Posts Tagged ‘focus’

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

 

 

 

 

 

Reduce Decision Anxiety

August 26, 2013

coffee

Amazon.com  offers more than 25 million book titles. Baskin Robbins used to boast 31 flavors, then they sold 100. Cold Stone Creamery claims 11.5 million ways to have “your” ice cream. Starbucks has identified 87,000 drink combinations.

These appeals to personalization may work well in marketing consumer goods. But, the vast range of variation can also overwhelm. Do you, your colleagues or teams ever feel swamped?

The volume of data and options involved in efforts to create strategies, generate forecasts, prepare communications, support evaluation or other common functions makes getting to decisions tough sledding. Research has shown too many choices generates significant anxiety. In fact, it creates pressure, frustration, and paralysis.

Coping With  Volume

Creating an environment for success means support for decision-making. Coping with information overload is an important responsibility for managing and leading. To start, ask these questions:

  • What are the priorities this decision must satisfy?
  • What can I do to simplify the information I have and need?
  • What are the patterns in data?
  • How might the data be categorized?

When faced with complexity, try these three actions:

  • At the start, reduce the total number of alternatives
  • Identify, understand and explain variation among alternatives
  • Engage expert review and recommendations to offer perspective

These questions and actions help focus the “infolanche” we face in our work.  Help your team  manage frustration and make great choices.

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

Provoking Progress

March 7, 2013

ninja

Goal success relies on some critical attributes and practices. Research suggests discipline, strategy, adaptation, decisiveness, and will matters. To deliver breakthroughs and be “out front,” leaders need to be agile, creative risk-takers. All of these factors can contribute to progress or innovation.

Innovation can be understood in three types: evolutionary, revolutionary and disruptive.

Evolutionary refers to improvement in a current market that can be expected. For example, in health care more nurse-delivered care is evolutionary.

Revolutionary refers to improvement that’s not expected. For example in dentistry, dental therapists may be certified and licensed to replace dentists in some care settings.

Disruptive refers to improvement that is unexpected and lots more. It can create new customers, competitors, value and a marketplace previously unidentified. For example, the application of networking and information technology to healthcare has (and will) generate new enterprise. Sensors or robotics that assist patients in specific ways can prevent new costs and complications.

Some change can be replication with “tweaks” or evolutionary. But, there’s lots of room for both revolution and disruption as you (with others) imagine, plan and deliver results. Generating innovation requires new attitudes, thinking and processes.

Gary Shapiro’s latest book, “Ninja Innovation” calls out some important qualities associated with success. Ninjas were spies for the Japanese noble class and valued for skills and training. They were smart and adept professionals. A contemporary US counterpart might be Special Forces personnel.

A few of Shapiro’s ninja innovation characteristics are:
• A ruthless dedication to secure the goal.
• Building the right, great team.
• A disciplined attitude with unwavering focus on the goal.
• Environmental sensing and adjustments to plan.
• Both risk-taking and rule breaking with ethics.

As an agent for change, your choices and actions catalyze others. The factors that can influence individual and organization success are intertwined. We each have direct control of our own attitudes, knowledge, skill and behavior. Where’s the ninja in you?

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

From the Playbook: Watch and Listen

April 8, 2012

 

 

 

 

If you made a list of people to learn from – who would you identify and why?

Besides formal education and experience, observing others can be a huge part of learning. Seasoned author and editor John Byrne (Business Week, Fast Company and Fortune) turned his list of the 12 greatest entrepreneurs into a fascinating book, WorldChangers. His criteria included social and economic impact, world-changing vision, inspirational power, innovation and enterprise performance.

Whether social or business outcomes are your aim, there are some terrific lessons in the profiles Byrne provides. From Byrne’s full list, I’ve picked a few people and their key contributions:

To innovate, Steve Jobs (at Apple) did not use focus groups and market research. He didn’t bother to ask consumers. Instead, he led a company that delivered what consumers wanted, “insanely great” products.

To usher in the personal computer revolution and tackle social challenges, Bill Gates (at Microsoft & his Foundation) is very careful about selecting his staff, business partners, and allies.

To extend logistics and customer reach, Fred Smith (at FedEx) applied his VietNam Marine Corp experiences to integrate operations and ensure proximal support in delivery systems.

