaining rapport with people with whom you disagree is certainly more challenging, many of the same rules expressed in my comments above still apply. I have found that often times dealing with difficult people simply just requires more intense focus on understanding the needs, wants and desires of the other party. If opposing views are worth the time and energy to debate, then they are worth a legitimate effort to gain alignment on perspective, and resolution on position. However this will rarely happen if lines of communication do not remain open. Candid, effective communication is best maintained through a mutual respect and rapport.

In an attempting to resolve conflicts, misunderstandings, or positional and/or philosophical gaps, the first step is to identify and isolate the specific areas of difference causing the difficulty. The sad fact is that many people in leadership positions are absolutists in that they only see things in terms of rights and wrongs. Thinking in terms of “my way” is right and therefore “other ways” are wrong is the basis for polarizing any relationship, which quickly results in converting discussions into power struggles. However when a situation can be seen through the lens of difference, and a position is simply a matter of opinion not a totalitarian statement of fact, then collaboration is not only possible, it’s probable. Identifying and understanding differences allows people (regardless of title) to evolve their thinking through rational and reasoned dialog. The following perspectives if kept top of mind will help in identifying and bridging positional gaps:

  • Listening leads to understanding.
  • Respect allows differences to evolve thought and create new behaviors.
  • Accepting a person where they are, creates an bond of trust.
  • Trust, leads to a willingness to be open to:
    • new opportunities;
    • new collaborations;
    • new strategies;
    • new ideas, and;
    • new attitudes.

The key to maximizing the individual talents within a team is to focus on the shared vision rather than individual differences. By adhering to the following principles, most individual points of departure can be used as a springboard for growth and innovation rather than barrier:

  1. Be Consistent: If your desire is to minimize misunderstandings, then I would suggest you stop confusing people. Say what you mean, mean what you say, and follow-through on your commitments. Most people don’t have to agree with you 100% of the time, but they do need to trust you 100% of the time. Trust cannot exist where leaders are fickle, inconsistent, indecisive, or display a lack of character. Never be swayed by consensus that calls you to compromise your values, rather be guided by doing the right thing. Finally, know that no person is universally right or universally liked, and become at peace with that.
  2. The Importance Factor: Not every difference needs to be resolved. In fact, most differences don’t require intervention as they actually contribute to a dynamic, creative, innovative culture. Remember that it’s not important be right, and more importantly, that you don’t have to be right for the right things to be accomplished. Pick your battles and avoid conflict for the sake of conflict. However if the issue is important enough to create a conflict then it is surely important enough to resolve. If the issue, circumstance, or situation is important enough, and there is enough at stake, people will do what is necessary to open lines of communication and close positional gaps.
  3. Make Respect a Priority: Disagreement and disrespect are two different things, or at least they should be. Regardless of whether or not perspectives and opinions differ, a position of respect should be adhered to and maintained. Respect is at the core of building meaningful relationships. It is the foundation that supports high performance teams, partnerships, superior and subordinate relationships, and peer-to-peer relationships. Respecting the right to differ while being productive is a concept that all successful executives and entrepreneurs master.
  4. Define Acceptable Behavior: You know what they say about assuming…Just having a definition for what constitutes acceptable behavior is a positive step in avoiding unnecessary conflict. Creating a framework for decisioning, using a published delegation of authority statement, encouraging sound business practices in collaboration, team building, leadership development, and talent management will all help avoid conflicts.
  5. Hit Conflict Head-on: You can only resolve problems by proactively seeking to do so. While you can’t always prevent conflicts, it has been my experience that the secret to conflict resolution is in fact conflict prevention where possible. By actually seeking out areas of potential conflict and proactively intervening in a well reasoned and decisive fashion you will likely prevent certain conflicts from ever arising. If a conflict does flair up, you will likely minimize its severity by dealing with it quickly.
  6. Understanding the WIIFM Factor: Understanding the other person’s WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) position is critical. It is absolutely essential to understand other’s motivations prior to weighing in. The way to avoid conflict is to help those around you achieve their objectives. If you approach conflict from the perspective of taking the action that will help others best achieve their goals you will find few obstacles will stand in your way with regard to resolving conflict.
  7. View Conflict as Opportunity: Hidden within virtually every conflict is the potential for a tremendous teaching/learning opportunity. Where there is disagreement there is an inherent potential for growth and development. If you’re a CEO who doesn’t leverage conflict for team building and leadership development purposes you’re missing a great opportunity.
  8. Clarity of Purpose: Everyone who works for me knows that I care about them as an individual. They are important to me. They know that I’ll go to great lengths to work with them so long as one thing remains the focus point – the good of the organization. So long as the issues being worked on are leading us toward our vision, they know they’ll have my attention regardless of positional gaps or personal differences. Likewise, if things degenerate into placing pride or ego ahead of other team members or the organization as a whole, they know I’ll have no tolerance whatsoever.

The bottom line is that people matter, and but for people, organizations don’t exist. It’s important to remember that a manager exists when the company says so, but that said manager only really becomes a leader when their team says so. As a leader you have only two choices when it comes to your people –  serve them and care for them. Sometimes this means working through challenging scenarios and situations. If as a leader you’re not up to this task, then you should rethink your decision to lead.

Please share your thoughts and observations in the comments section below.

Questions and Team Building

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Question and Team BuildingAn army of one isn’t really much of an army is it? And I can assure you that any CEO who views him/herself as an army of one will fail. Whether you like it or not, your success as a CEO will be largely tied to your team building ability. Not only do great CEOs understand how to recruit a top executive team, but they also understand how to build cohesion among team members through collaboration while addressing specific situational and contextual needs. Great CEOs realize the importance of being consistently, purposefully and intensely engaged with their CXOs. They understand how to effectively deploy these highly productive and valuable team members to create tremendous leverage and velocity across the enterprise. In today’s post I’ll share the questions that great CEOs use to align the interests and focus the efforts of their executive team…

It is not uncommon when working with new clients that I find very fractured executive teams where team members more frequently work against one another, rather than with one another (see “Managing Tough Relationships“). I often observe ego centered conflicts among senior executives, which turn into a competition for turf, budget, power, influence, control, and ultimately survival. As a CEO you can either pit your executives against one another, or have them collaboratively engage in supporting one another for the overall good of the enterprise. An executive team that actually embraces the concept of collaboration will substantially out perform a silo-centric executive team focused on empire building.

Great CEOs not only view their interactions with team members as coaching and mentoring opportunities, but also as learning opportunities for themselves. If as a leader you don’t take the time to get to know your team members on a very personal basis you simply won’t build the trust necessary to successfully weather the seasons of leadership. Because all leaders face good times and bad, it is essential that strong, caring, and loyal relationships are established so that candor and collaboration can occur irrespective of the situation at hand. 

I read a great post yesterday by Dan Rockwell (@LeadershipFreak) in which he asked: “what’s the most powerful question of all?” My belief is that there is no perfect question, just the right question for the moment. The comment I left on Dan’s post was as follows: 

“Thought provoking post to be sure…However my belief is that the most powerful question of all is the one that works within the context of the situation at hand. The question must be appropriate to the person(s) being addressed, the timing must be spot-on, but most importantly it must unlock the door to reveal the needed input/feedback/information.

Relying on any single question to serve as the omnibus catch-all question is dangerous. I’m not sure what the most powerful question in the world is, but I know that the most powerful question of the moment changes frequently…”

Therefore in the text that follows I’ll provide you with a resource that is immediately actionable, and highly productive – a list of questions that can be used across situations, constituencies and reporting lines. I have found that one of the most effective ways for CEOs to lead their senior executives is by helping them refine and justify their reasoning through the use of intelligent questions. This serves to not only align interests and areas of focus, but also to facilitate the exchange of insights, and to acquire useful knowledge and information – it also builds stronger relationships. Contrary to the beliefs of some, dialog is a healthy thing. I strongly recommend to all CEOs that they routinely ask team members the following questions: 

  • Why? (my personal favorite and the most powerful one word question on the planet)
  • How can I help you with that? What do you need from me in order to make that happen?
  • That’s an interesting thought, what process did you go through to reach that conclusion?
  • What’s our biggest risk in this, and what’s your fallback position? 
  • What if we did nothing at all, what would happen?
  • Why is this important to you?
  • What does this accomplish for us?
  • If we fail in this can we live with that?
  • How does this add value to our <<fill in the blank>>?
  • Can you give me a bit more detail on the logic used to arrive at your <<costs, timing, return estimates, etc.>>?
  • How will this impact <<individual, team, business unit, competitive advantage, brand perception, customer satisfaction, etc.>>?
  • What are the greatest challenges you face in pulling this off, and how do you plan to deal with them? 
  • Where do you see “X” account in <<insert time period>> and what can we do to (improve customer satisfaction, increase influence with key stakeholders, increase the life-cycle value,  etc.)?
  • Which markets, partners, clients, or other opportunities can add significant value to our business?
  • What specific steps can you take to increase your area’s contribution margin? 
  • Does this add value to our core business? How? Why?
  • Does this effectively and efficiently support our values, vision, and strategy? How? Why?
  • What can you offer as validation of proof of concept? 
  • What motivates <<insert person’s name>>? What’s really important to them?
  • What will be the key performance indicators for this? How will we measure them, and what hurdles do we need to hit to be successful?
  • Do you have the necessary resources (financial, technology, talent, infrastructure, etc.) to hit your objectives?
  • How can we improve the risk management, governance, control, and reporting functions for this?
  • Why should we make this investment? How does it drive revenue, profit, brand equity, competitive advantage, etc. What are the potential risks vs. possible rewards and what is the downside of not making the investment?
  • What are your biggest obstacles and barriers to success? What are your plans to deal with them and what do you need from me?
  • Are all your resources properly aligned and connected?
  • What are the weakest points in your area and how do you plan to deal with them?
  • Who are your strongest leaders and how are you developing them to handle more responsibility?
  • What are you doing to attract new talent?

While the aforementioned list of questions is clearly not exhaustive, it offers some insight into where a CEO should focus their efforts and attention…Perhaps best of all it places you in a constant position of being an active listener, learner, and mentor. If you have a favorite question(s) you use to focus and/or refine your team’s thinking that you’d like to share, please leave a comment below…

Why Consensus Kills Team Building

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Teamwork MattersI read an interesting post last night by Dan Rockwell (@LeadershipFreak) entitled “Six ways to make teams work” and found myself in complete agreement with Dan on 5 out of the 6 points. Where Dan lost me was on point #4 – Teams Decide by Consensus. In recent months I have observed a decent amount of politically correct discourse on the topic of team building and equality. The gist of the argument seems to be that for teams to be productive, employees have to feel “empowered” by having an equal voice. I can sum-up my feeling on this in one word…ridiculous. To be blunt, the concept of equality in the workplace has only made team building more difficult as employees seem to have a sense of undeserved entitlement with regard to their roles and responsibilities. And as odd as it may sound, one of the greatest impediments to building productive teams is practicing management by consensus.  In today’s post I’ll share my thoughts on team building and equality…

Before I start, let me point out that I hold Dan in high esteem and find myself in agreement with him much more often than not. He is one of my favorite leadership bloggers, and hopefully we’ll still be on speaking terms after this post. That said, let me be as direct as possible with my next statement – While all people may be created equal, they are certainly not all equals in the workplace. While the thought that all employees should have an equal say may get some air time in business school, I have found that often times the theoretical discussions that take place in halls of academia have little to do with the realities that exist in the world of business. You must also keep in mind that the classroom is one of the few remaining bastions of true equality (at least until the grades are posted). The business world is not fair…it is regrettably most times rather merciless. In a highly productive organization the power and influence of your voice is earned through trust and performance, and not entitlement.

