Posts Tagged ‘results’

Six Features of Terrific Teams

July 16, 2015


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:






Strategy: A Two-Step Dance

September 25, 2014

Very little planned change in any organization, community or individual occurs without strategy. It’s a core competence that requires deliberate attention. Far too often, it shows up in  a simplistic process at the annual retreat. Sometimes it is implicit and embedded in conversations about routine functions.

But, great managers know that strategy is the map that provides direction to daily decisions and actions. Once talent and capital are in hand, strategy is job 1. It has  just two steps and both are critical.



The matrix above offers a quick way to think about the two steps. Strategy formulation and execution are equally important. One without the other has little value. When both are sound then there’s “a  good chance” of securing intended progress. When one or both are flawed, we can explain deficits in progress and bad results.

Accountability provides the “glue” for any effort that relies on strategy to improve and perform. It makes both steps relevant by specifying individual and shared ownership. In any organization, accountability occurs through relationships and structures that review performance. Formal and informal reviews specify expectations, competencies, attributes and results among participants. Without accountability –  wander, squander, delays, decline and failure are likely. With it, the “dance” can deliver value.

When assessing your program or organization’s progress, look carefully at formulation and execution. Ensure there are explicit high-quality processes for both, along with robust accountability.

(For lots more on strategy, see past tinker posts, like: Ten Good Strategy Questions-July 2010, Avoid Strategy Sabotage-October 2012, Great Plans Adjust-June 2012)

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:

Constructive Contributions

July 17, 2014


The critique or “crit” is a core activity in the Yale School of Art as well as other arts programs nationwide. This process happens in “the pool” if you are a student in the Photography Department and in “the pit” if you are in Painting and Printmaking. These are both spaces below the regular main floor which can exaggerate the emotional sense of an inspection.

Prompt Progress

An art student typically sits for nearly an hour while faculty and other students discuss their work. At the core of this process is intentionally constructive honesty. The objective: help the learner understand the distance between intentions and effect. It is supportive feedback that reframes effort and prompts developmental progress.

The crit provides vital wisdom for several reasons: it offers value from experience the student has not had and it reflects multiple sources. Critiques or feedback can have huge value in advancing our effectiveness if our own fragile egos don’t preclude progress. It works best when we have a learner attitude – regardless of age, stage or title.

Dialogic Review

With senior staff at a huge (multi-billion $) funder, we recently used a similar process. In what we call a “mark up,” models of program plans are the focus of experienced subject matter experts. In a facilitated review, the planned work is presented and considered against a rubric. Participants ask questions and express opinion about assumptions, barriers, facilitators, evidence and the relationship between the selected activities, inputs, and intended results. It is thoughtful and fun. It produces important dialogue as well as vital changes in the material.

Using a “mark up” or “crit” as a regular process can have great yield. Mature professionals welcome multiple perspectives. Then, they sort out what is valid and reliable. Ultimately, what’s produced is far better than the first draft. Constructive comment is a gift in any team or organization. Consider it an important way to adapt and retool your plans.

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:

Strategy Is Not A Plan

April 13, 2014


An Italian historian, diplomat, philosopher and author, Niccolo Machiavelli was influential  during the Renaissance. He is considered the founder of modern political science and well known for The Prince, a book about unscrupulous politicians. Machiavellianism is most often associated with strategies founded on deceit and psychological manipulation. While these strategies offer many politicos inspiration, other leaders offer more positive, ethical examples.

Strategy Generates Power

Regretfully, because of overuse and ubiquitous application, the word “strategy” has lost meaning. Lawrence Freedman’s new book, Strategy: A History, suggests strategy employs whatever resources are available to achieve the best outcome in situations that are both dynamic and contested. He suggests strategy generates power. Perhaps we too often mistake strategy as a simple way to get to a clear and final result.

Instead, Freedman counsels that strategy is simply a thoughtful means to get from one stage to another. Each new stage has its own challenges, risks, assets and potential. Strategy needs to be devised, and revised as circumstances evolve. Strategy is not synonymous with a plan. Plans support forward movement and actions, but they may or may not be strategic. Even so, high-quality implementation of a strategic plan – one built on choice points that considered alternatives – can be a significant challenge.

Strategy Development

Certainly both strategic processes and strategic thinking are essential in managing and leading. Don Knauss, CEO, Clorox Company says he learned strategy development from the Marine Corps. The acronym SMEAC provides a framework: situation, mission, execution, administration and communication. These five factors  require attention and deliberation.

As a leader, trust-building is an intentional strategy in the culture he promotes. Knauss said in a recent interview that “the less you use the power you’ve been given, the more authority people will give you…It starts with integrity…You get things done much more quickly when people trust you.”

Evidence, Facts & Results

Personal lives, government, organizations and programs all need strategy. Whether you are losing weight, staying married, providing healthcare, managing a “conflict” in a foreign country or improving education – your chances at success increase if there’s a strategy. Better still if it’s evidence- and fact-based.