To drive new ways for people to purchase goods, Jeff Bezos (at Amazon) quit a good job to launch an e-commerce effort that he is managing for growth and customer service instead of profit, intentionally.

To revive a failing brand, after an 8-year absence, Howard Schultz (at Starbucks) restored financial discipline and focus to a company that had become irrelevant to consumers.

My interpretation of these exemplars identifies important principles for success in managing and leading. In relative order, here’s what I learned:

(1) Deliver what’s needed, it assures  sustainability. (Jobs)

(2) Pick great people (and partners), they matter more than anything else. (Gates)

(3) Get close recon from trusted sources, precise knowledge of context before action is vital. Discard gossip. (Smith)

(4) Take risk and time for retreat, grounded and clear thinking is vital in a complex, highly dynamic workplace. (Bezos)

(5) Consistently challenge, pursue a healthy dissatisfaction with the status quo. (Schultz)

I emphasized the Gates lesson  because if you don’t get that right –the others have far less influence. These potent messages have the promise to deliver great returns for organizations, big and small.

 –Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems 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

Informed Perceptions

August 14, 2011

It’s frequently said: “Perception is all.”

Significant research indicates that Asians and Westerners think and perceive differently. University of Michigan scholar Richard Nisbett’s famous experiment showed pictures of a fish tank to American and Japanese. They were asked to describe what they saw. Interestingly, Americans most often described the largest and most prominent fish in the tank. Japanese made 60 percent more references to the context elements. They commented far more often on the water, rocks, bubbles and plants in the tank.

Context & Interdependence

Charles Blow’s recent (6 August)   New York Times editorial alerts us to context, relationships, paradox, and interdependence. He notes the “greatest casualties of the great recession will be a decade of lost children.” He includes troubling findings from The State of America’s Children produced by The Children’s Defense Fund. Their findings indicate:

  • Since 2000, four million more children live in poverty. The increase between 2008-9 is the largest single year increase ever recorded.
  • The number of homeless children in public schools increased 41 percent 2006-7 and 2008-9 school years.
  • The majority of children in all social groups and 79 percent or more of Black and Hispanic children in public schools cannot read or do math at grade level in 4th, 8th or 12th grades.
  • The annual cost of center-based child care for a 4-year old is more than the annual in-state tuition at a public four-year college in 33 states.

Focus Influences Perception

These demographics describe important symptoms of human distress. While child advocates may know this information – most others don’t. Yet, these demographics  have implications for all of us. They signal growing and new concerns for K-12 education, health care and other sectors. Blow’s editorial provides a critical service. He offers visibility to the invisible and vulnerable. Many people tend to focus on the “foreground:” our own children, neighbor or grand kids. He asks us to consider a larger picture.

Differences in perception vary by gender, age, culture, income and other factors. A perspective may be valid, but is it limited? Be sure to consider both the big fish and other elements of the fish tank. It may significantly influence plans or other factors related to effectiveness. Inclusion and cultural competence can expand our view and  results.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com

Managing Deadlines and Dodging Bullets

July 5, 2011

Contemporary management can thank the battlefield of the American Civil War for the term “deadline.” Lacking physical structures to secure prisoners, captors gathered prisoners together in a huddle. A line drawn around them in the dirt was known as the “dead line.” Anyone who strayed beyond it was shot.

Time Management

Managers set specific timing to accomplish tasks for many reasons. Deadlines, now known as a time-limit, can encourage a new urgency that ensures progress. They establish key targets that require design, planning and execution of work. This sets a pace for action when delay and avoidance are too often far easier.

I frequently tell clients capital finds good ideas; but talent and timing are most important. The pace and sequence of work against a specified schedule catalyzes, then supports, important momentum.

Decision Windows

Timing is a significant issue in managing and leading. Decision windows open and close with alarming speed. Prompt action on a set schedule builds credibility and signals priorities. Selecting opportunities in the press of limited time is a skill that comes with intention and experience. As the number of factors beyond your control grow – choices about when to release a message, hire, fire or pursue an alliance are essential to creating change.

Deadlines are vital to interdependencies and complex work that involves multiple players. Expectations associated with milestones can encourage flagging spirits. And, importantly, consequences around deadlines mean a shared focus has “teeth.”

