stakeholder network

How Well Does Your Team Know Its Stakeholders?

High-performing teams take seriously how well they create value for their stakeholders. The best teams know what their stakeholders need and expect from them. Here are some things to keep in mind as you focus on understanding your critical stakeholders, both inside and outside your department or organization. When you do, you increase your team’s effectiveness.

Identify Your Stakeholders

Your stakeholders greatly influence the reason your team exists and vice versa. That’s why it’s important to be clear about just who your team’s stakeholders are. To guide this inquiry, research by Clutterbuck and Hirst (2003) identified 3 aspects of influence between teams and their stakeholders:

Creating or limiting financial resources – Executive teams or department heads are likely to control financial resources for your team. In non-profits, a particular donor or group of donors are stakeholders when they fund a program or initiative.

Impact to or from one another – Customers are an obvious stakeholder for many sales, design, and manufacturing teams because of the direct impact of their work on the end user of a product or service. Also, there are often impacts between your team and other work teams in your organization. These effects can be so routine that you overlook them as stakeholders and vice versa.

Having shared purpose and values – A shared purpose with stakeholders means that you both have an interest in each other’s success. You know you share values with a stakeholder when the values they live by are similar or support yours. Indeed, research shows that shared values and purpose unifies your team and its stakeholders and helps your team create stakeholder relationships that will advance your team purpose (Freedman, et al, 2004).

Thus, your team’s stakeholders are those individuals and groups who feel valued by you and find value in what your team does because they benefit from, are impacted by, and/or influence your team’s decisions and output.

Not All Stakeholders are Obvious

It’s easy to overlook some stakeholders. For example, many executive and management teams often overlook their direct reports as stakeholders. They overlook that their team decisions and work products almost always directly affect those who report to them. It’s easy to focus only on the loudest or most powerful voices. Using a stakeholder map can help you identify your team’s key stakeholders, including those “unusual voices” who benefit from or influence your team’s work while having less influence in the decision-making process.

Additionally, high-performing teams have large networks of both strong and weak ties to networks of stakeholders that provide expertise that can support the team. Weak ties tend to be with others with whom the team has ad hoc interactions. Strong ties are with those with more critical cooperation and expertise. Teams can nurture both types of stakeholder relationships accordingly.

Stay Engaged with Stakeholders

One way to say in touch with your stakeholders is to identify members of your team who can act as team representatives to engage stakeholders:

Ambassadors: market the team to the those with power both inside and outside the organization;
Scouts: gather information from people outside the organization who have different knowledge/expertise;
Coordinators: manage the connections to the team across functions inside the organization.

The better relationship you have with your stakeholders, the higher competitive advantage your business has (Jones 1995). Therefore, to become a more effective team, it’s important to identify and continually engage your key stakeholders. When you do, your team will gain the information necessary to continually adapt to changing conditions in its stakeholder system.

 

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.

decision, choice

What the Best Teams Do to Optimize Their Decision Making

Making decisions for yourself difficult. For teams, multiply the difficulty of decision-making even more! Not only do decision-making biases and pitfalls abound, but chances decrease of reaching a solid decision  when the process used is found lacking. There are, however, some aspects of decision-making that will lead to better decisions if you include them in your process. Consider making your decision-making more conscious, intentional, and systemic by taking into account these decision-making factors to make better team decisions:

Team Identity & Aspirations

What in the world does “team identity” have to do with decision-making? Well, it turns out, a lot. How your team sees itself is the foundation of a good decision.

A solid decision ultimately is based upon your team’s purpose, vision, values, and goals. A good decision reflects why your team exists (purpose), how they envision themselves being successful (vision), and how the decision reflects core team values.

Additionally, your team must be clear about what they are trying to achieve with the decision they will make. That is, how will the decision further current team goals or more general aspirations? When all is said and done, a good final decision will meet the needs of team stakeholders, inside and outside the organization.

Decision Implications

Not every decision is life and death. However, the decisions your team makes are probably important; otherwise, you wouldn’t be spending team time on them. So, to help the team gauge the level of importance, consider the potential cost of making the wrong decision. As a team, estimate how much time, money, energy, etc. is hanging in the balance to put the decision in perspective, including the potential costs in terms of time, money, and energy.

Criteria for Viable Options

How will your team know which decision is best? It’s key to create decision criteria. Key criteria are those attributes that enable the team to discern options that are “better” or more desirable and feasible than others.

