Six Features of Terrific Teams

July 16, 2015

hands

Why do we so often fail to work together effectively?  

It is clear our capability to respond to problems lags far behind our ability to detect and describe them. It’s a sad paradox when abundant resources exist. We know that solo ventures don’t have the capacity to deliver what collective work can yield. Necessarily, the big and challenging work of change requires attention to teams.

Formal teams occur in our organizations and communities when two or more people are gathered to deliver a performance objective and shared activities are required to achieve it. Regardless of purpose, well-designed teams must include: roles & accountabilities; effective communications; individual performance & feedback; and evidence-based decisions.

A checklist of team essentials is a good start to building an effective team. Research indicates these six features are necessary:

A Clear, Elevating Goal. A high performing team has a shared, clear and specific understanding of what is to be achieved and passionately believes it is worthwhile. When goals are ambiguous, diluted, politicized or individual ambitions take priority then performance lags and dysfunction prevails.

Results-driven. Teams must be structured around their intended goal with explicit accountability. Typically, teams are established to tackle problems, innovate and/or support tactics. Problem-solving teams are often an executive or leadership group where trust is essential. Autonomy is a very significant for  innovation and tactical teams must have task clarity to assure execution. Sometimes teams handle all three purposes.

Competent Members. The right people matter hugely. The “right” people have appropriate technical skills, knowledge, training and experience as well as personal attributes which contribute to the collective. Successful NBA coach Phil Jackson said, “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” One adds, removes individuals to develop a team. Careful thought about the optimal mix of people on a team is time well spent.

Unified Commitment & Collaboration. Loss of self, enthusiasm, loyalty, dedication and identification with a group of people are all features of unified commitment that reflect a physical and mental energy. Collaboration reflects both a safe climate and structure that encourages interdependence.

Standards of Excellence. Urgent pressures to perform with specific behaviors set expectations for team members. Performing to specified standards requires discipline and explicit process improvement. To achieve shared goals, both learning and accountability are present in an effective team.

Principled Leadership. Any effective team includes a capable captain. Team leaders motivate, educate, facilitate and construct a fair environment that engages contributions. When talented people are in charge morale goes up. Principled leaders offer a moral imperative for change. They intensely seek the shared goal. Principled leaders steer past the compromises of politics. They are receptive, accessible and demonstrate a dependable set of internal and public values. They assure team function through: good design, clear goals, a results-focus, member engagement, unity, collaboration and standards.

Team Threats & Multiple Entities

Two common reasons frequently account for weak or dysfunctional teams: politics and individual agendas. They are developmental misfires that torpedo progress and leave the promise of joint efforts unfulfilled. Politics kills both trust and substance. A focus on power precludes collective effort. Individual agendas sabotage shared intentions, interdependence and generate a toxic culture. Sometimes organizational leaders can limit these challenges through their talent selection. Regardless, principled team leaders must respond promptly to politics and selfishness because they cause teams (and organizations) to unravel.

Be aware that complexity gets magnified when coordination is not only inside your organization, but across organizations. The inputs for and implications of creating collective impact are substantial. It means we must understand how to integrate perspectives, engage multiple motives and align energies and skills in effective teams, task forces, networks, coalitions and other structures. Getting our own shop in shape is crucial so that we can constructively reach out to others and generate powerful synergy.

We know what makes great teams. If we have the will, we can do work together far better.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and managing partner at Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

 

 

 

 

 

Smart(er) Measures

July 1, 2015

math

Which of these challenges is most important to solve: teen pregnancy, hunger, diabetes, or drunk driving?

Where should we focus time and money to improve lives and our communities?

Just as sports and commerce have been recast by data, the health field is leading the way for different mental models that help us calculate value in the social sector. In the US last year, more than 600,000 people died from heart disease while about 75,000 died from diabetes. Does that make heart disease eight times worse than diabetes?

We’re well aware death is inevitable. Still, many conditions aren’t terminal but very costly for individuals and society. In fact, the non-fatal conditions account for the vast majority of health costs. With this rationale, health economists have created new measures. One is a unit identified as “disability-adjusted life years” or DALYs. DALYs calculate the years of healthy life. A DALY is generated by identifying the years of life lost when a person dies (compared with a projected average without the condition). Then, the total years lived with a disability are tallied. A DALY is generated based on estimates of how nonfatal conditions detract from perfect health.