 Discipline Means Deadlines

Often, an undisciplined use of time means a lack of discipline in other areas. For good reasons, deadlines can be adapted. However, an organization or team that avoids setting or meeting deadlines isn’t very credible. It can be symptomatic of a lack of priorities, a need to re-visit purpose or even irrelevance. We’re careful about deadlines at our office. This has sometimes meant all-night and weekend work to deliver on promises.

Manage deadlines – so they don’t manage you. They can increase the effectiveness of your team and keep you in the safety zone where you won’t get shot.

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com

The Size and Speed of Change

May 24, 2011

 

Recently, a professor and a marketing consultant, suggested creating a $300 house. They punted it up publicly. The response has been overwhelming. Their target could transform the lives of millions of desperately poor children and families across the globe. If it happens – it is a breakthrough innovation.

This goal challenges what’s feasible, alters expectations and prompts innovation. These are vital levers for big, fast change. Name the intended result, assemble the case, articulate the implications. Then, gather the knowledge, skills, insights, experience, enthusiasm and possibilities for strategy and execution.

 Progress & Pace

Reflect for a moment on two dimensions of change – scale and time. A continuum of scale could cover polar ends: from none (simply preserving  the status quo) to boldly disruptive. A range for time can span from instant to perpetuity. What’s a “fair” expectation for progress and pace?

An insulated and isolated organization (or community) may not make much progress year after year. The adjacent possible is severely oppressed and any change comes grudgingly.  Even incremental, minor movement may be difficult. Although essential to growth and vitality, substantial change won’t happen until there are new people with different training, experience, expectations and habits. Moreover, disruptive change doesn’t occur until there’s a sudden tip point, often the result of a power shift.

 The Best Attitude

“Let’s go slow to go fast” is commonly said in organizations that must improve. This can translate to “I’m risk averse” or let’s quietly move the goal posts. Alternatively, it  may mean there needs to be more knowledge, skills and trust to do the work ahead. Sometimes it is appropriate – sometimes not. If for-profit organizations don’t change fast – it’s certain they will fail. Current and emerging marketplace competitors ensure that. Although far less sensitive to market forces, non-profits must adapt to perform, too.

Many organizations affect internal culture by clearly describing expected attitudes. For example, a “humility and a hunger to learn” is one of several Kellogg Company leadership values.  The San Diego Food Bank operates with an “acute sense of urgency.” ConAgra identifies simplicity, accountability and collaboration as key internal principles. Nestle wants a “willingness to learn” commitment among their employees. All of these declarations signal an environment which supports change.

 Target & Timing

If nearly anything is possible: What’s your stretch goal? What’s the deadline? Perhaps a 28% return on investment or no domestic violence for one month. Maybe, in six months, it’s a $25 toilet or no drunk driving in your county. By 2014, what about a 60% reduction in teen pregnancy, creating a $1,000 car, or every high school graduate in your town will be college-ready.

Thought leadership can be an essential prompt for the size and speed of change. We know most people are deeply motivated by satisfaction and results. By specifying an audacious goal and deadline, expectations for scale and pace are set. Why not start with these?

 –Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com

Intrigued? Tap this link for more information on a $300 house.

See, Speak, Hear No Evil

April 5, 2011

In frustrated whispers we’ve all heard these truthful asides:

“I work in a goat rodeo.” “He simply cannot do the work.”  “The grantees have so few skills…” “This place is in such disarray.”

The facts are many people navigate multiple, parallel realities at work. It’s the reason Dilbert’s cartoons are so popular. So often, they’re accurate. And too often, the social dynamics of inter-personal relationships limit the potential of both individual satisfaction and organizational performance.

 The foibles and follies of dealing with people and their behavioral inconsistencies make our work lives interesting and difficult. In Robert Kurzban’s  new book, Why Everyone (Else) Is A Hypocrite, he explains why hypocrisy is the natural state of the human mind. As an evolutionary psychologist, he writes that people have “modular minds,” specialized units in the brain have been designed through natural selection. These units are focused on one outcome: survival.