Winston Churchill’s insight is relevant, too. He said, “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”

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:

Foster Passion

January 12, 2014


The work we do best is inspired, it touches or wholly embraces some passion we have. This passion provides the energy to continually make effort and progress.

Augusto Odone, a World Bank economist, provides a great example of what passion can produce.

A polyglot Italian Fulbright scholar who specialized in development economics, Odone was posted to Washington, DC with his family. His son, at six, suddenly began stumbling, mumbling, lost hearing and displayed terrible temper. Doctors said the illness was hopeless and to expect certain death. His child, Lorenzo, had a rare and terrible disease (ALD) in which a faulty chromosome let fatty acids accumulate and cripple the body.

Odone had no prior interest or training in biochemistry, only a high-school science education. However, he began scouring the library at the National Institutes of Health to understand how enzymes work. Through his own reasoning, he identified potential in olive and rapeseed oils as a combination that might inhibit the deadly acids which impaired the nervous system. Medical researchers scoffed at an amateur finding an answer that had eluded them.

Although immobile and uncommunicative, Lorenzo lived 30 years. His father’s discovery was effective in delaying additional decline. “The ALD serpent that had brought so much grief to our family had been tamed,” wrote Odone.

Vindication for a stunning accomplishment was slow in coming. A 1992 film, “Lorenzo’s Oil,” portrays this story. In 2005, a rigorous study showed Odone’s science was sound: while the oil could not reverse effects of ALD, in 75% of the cases it prevented development of the symptoms. Grudging foes acknowledged the discovery.  Lorenzo died in 2008. The charity founded in his name, the Myelin Project, now pursues gene therapy and stem-cell research.

In the face of incalculable odds, a father’s passion had yield for his son and many others worldwide.

What inspires you? What do you know about your team or colleagues that can inspire them? How do you frame challenges to capture their passion? People who love what they do get after it every day. Some, at long odds, deliver amazing results.

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:

Seek Rigorous Evidence

August 27, 2011

Both scurvy and infant crib death offer insights about the value of evidence.

  • In 1747, British naval surgeon James Lind conducted an important experiment. He wanted to find a treatment for scurvy. Scurvy begins with gum disease, progresses to open wounds, internal bleeding and ultimately death. A variety of cures were proposed. Lind selected a dozen sailors from three dozen who suffered with scurvy. To six pairs he provided different treatment. Some were given cider, some oranges and lemons. Since we now know that scurvy is caused by lack of vitamin C, those who ate oranges and lemons recovered. Lind’s trial designed, collected and reviewed evidence.
  • Standard advice, years ago, was to place an infant to sleep in a crib on its stomach. In Baby & Child Care, the famous pediatrician Benjamin Spock advised against putting a baby to sleep on its back. It took almost twenty years to review evidence which conclusively identified the dangers of front-sleeping. Some estimate 60,000 infants died between 1970-88 because of this delay.

Useful Experiments

Good intentions and bad advice can certainly yield disastrous results. The imperative of life and death impact suggests we ought to get faster and far better at experiments that provide rigorous evidence for decisions. The choice about front or back-sleeping infants was never designed or intentional. Parent behavior and death incidents were studied for patterns. But, Lind’s action research did provide different antidotes to sick men.

 Ethical Design

It is strange that arbitrary decisions seem to have little ethical review while designed experiments face severe scrutiny. Yet, it is possible to establish a trial without denying others.

 It is simply a matter of locating an appropriate contrast or control. In early reading skill development research our clients did not deny service to any preschool students –  they simply identified children similar to those who participated in a special, enriched intervention program. This provided the experimental design which ensured claims could be made about the distinct contribution of the enriched intervention.

 Knowing is Not Doing

Despite Lind’s work centuries ago, scurvy is, regrettably, a disease that still affects malnourished people today. Knowing is not the same as doing. Spreading awareness of evidence or  transferring knowledge is an important process that requires time and resources. They are part of the reason that it took a long time for school districts and parents to adopt Kindergarten or for the public adoption of seat belts. Decades after the evidence is in, social marketing is actively promotes awareness about placing infants on their backs to sleep safely.

 Experiments  or “Wander-Squander”

Complex problems we barely understand preclude  making change. Discovery of what works requires experiments. A mindset that actively designs and executes trials is a critical step toward adaptation – a precursor to learning. What experiments are relevant to your work? Are you consistently seeking evidence for your own advice and actions?

Tim Harford, Adapt author, writes: “The alternative to controlled experiments are uncontrolled experiments.” We think this is an accurate description.  At our office we reference the thoughtless, uncoordinated  busyness of many activities as “wander-squander.”  Unfortunately, uncontrolled experiments dominate many work days for most people. And, there’s little or nothing that they teach us. Controlled experiments help us learn what works, what doesn’t and why.