Using this new measurement unit, one can rank health problems. For example, in 2012, scientists reported 200,000 more deaths by lung cancer than traffic accidents worldwide. But, when calculated in DALYs, road injuries are far worse. Most lung cancer deaths are among older folks. Those who tend to die in car accidents with frequency are young – in their 20s and 30s. Importantly, road injuries cause about 40 times more disabilities when people survive them. Should we invest in anti-smoking or road safety campaigns?

Mexico has moved to this kind of analysis for treatments. Now, childhood cancer treatments and emergency care for car accidents are high priorities. Australia has also used DALYs to focus on childhood obesity and other issues. The application of DALYs in the US identifies low back pain, depression and anxiety as enormous health concerns. They generate substantial costs because of prevalence along with significant pain and suffering.

New statistics offer different and valuable viewpoints. They can threaten the status quo. Capable leaders use them to support change and progress. DALYs are a great example of how, with new measures, we can enable rational decisions. Isn’t that smarter? In fact, it can affect how we live and die.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and managing partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

In Pursuit of Fearless

May 29, 2015

Rejection can generate resilience. And, resilience is an essential characteristic of effective people.

rejecthand

In Rejection Proof, Jia Jiang tackles this important issue, the very common fear of rejection. It’s an interesting psycho-social chronicle of his journey to  personal resilience. He distinguishes the vital necessity of allowing a rejection to take aim at ideas or requests but not self-worth. When we experience a setback, the trap we create is to internalize it as a personal failure. The reality is our idea was discarded.

Coping better with “no” requires new literacies in interpreting others. Jiang’s experiment shows it’s possible to shape a request for success; pick the right people and even convert an initial no to a different response. Social science and Jian’s personal journey found that rejection is mostly about the rejecter. The doubts, denial, avoidance, needs, panic and angst of your audience are primarily why most rejection happens. Recognition of and empathy for this can bolster your interpersonal skills.

Fitting In

Think about your teen years. Your peers (or tribe) were the overwhelming influence. Teens will do almost anything to fit in. At that stage, human beings are typically insecure. They lack identity, self-esteem, judgment, perspective and confidence. In error, we assume (because of age and experience) adults have conquered these concerns. The obvious implication is that capable manager-leaders must be self-aware while concurrently supporting others.

Why does inappropriate, unprofessional or rude treatment have such a deep impact? Exclusion or disrespect are a “slap in the face” that is processed by our brains the same as physical assault. The pain of rejection causes a chemical reaction in our brains. So, it comes as no surprise that people fear social rejection. Very often it is the fear of rejection that precludes any risk and deeply inhibits the potential for individual or social change.

Timing

Jiang’s book reminds us that timing matters. Too smart, too soon is the same as being wrong. An important way to think of rejection is simply as delay. George Bernard Shaw said “All great truths begin as blasphemies.” History provides countless examples of people persecuted or rejected for their thinking or actions. Later, we discover that the great ideas of good people faced an uphill climb because too many interests were upset or uncertainty was introduced.

Prevailing culture often resists interesting ideas, new strategies, fresh insights that diverse opinion and wise experience can contribute. Instead, a desperate, vigorous protection of control maintains the status quo. This is why change doesn’t happen. It helps explain why people, organizations and communities fail to make progress. It’s also why resilience is an important muscle to exercise!

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Courageous Convictions

April 23, 2015

tusk

In 1964, Dr. Irwin Schatz, was a new cardiologist who had completed medical school just a few years prior. He read the December   issue of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine and was outraged.

An article that described a syphilis experiment on uneducated African American men who lived in Tuskegee, Alabama was so startling he said, “I couldn’t believe what I had read… but the message was unmistakable.”

Researchers in the Tuskegee Clinical Study deliberately withheld treatment for a group of poor, Black sharecroppers. Of the 600 men enrolled in the study about two-thirds had already contracted syphilis. Although penicillin was known as a proven treatment for the disease, uninformed participants were told they had “bad blood” and the antibiotic was withheld. Those conducting the study aimed to observe the evolution of the disease in untreated human subjects.

For Schatz, this raised huge concerns about the denial of treatment, racial discrimination and morality. He wondered how doctors trained not to harm others could intentionally deny care. Dr. Schatz wrote a short, strong letter to the study’s author. He directly challenged the moral judgment of the Public Health Service and doctors associated with the effort.