To begin your attributes list, start with the components of team identity & aspiration and the implications of making the right or wrong decision above. For example, the “decision has to further our overall goal of X; serve stakeholder A, B, C; not jeopardize our relationship with stakeholder D; and allow us to meet our deadline of May 31st.” From these basic building blocks. The team can suggest or brainstorm additional criteria as necessary throughout the decision-making process as new information comes to light.

External Data & Its Interpretation

Another consideration is the use of additional data to aid in making a decision. Indeed, gathering and interpreting qualitative and quantitative data is where much decision-making time is usually spent.

Default decision

Before your team formally starts collecting statistics and opinions, take the small but important step of taking a straw poll to see what the team would do if they had to make the decision without further input. Why?

The “default decision” is like a starting point that the team can use to determine additional data it wants or needs to convince team members that its seemingly obvious “default” option is appropriate or not. “Based on what we know today and our preliminary criteria, we’d decide to do X. What added information might allow us to see if that option holds up?”

Additional data

With the default option in mind, the team can use common sense, analysis, and curiosity to decide on, collect and use additional data to test their initial “default” option. Also, after reflecting on the additional data desired to make the decision, your team may have a better sense of additional key criteria to consider when making the decision.

Using the additional data and the team’s criteria for a good decision, it can generate and evaluate options that warrant further consideration before making the final decision.

Confidence in the Decision

Once the team has settled on its decision, it’s wise to do a final gut check regarding the team’s level of confidence in the final decision. If the team indicates low confidence in the final decision, the team can determine what it needs to do to increase its confidence to an acceptable level.

Good decision-making can have a large impact on team performance. Decisions don’t happen on their own. The best teams make better decisions because they intentionally consider their team purpose, aspirations, implications, data, criteria, and confidence in the final decision.

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.

team, dialogue, fields of conversation

Dialogue: Moving Through Conflict To Creativity and Innovation

Do you congratulate yourself on the fact that your team never argues or even disagrees with each other? Hold on. That might not be a good thing.

Results from a study of 55 executives teams by consulting firm RHR International found that while internal cohesion and psychological safety are important to executive team performance, they are not the most critical at the enterprise level. Rather, it is the team’s ability to manage conflicting tensions—as opposed to seeking agreement—that predicts top-team performance.

Even if you don’t lead an executive team, you know that conflict happens on most teams at all levels of your company. Indeed, with the emphasis on creating diverse teams, it’s likely that the different backgrounds, experiences, and expertise will lead to more wide-ranging points of view.

The trick is not to avoid conflict, but to understand that disagreement is often a step in the conversation process on the way toward understanding the larger system you within which your team operates.

Field #1: Politeness

In this field, team members are minding their p’s and q’s, making sure not to be seen as negative. In this stage, people do not necessarily say what they think in order to keep the peace and the appearance of playing “nice”. At this point, team members work to maintain the appearance of being a cohesive team by not “rocking the boat”. Nothing new happens in the field of politeness, so it’s likely that team members leave a conversation that stayed in this field with their expectations met. Same ol’ meeting, different day.

Field #2: Breakdown

During a team meeting or discussion, it’s probably not uncommon from your team to move to the field of breakdown. You know you’re in breakdown when individual team members begin to assert their individual points of view (POV). In this field, tension in the group begins to rise as group cohesion dissipates and individuals debate, defend, and argue about the merits of their assertions, credentials, experiences, and facts known to them. When team conversations end in this field of breakdown, team members leave the conversation with awareness or new information from other POVs that challenge assumptions and information they knew coming in. When team members begin to realize that there is a different way to look at the issue or their own part in the issue/situation that they hadn’t thought of or realized before.

Field #3: Inquiry

In inquiry, team members begin to reflect on their own perspectives as parts of the whole, rather than the only or the “right” perspective. In fact, in this field team members gain a new perspective. They begin to ask questions out of curiosity about what they truly don’t understand, instead of asking leading or charged questions to convince others to see their points of view.

Field 4: Flow

The team enters level four feeling like a cohesive group again co-creating new ideas that move within the group. The team sees the bigger picture or system because of its awareness of multiple POVs. You’re in this field when energy and inspiration is high in anticipation of something new being created. Team members leave the conversation feeling like they have become different people who are more connected to who they are meant to be.