Parallel Realities and Image

Behavior examples of modularity include strategic ignorance, self-deception and hypocrisy. Strategic ignorance, like the other behaviors, can create big problems at work (and in your personal life). At work everyone  faces  many decisions all day long. These are choices that often translate to who will you hurt or help. Too often, people intentionally avoid moral decisions about fairness. The upfront cost of avoidance is less, very often, than the cost of creating opposition. Through  side-stepping, or passive inaction, people  prefer to “act” as though they “hear no evil and see no evil.” 

Despite the moral implications and however irresponsible — these behaviors can be explained as obviously practical options. Unfortunately, these choices model behavior that gets replicated.  It’s how we generate unhealthy culture which enables dysfunction in teams and organizations. Denial of this context just perpetuates it. With tragic consequences, the   “Emperor (who) has no clothes” can live a very long  life.

 Bigger Than Self

Sociality is a vital part of human life. Because of this, competition inside organizations needs discrete attention. It also means reframing the challenges and opportunities for your team and your organization is central to collective impact.  Finding common understandings, assumptions and shared goals are critical. Establishing expectations for values like transparency, candor, authenticity, urgency and distributed knowledge is part of the recipe. In the end, modeling these values matters most. If people and organizations persist simply with the multiple realities provided by our modular minds the inevitable focus is self-survival. However, high performance requires a different, collective intention.

Recognize  and Reconcile

What specific actions can a manager take with this common challenge?

First: Ask many more questions. Set a target for yourself. Make it a goal – every day – to ask   three more questions in each meeting or exchange with staff.  Commit to discovery. This will help you uncover perspectives, see common themes and identify prevailing realities.  Seek counter-points and ask opinions from those who are willing to share more than the proverbial company line. Recognizing how others view their work and the situation is an important step in your reality.

Second: Work toward reconciliation of multiple perspectives. Commit to dialogue that airs a range of opinion. Act as a convener. Aim for the imperative – how it should be. Help others see their assumptions and biases. Actively build bridges and find points of coordination so others see the value of alignment and integration. Make it acceptable and safe to speak truthfully. Demonstrate trust by lauding people who are willing to offer constructive critique.

Renowned organization effectiveness expert and author Jim Collins echoes this perspective: “Level 5 leaders are ambitious first and foremost for the cause, the organization, the work – not themselves – and they have a fierce resolve to do whatever it takes to make good on that ambition.” It is possible to build a vibrant culture that aggressively serves a mission (or margin).  Eventually the whispers will wane. 

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com

Look for Hay in your Haystack

October 6, 2010

Every day you and your colleagues experience an “infolanche.” Quite simply an avalanche of information pours in to your desk through the phone and computer hour after hour each day.  Skillful navigation of this overload is critical to progress. Digging out is a big job. This deluge creates yet another challenge to managing and leading.

What’s the right information for your attention?

Focus, Focus, Focus

Our resident psychometrician often suggests that clients “look for hay in your haystack.” Before  launching a hurried search begin with careful thought. In a recent preschool literacy evaluation we conducted the standard for performance was a score of 62. One of the exciting programs we assessed scored 58. Did it fail? By the explicit federal standard it did. By any other measure, it was a huge success. How could that be?

Before the literacy intervention, children entering the program were tested by several valid and reliable tools. After a school year of experience with the program, children were tested again. They showed substantial gains, in fact, statistically significant changes in pre-literacy awareness, knowledge and skills. The program was effective but risked discard because a pre-determined value was not secured. Moreover, by analyzing student gains by teacher, it became obvious which teachers had delivered a high quality “dose” with fidelity to program design. This provided the clues on which teacher’s could improve and how they needed to adapt their instruction practice.

Great Questions Matter

Asking great questions is the first most important step sorting your haystack. Great questions guide data navigation towards high value information. Specification of your information needs can focus your data collection, analysis and interpretation.  How you frame your inquiry matters lots. In the preceding example, the right question was: Did the program positively affect literacy skills? It would be an error to “quit early” and simple ask: Did we make the standard score?

Data-driven decisions are the new daily bread. There’s plenty of information to use and confuse  us. The next time you review data, recognize what vital clues it provides for the challenges your organization faces . If you are clear about what questions must be explored, it will help you sort your pile.

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also a W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. For more information, see : www.pwkinc.com


%d bloggers like this: