Posts Tagged ‘teams’

Crystal Clear

August 8, 2017


Recall the most important conversations you’ve had in the past year?

I bet you were very honest and maybe very careful. Because you and others knew the matter under discussion had serious implications, it’s easy to imagine them as intense.

Radical transparency is a tough topic because both employing it and avoiding it can have very significant consequences.

Levi Strauss & Company CEO Chip Bergh says he got an early leadership lesson when his own performance review required him to develop his people. With an important hire, he sidestepped honest feedback. This hurt the employee and the team. It translated to multiple costs: no capacity or expertise and substantial time. Bergh’s reflection:  “You have to be really transparent and straight with people.” He says being extremely transparent builds trust. Bergh aims for the best results by working together.

Bergh’s comfort with tough conversations comes from two factors: recognizing individuals do make a difference and valuing different skills on a team. For him and other effective executives, a constant sensing for ways to build a strong team is a high priority.

If we face accountabilities with some urgency, there’s rarely a better choice than transparency. A false culture and its opportunity costs are just too big to tolerate. In the workplace, practicing candor may be referred to as dynamic dialogues, tough, crucial or fierce conversations.

What is a “fierce conversation?” Susan Scott’s book by that name defines it as: “One in which we come out from behind ourselves, into the conversation and make it real.” She suggests every conversation affects a relationship: for better or worse.

A no risk sugar-sweet norm emphasizes the hyper-polite. In this context, few accountabilities with no urgency translate to a greater reliance on political currency of deference. In these cultures results will never be what they could because there’s slack in the space. When nobody wants to “rock the boat,” people generally aren’t in high performance mode.

While our interactions with colleagues, clients, customers and others need not be fiery in temperature they can be richly focused and clear. Candor has huge yield. Why not make the many hours we and others invest worth the effort?

-Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed.D., leads Wyatt Advisors, a resource for effective people and organizations. Lisa is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. She has cross-sector and international experience.

Safe Space

April 6, 2016


Have you ever been part of a group that is exhausting?

What about a group that is exhilarating?

In an increasingly complex world, what we know about and how we process work in teams is critical. Over the past 20 years the time spent in collaborative activities has increased by 50 percent or more. It’s common for employees to spend more than 75 percent of their time each day communicating with colleagues.

Groups deliver important  benefits. They accelerate  innovation, catch errors quickly and identify better solutions for vexing challenges. People that work in teams regularly achieve better results and are happier with their jobs. Evidence also suggests that profitability increases when workers collaborate more often.

While “employee performance optimization” is a common concern for any organization, it’s not enough to look only at individual professional development. It’s now vital to thoughtfully construct how people work together.

Stagger or Soar

Tech giant Google considered its  51,000 employees a fertile testing ground for team effectiveness. Not long ago they took on the challenge of learning why some teams stagger and others soar. Research done by sociologists and psychologists pointed them toward group norms. These are the shared values, expected standards and implicit “rules” for functioning when people gather. They vary relative to team composition – even if all operate in the same organization.

Group leaders are important referees and coaches because the “right” norms can raise a group’s intelligence, while the “wrong” norms can disable a group. Two vital factors raise collective intelligence: equal distribution of air time and social sensitivity or empathy towards team mates. Clear goals, reliable interdependence and accountability matter, too.

Feeling Safe

The “big” finding? Whether or not people work together effectively in a team reflects psychological safety. Safety is what Amy Edmondson, a Harvard Business School professor, defines as “a confidence the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up.” Effective teams, organizations and communities are safe. Progress and results  depend on it.

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton , Ed.D. has served as chief strategy officer and managing partner Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. ( She has cross-sector and international experience. Lisa is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. Contact her

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