As a bonus, fill in the form below to download a graphic detailing the four fields of conversation. This tool is useful in teaching your team how think and work together for break-through results. You and your team will learn to move from conflict to creativity and innovation more effectively.

 

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strategic planning, idea, plan, action

Top Mistakes When Aligning Strategy and People

A recent survey found that one of the top frustrations of CEOs is aligning strategy and people. This was interesting to me because of the amount of research and experience available to companies about strategy, change management, employee engagement, etc. Moreover, aren’t companies meant to move an idea or strategy from the abstract to concrete reality by way of their employees?

I was curious to see what made aligning strategy and people so difficult even today. To find out, I interviewed some colleagues in Human Resources, and here are the top three challenges that emerged from our conversations:

1. Top leadership was removed from the day-to-day realities of the business.

A common impediment cited when aligning strategy and people was that senior and executive management remained separated from the reality of frontline employees during both the planning and implementation stages of initiatives. That is, top leaders often built a strategy and an implementation plan on untested assumptions and inadequate information (which caused initiatives to fall short or fizzle), mostly because they did not get vital information from employees who did the work. This, of course, lead to allocating misguided or inadequate resources and setting inadequate or unrealistic goals and milestones.

Also, by remaining removed from what was happening near the point of customer contact, employees didn’t see the strategy or tactics as realistic, which in turn made senior management lose credibility. Further, by remaining distant from the frontline realities, top leadership didn’t act as role models for everyone else. Instead, they seemed to take a “do what we say, not as we do” attitude by imposing their perspectives and plans on employees as they directed the work from afar. Thus, employees viewed senior leadership as avoiding accountability and passing the buck, which led to employee resentment that undermined employee engagement and, ultimately, the initiative itself.

2. The organization fails to intentionally prioritize and align strategy, vision, goals, and daily work

Another challenge that came up was a lack of shared understanding of how to translate strategy and goals into actionable tasks and behaviors that would make the desired difference. Often, top leaders assume that once goals were communicated to each respective area of the company, the people would automatically know what to do to get the desired results. Each successive layer of leadership throughout the organization provided little guidance throughout the organization about how employees needed to adjust and redirect their focus, energy, and targets. Further, many companies failed to prioritize how and where to deploy resources at various stages throughout implementation. This created confusion around the cadence and priority of work among departments, divisions and teams.

Instead, when implementation began, it became painfully clear to those performing the work where different areas of the organization stepped on each other’s toes, were working at cross-purposes, or were pursuing uncoordinated outcomes. The end results were internal conflict around competing interests between departments and divisions, confused communication, and even resentment between areas.

3. The organization lacks shared values and behavior norms.

Another reason that for the conundrum of aligning strategy and people was that the organization had not intentionally identified, defined, and prioritize its values. This meant there were few if any norms for how people were expected to work together. Without shared values and norms, each company area and each individual substituted their own values or their own interpretations of company values as they performed their work, made decisions, and interacted with each other. For example, one department valued creating profits for shareholders over everything else, even though that was not a primary goal of the initiative. This caused confusion and resentment as the one department worked at cross purposes with other departments. In other words, without shared values and norms, misinterpretations and miscommunication occurred frequently, leading to mistrust between different areas of the organization.

To conclude, in the 21st century, CEOs still struggle with aligning strategy and people, which goes to the heart of what leadership is all about. To do it better, most in leadership positions need to focus on what others in the organization need from them. First, senior leaders and executives to engage with employees at all levels of the organization to inform the strategy and implementation and remain engaged as role models throughout. Next, senior leadership must intentionally and clearly translate the strategy into current priorities and monitor and adjust those priorities throughout the initiative being mindful of and helping to resolve competing interests along the way. Finally, top leadership must foster an intentional, common culture that defines and reinforces a common language and common value-based behaviors to enhance collaboration.

 

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.

individual, team, team identity, team purpose

5 Ways to Transform a Group of Individuals into a Team

In the U.S., most people are taught from an early age to be individually competent and independent. It’s no wonder that most of your employees have some difficulty in knowing how to work effectively within a team. Here are five things you can do to forge a collective sense of “team”:

1. Create Routines That Signal Start of Team Space

Being part of a team is like being a partner in a marriage — both require individuals to give up some of their individual desires and aspirations in service to the group. (Read a previous post I wrote about the ego “sacrifice” required here.) As a team leader, you can reinforce this notion with routines that are designed to signal that the group is entering “team” mode and to put their individual goals to the side.