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 n author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See :

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 :

Treasures, Anguish & Triumph

April 27, 2011



“We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph.”

Nobel Peace Prize winner, educator, author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel is described as  a “messenger to mankind.” In the preceding excerpt he offers unexpected perspective on talent management. His reflection suggests we might best consider these “assets” one soul at a time.

 Aspirations & Expectations

We live in a competitive global knowledge economy. Knowledge workers are central to this system –   when they soar, their employers can thrive. Both theory and practice recognize that aspirations and expectations of employees are crucial to their productive engagement. Regardless of sector, talent engagement and development are vital features in human capital management.

It is obvious most people work for economic reasons. But, all people have lives with psychological, social, spiritual and physical dimensions. Research indicates that “meaningful work” is highly dependent on the quality of relationships with supervisors and colleagues. When managers use their power to include, enable, challenge and reward they tacitly acknowledge the whole individual. Simple, authentic inquiries about hopes, achievements or risks can build trust. They can also reveal the insights Wiesel mentions.

 Mutual Reliance

In general, most people find satisfaction if their work makes sense and there’s clarity about how success is defined. They also need to understand their responsibilities as part of a larger, cogent scheme. A mutual reliance or interdependence is another aspect of healthy culture and a functional organization. People seek autonomy, complexity and a connection with what they do and results. These conditions and experiences don’t  happen  often enough.

 Soaring Returns

We all have a chance to contribute to a workplace that is meaningful. Discover the treasures, anguish and triumphs of the people you interact with each day. Share some of yours. The effort will yield important returns.

 –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 n author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See :

Staking A Claim

March 15, 2011

We need to “move the needle. “ It’s one of the most common clichés used to describe the need to generate change. It might be the best one but there are others, like: “bring home the bacon”, “beat the street”, “go gang-busters.” These translate to “help me show results.” They are about performance. As frequently said but not-so-original or interesting phrases they are often delivered with a tone of slight desperation as people try to validate their work.

Precious Feedback
The private sector learned a long time ago to incorporate metrics in their day-to-day work. Metrics and their use are also a key part of formal training that prepares you for the “world of business.” Sales, price–to-earnings, indexes, customer satisfaction scores, debt ratios, profit margins, projections, and efficiencies are all aspects central to performance in the private sector. They offer both guidance on progress as well as terminal performance ratings. They help us describe current status, aspirations and results. Metrics are essential feedback in operations, acquisitions, mergers and value. This is because they are integral factors in managing.

Many of the debates about the use, skills with and request for metrics in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector are puzzling. It’s vital, for sure, to recognize that social change is not a “controlled” space like a drug trial or cookie factory. In fact, I think the complexities of social change suggest an even greater value for the critical feedback metrics provide in managing and leading. Both evaluative thinking and evaluation are essential to all sectors.

Claims and Cause
While those who declare “move the needle” may not know it… the needle will move. Regardless of their efforts or lack of. Change is constant. There are external and internal dynamics that absolutely will influence the gauge reading or needle status. Frequently, when this phrase is used to inform/define an organization or program’s work, the construct in play is cause. It’s an intention to declare value or stake a claim. Can I declare contribution or attribution, neither or both?

The difference in contribution and attribution are relative proportion of cause. I hit the car when I ran a red light is an example of direct cause. The event is attributed to me. I gave $500 to the $4.8M capital campaign goal deems me a contributor. I am a small part of a big result. When seeking attribution it means particular protocols must be used to determine the portion of effect. It is a high standard.

For example, in determining the influence of a pre-literacy intervention for preschool children we compared children and teachers in Head Start with a Head Start control group. Those with the special intervention and preparation exceeded learning and performance measures many times greater than the control group. This allows the intervention program, with significant confidence, to claim attribution (or direct cause).

Determining contribution is not as difficult and it is more common. The role or sequence of factors in an intervention can be essential to understanding contribution. The strength of a plausible connection allows us to claim contribution. It is a part of cause. Specification of contribution should rely on multiple techniques. Models, plans and other items are useful tools in this determination.

Metrics Application
It is vital that independent and quality assessment occurs to assure credibility. There are big challenges in understanding the use and mis-use of evaluation. Evaluation is most certainly affected by politics. If not high quality, the metrics represented by evaluation can easily be “cover” or marketing. Capable professionals know this is why the field has quality standards. They also can spot shoddy quality, marketing and promotional or “lite” use of evaluation. People have anxiety about metrics because they are useful with accountability.

Individually and in our organizations, we all want to “make a difference.” We want our lives and our organizations to be relevant, have meaning and credibility. Whether the sole cause or a contributor, it’s vital to use metrics to set targets, review progress and determine influence on results. This makes evaluation an essential literacy for anyone managing and leading. The dangers and costs of mishandling are extraordinary. When done well, so is the value.

-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. Contact her via:

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