At the time, Schatz was a young professional criticizing an investigation overseen by leading figures in America’s public health system. In 2009, he was honored for actions that were, “to say the very least, potentially harmful to his career.”

The Tuskegee Study is well known, now, as one of the first U.S. examples of flagrantly unethical and unacceptable human research. It was conducted over a period of 40 years and mirrored the medical experiment atrocities by Nazis during WW II. In the 1970s, Schatz’s letter was discovered. An investigation by the New York Times found the letter was received, shared with senior management, and its merit promptly dismissed.  His brief communication framed a vital national debate over patient’s rights and standards for human subjects. It also exposed the deeply destructive implications of racism.

“His style was that you just do the right thing and move on, then you do the right thing again and just move on,” said his son.

Dr. Schatz, 83, died a few weeks ago. His legacy offers us a great example: leadership requires courageous action grounded in clear convictions.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

House of Cards

April 12, 2015

CardHouse

Tell the truth. This is the advice your parents gave you when you were five. They insisted on it or there were consequences. It’s a good idea, regardless of your age, because it has everything to do with progress. It does, however, require courage.

Like temperature is to fever, truth is to organizational health.  We see this all the time  where people gather in organizations and communities. Safe space for truth is “permitted” by powerful people and the routine level of tolerance becomes a norm.

Skillful leaders interrogate reality and engage multiple opinions, they value insights beyond or different from their own. They recognize arguments by detractors, minority opinions and others’ experience. They know these are all vital to informed decisions and learning. They are aware of their own blind spots. Many people in key jobs don’t proceed this way. They require loyalty, no matter how foolish or nonsensical the party line and exclude or otherwise squash any deviance.

Marketing or Reality

The essential problem with this is that experienced people know the variations in the truth fall in two big camps: marketing and reality. The former weighs politics far more than the latter which is aimed at performance. Marketing or the “official truth” is a constructed notion that all is well. It is the party line that ignores the smoldering fires. It only allows heroes and never recognizes wrongs, errors, mischief or corruption. You find out about truth later when there’s a big spill, investigative journalism, a lawsuit or gossip. Marketing doesn’t expect anyone to think.

The common clever ways to manage information for advantage include: withholding, obfuscating, avoiding, reframing or twisting the script. Depending on core values, people cope with this in different ways. It has certain ethical dimensions.  Unfortunately, when people change the story to suit their own purposes there is real cost. Feeding a narrative that’s at odds with the facts has consequence. Research shows when issues get ignored then there is erosion in staff confidence, compliance, productivity, safety and legal concerns, as well as damage to brand, vendor relations, trust and other factors.

In contrast, grounded truth reflects ugly reality, unpleasant news and a whole picture that includes flaws, bumps and deficits. Looking at the truth means thinking must happen. When we and others start thinking then we can co-create great efforts to fix what needs a fix.

Messengers & Silent Good People

Very capable, honest people can get hurt in the space between marketing and truth. To deflect substance, dysfunctional organizations take aim at the messenger versus the message. Instead, there ought to be someone asking: What about these serious concerns?

Martin Luther King said: “We will have to repent not merely for our vitriolic words and actions of bad people…but for the appalling silence of good people.” When reality isn’t permitted, then threats and opportunities, and simple information sharing and integration aren’t either. We know it is a foundational error to have inadequate situational analysis. Without it, the rest of your edifice gets shaky. So, if strategy is weak from the get go and trust takes a beating, there’s big trouble. In their absence, you are likely to add bad execution to weak strategy. The net is a virtual house of cards.

You are a lot older than five. So,  tell the truth and welcome it warmly from others.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

A Blinding Blizzard

March 23, 2015

blizzard

Blinded by the data blizzard?

In 2014, this volume of data was produced, each minute:

  • 204 million email messages were sent
  • Google received more than 4 million search queries
  • 2.46 million pieces of content were shared on Facebook
  • 277,000 tweets were sent, along with 48,000 apps downloaded
  • 26,380 reviews were posted on Yelp! and 216,000 photos posted on Instagram
  • 3,472 images were pinned to Pinterest, and
  • 72 hours of new video were uploaded to YouTube

In Digital Destiny, Shawn DuBravac, PhD, reminds us there’s no need to remember these figures. They are obsolete. The quantities are far greater today. However, these facts show something very important: the huge scale and speed of data production.