Team building basics are often overlooked by ineffective leaders or unproductive companies. However great leaders and highly productive organizations always focus on team building as a key priority. I have found that highly productive executives and companies clearly understand the value, leverage, efficiency, and economies of scale that are generated by assembling highly focused, motivated, and productive teams. If you are a CEO or entrepreneur and don’t see team building as a priority, then the text the follows is written for you.

I’ve often said that theory without action amounts to little more than useless rhetoric, and while most companies are spinning their wheels pontificating on the merits of team building, it is the truly great organizations that put theory into practice. Great leaders intrinsically understand that team building catalyzes collaboration, creates both disruptive and incremental innovation, facilitates a certainty of execution, and is one of the key foundational elements associated with creating a dynamic corporate culture.

It is one thing to be able to recruit talent, something altogether different to properly deploy individual talent, and quite another thing to have your talent play nicely in collaboration with one another. It is the responsibility of executive leadership to set the tone for great teamwork by putting forth a clearly articulated vision, and then aligning every aspect of strategic and tactical decisioning with said vision. A lack of clarity, the presence of ambiguity, obviously flawed business logic, or constantly shifting priorities/positions are the death of many a venture. However CEOs that implement a well thought out and clearly articulated vision, create a sense of stability and a bond of trust amongst the ranks. This in turn leads to a very focused, coordinated, and ultimately a very passionate work environment. It is not too difficult to get your crew all oaring together when these characteristics are firmly in place because they now know which direction to row.  

I have been generally well regarded throughout my career for building extremely effective teams, and what I can share with you is that team building is not about equality at all. Rather team building is about alignment of vision with expectations, getting team members to understand exactly what their roles are, and making sure they have the right resources to perform said duties with exacting precision. Building productive teams is about placing the right people, in the right places, at the right time, and for the right reasons.

Team building should have nothing to do with ego, tenure or titles, but rather it should be all about competency, collaboration and productivity. Leaders must clearly communicate to team members what their duties, roles, and responsibilities are, as well as setting forth a road map for performance expectations. Team building, group dynamics, talent management, leadership development, and any number of other functional areas are much more about clarity, focus, aligning expectations, and defining roles than creating equality. If you examine the most effective teams in the real world you’ll find numerous examples which support the thoughts being espoused in this text.

Whether you look at athletic teams, military teams, executive teams, management teams, technical teams, design teams, functional teams, or any other team, you’ll find that the best of the best have structure, a hierarchy of leadership, a clear understanding of roles, responsibilities and expectations, clear and open lines of communication, well established decisioning protocol, and many other key principals, but nowhere is equality found as a key success metric for teams. Decisioning by consensus usually results in no decision being made, or an intellectually dishonest, watered-down decision that is so full of compromises, hedges and caveats that a non-decision might have been preferable.  

While I’m a true believer in candor in the workplace, and have always encouraged feedback and input at every level of an organization, this doesn’t mean that everyone has an equal say, because they don’t…Moreover, those that hold less of a vested interest, that don’t have as much as risk, that don’t have the experience, or those that may be looking out for self-interest more than the greater corporate good should not be considered equal with those that do…

While I concur that there is no “I” in team and many other statements to that effect, such statements are not meant as endorsements for management by consensus. They are simply meant to foster a spirit of cooperation. Understanding how to lead and motivate groups and teams should not be considered one in the same with creating false perceptions of equality that don’t exist (Bonus Post: CEOs and Team Building). Real leadership means knowing when you should make the decision and when you should let others make the decision. Smart leaders may choose from time-to-time to give away authority, but they never give away responsibility – ultimately they own the decision regardless of who makes it and/or how it’s made.

Bottom Line: Show me any team created of equals and I’ll show you a team that will never reach its full potential…

What say you? I won’t hold it against you if you agree with Dan (love ya Dan), but I may push back on your logic.