Data is everywhere in your organization, community, home and life. Managing effectively depends on measuring accurately. The careful use of data sets strategy, creates programs, provides feedback, shows potential for improvement and displays  outcomes.

With increasing frequency, we see metrics, indicators and findings mis-used. To support a conclusion or point of view, some people consciously (and unconsciously) will generate or select data to suit their purpose. It’s a strong way to market any message.

There’s no public or private “regulator” that practically sorts this for you. The volume and quality of data used across many contexts presents tremendous challenges for those with little measurement experience or awareness.

Professionals who handle data routinely know and practice ethical standards for data use. What can you do? Here’s a start: listen to skeptics; trust your intuition; ask hard questions to challenge assumptions, methods and sources; read more about metrics; understand limitations in findings; secure an independent review by an ethical evaluator.

Data can be very powerful in the right hands, heads and hearts. Because of this, every manager-leader needs data literacy.  Sorting out the signals from the noise is a vital skill in demonstrating value, for learning and creating change.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Play To Win

February 27, 2015

accountsign

“It often happens that I wake up at night and begin to think about a serious problem and decide I must tell the Pope about it. Then I wake up completely and remember I am the Pope.”

This comment by Pope John XXIII makes me chuckle. It also encourages personal growth.

In any organization, performance potential has a lot to do with accountability. It also has a lot to do with individual character and prevailing norms (or organization culture). Accountability is an attitude and it informs behaviors. Successful people and organizations are accountable.

A favorite author, Susan Scott, defines accountability as “a desire to take responsibility for results; a bias towards solution, action.” She writes it is “a personal, private nonnegotiable decision about how to live one’s life.”

In Fierce Leadership, Scott lists some signs accountability may be a challenge for you or your workplace.

  • People play to avoid loss.
  • Productivity and morale are poor.
  • Lack of clarity, lots of confusion, tunnel vision.
  • Nasty surprises and cultural frustration.
  • Bitterness toward coworkers, partners, and failed relationships.
  • Difficulty leading.
  • Rule-driven, dependency and justified victims.
  • Stalled strategies, initiatives, progress.

When people complain they want their organization to be authentic, focused, engaged, on the right issues…but explain it isn’t, then whatever “reason” is offered is an excuse. That person is articulating a belief and acting on it. They may signal earnestness and other manners of a gracious person but they are not a leader.

Accountability is a leadership attitude. It begins with individuals – regardless of title or position. It starts right now  with each of us. It’s not finger pointing at leadership because you are the leader. Leadership has a cost. It’s price is relative but always more than simple self interest. When people “hurt” their self interest to be accountable, you know someone is leading.

Scott points out a sophisticated and too-common version of finger pointing happens. People in “high places” often say, “I acknowledge mistakes were made here.” She says this technique is popular because the passive voice avoids accountability. The trite comment removes any actor. Mistakes are made by individuals – they don’t emerge from thin air. One of the important things about learning is the necessity of noting errors so they can be corrected.

So, this next week, skip the automatic responses like: run, hide, huddle and cover. That’s what animals do when fearful. Choose to build an essential habit. In effective organizations, accountability is a bedrock, pervasive value lived daily by every member.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Culture and the Curia

January 3, 2015

Francis

The famed management advisor Peter Drucker once said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” And, Pope Francis concurs.

In his recent Christmas greeting to Catholic Church management (the Curia), Pope Francis sent some clear messages. The administrators responsible for delivering on the church’s mission didn’t get a warm fuzzy or glowing cover-up memo. The Pope took a big step forward on his prior, early signals to overhaul and upend a dysfunctional culture. His specificity (complete with footnotes & Biblical references) challenges the use of power – a significant issue in many organizations and communities.

Pope Francis’ 15-point critique cites a “catalog of illnesses,” including hypocrisy, careerism, unaccountability and cliques that “enslave their members and become a cancer that threatens…and leads to friendly fire.” When he named Cardinals early in 2014, he warned them to avoid temptation, power lust, ladder-climbing and dismissed attitudes of “royalty.”

The Pope’s message is timely, simple and strong. His transparency reflects an iron will that demands improvement and growth so that the Church can fully realize its mission. It’s a lesson any leader can imitate. While the managers were left “clearly uncomfortable,” this tension is an essential step in change.

As the new year starts, what does your list of organization ailments include? What actions will build on strengths? How will you (and others) heal culture? What will you insist on?

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Brand Repair

November 26, 2014

redbrand

Some organizations have reputation troubles. It’s likely they earned them.

A tarnished brand is something we’ve all seen and don’t want. An advising peer recently shares this case: “We are hand-cuffed in a very important assignment. The client organization is full of ego, fear, dysfunction and paralysis. Regrettably, standard, constructive practices that could inform our tasks were suspended – all because of reputation worries. The senior management knows their brand is in a tattered state.”

A tragic management response is in play: close ranks, worry, more clauses in the standard contract, gag orders, commands, declarations, defense, denial and other control tactics. These choices build fear, disables staff and sends distress signals. It jacks up anxiety. Moreover, these actions can become a negative loop that cause more injuries (inside and out).

A viable alternative ? Carefully identify the wrong values, attitudes and behavior that created the reputation challenges because they inform what must be different going forward. Then, step away from the “war” and demonstrate some vulnerability. Act swiftly and consistently to promote great experiences.

Try this brand ambassador recipe:

(1) Listen. Calmly and patiently hear what the aggrieved party says and what it means.

(2) Apologize. Indicate authentic concern for a failure or inadequate experience.

(3)  Fix it. Take action to remedy the mis-step. While this isn’t always possible, if it is, do it, promptly.

Make these actions automatic for everyone in your organization. From top to bottom, staff should know these three steps. Soon, the volume of good and great recent experiences will replace the stain of history. Concurrently, take big inside actions to attend culture, and make plans along with specific communications that support internal process and structural improvements.

Learning how your organization is understood by others requires gathering both random and routine feedback. This knowledge can serve organization effectiveness. Reputation is earned from the experiences people have inside and outside your building by phone, email, in meetings and other routine interactions. Part of building great brand as well as organization performance is this paradox: take off the armor to build strength.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Seize Opportunity

October 29, 2014

Oppty

What leaders know is that  justice and fairness exist only when we and our colleagues work very hard to make it happen.

A Natural Tendency

Studies done at the Yale Mind & Research Lab suggest that most people tend to ignore this because of a rationalizing bias. Whether an atheist or a religious person, a majority of people think life events (like births, deaths, illnesses, love matches) were purposely designed. Even young children show this bias, that things happen to “teach a lesson” or “send a sign.” Yale researchers indicate this is about our powerful drive to reason, make sense and align our external environment with our own goals, intentions or ambitions. Obviously, these attitudes can bring comfort and reassurance. And, those feelings are an important reinforcement for the bias.

But then, how do we explain the very ugly consequences of structural racism, sexism, and other abuses of power? Our world is full of injustice, brutal and unfair behavior that deeply injures individuals, communities and organizations. Intentional actions cause fear, oppression, disappointments, and serious wounds.

Wise Perspective

A sage family friend always softly responded to the common inquiry, “How are you?” with “Better than I deserve.” He embraced gratitude as a primary perspective because he had lived a rough and tumble life but was able to acknowledge chance. Many people don’t get what they deserve.

None of us live in an absolute meritocracy. Yale professor Paul Bloom suggests life is not a fundamentally fair place with goodness rewarded and badness punished. Logic recognizes that we cannot blame those who suffer from disease, victims of crimes and maintain a bias for the status quo. This view requires us to affirm poverty, inequality and oppression are all part of some great big intentional plan. It isn’t.

Michelle Munson, CEO of Aspera, says: “Respecting an opportunity means embracing it and dedicating yourself to making the most of it. I am infuriated by people who waste the opportunity.” Clearly she understands opportunity cost, that is, the implications of missing the obligation to create value and progress. Not surprising, Munson hires staff for two fundamentals: a high degree of competence and character. She defines character as desire, drive, responsibility, honesty and genuineness. Munson exhorts: “Nothing, nothing, nothing replaces being competent in what you’re doing…”

Great Choices

So, what’s the leadership message and mental model? I think it’s opportunity. It is the choice we each have to turn away from self interest and work diligently to create a fair and just society, community or organization. Leaders courageously tackle the status quo. They take responsibility for change and progress. Bloom’s research encourages us to resist the natural urge to cite our good fortune as fate. Prosperity, equality, freedom and hope occur because we purposely construct those conditions

What will you do and how will you guide others in opportunities today?

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com


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