Examples of these routines are:

  • At the beginning of team meetings, consider starting with a few seconds of silence to allow everyone to bring their focus into the meeting.
  • Use a team “check-in” to allow each individual to engage with the rest of the team from the start.
  • During an initial team or project launch, ask each individual to share what baggage they intend to leave behind (past quarrels or resentments, habits, tendencies, etc.) that won’t serve the team purpose and stakeholders.

In short, you can build small habits into team processes to reinforce the notion that everyone is moving into team mode where the team and its work is the focus instead of furthering individual agendas.

2. Frequently Revisit Team Purpose

To maintain the focus on the collective team endeavor, always remind your team of its purpose. Reminding the team why your team exists is a fundamental way to establish and re-establish team focus. Everything team members do — from the behaviors needed to achieve team success, to the goals and objectives they strive to achieve, to the processes they create for high quality output, should all come from to the team’s purpose. This is also true for each decision made and the roles and responsibilities assigned. In short, team purpose informs everything your team does. Team purpose reminds your team that their collective endeavor is not about them as individuals as much as it is about the team as a whole and the benefit it provides to others.

3. Keep Stakeholders at the Center of the Team’s Work

It’s easy for team members to get overly focused on their individual agendas and responsibilities. Yet, your team’s success is ultimately measured by how well its collective work provides beneficial value for stakeholders. In fact, stakeholders and their needs are the reason for your team’s purpose, which in turn drives your team’s work. (Read a previous article on how to take yourself out of the center.)

To keep your team’s focus on stakeholders, connect with them from time to time. Staying in touch allows your team to discover how well your team is providing valuable benefit to them and whether the relationship is good. When your team sees its stakeholders as central to team operations, you prioritize the collective team endeavor of serving stakeholders over individual team member interests.

4. Make Vulnerability and Fallibility Okay

One of the big reasons individual team members can be overly focused on themselves is that they want to appear capable. Yet, each human on your team has flaws. To mask those flaws, individuals often balk at admitting they sometimes lack skills or that they make mistakes. That’s why it’s important that you as team leader show that it’s okay to admit you aren’t all knowing, may lack some ability, and will own up to mistakes in the spirit of learning. Additionally, your team might consider creating norms around these concepts.

Acknowledging human frailties permits team members to accept each other as individuals. It also can focus them on learning together as a team rather than protecting their individual egos.

5. Create Team Accountability for Individual Team Member Development

As suggested by Keith Ferrazzi, you can forge a deeper focus on the team by creating a Team Relationship Action Plan. The key to such a plan is to ensure each individual team member identifies their own areas for growth. Then, they ask for what they need from other team members to make gains in those areas. This creates mutual accountability between each individual and whole team for individual development that furthers the team purpose and goals.

To conclude, individual talent and creativity are necessary contributions to team success. However, successful teams are able to create a singular team focus to serve their stakeholders. Don’t rely on this happening naturally; consider trying some of these ideas to routinely reinforce what it means to be a team.

 

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.

team, collective, individual

Challenges of Forging Individuals Into a Team

How does a sense of team emerge where the whole is prioritized over the individual, especially in Western cultures where the emphasis is on the individual?

A team is a specific type of group where individuals come together to accomplish a shared purpose. In a team, the individual team members bring their unique talents and perspectives and work interdependently to achieve a unified outcome. This requires mutual responsibility, accountability, and support.

Move from a Focus on Individual Team Members to a Focus on the Team Purpose

With the complexity of today’s world, many companies are finding that individuals working by themselves but together with a common goal doesn’t rise to meet the demands of today’s complex and changing world. The creates an “every person for themselves” approach that falls short. Thus, the challenge for many companies today is to create true team where its “all for one and one for all”.

Forging individuals into a team requires the ability to create conditions where team members express their individual talents in service of the team, while keeping their focus on achieving the team’s purpose and serving the team’s stakeholders.

This is easier said than done because most people have been raised to focus on their own talents, needs, and goals. When this is the case, a focus on individuals is at the center of decision-making. Instead, this is where the team’s collective purpose, goals, and stakeholders should be. Consequently, the team can easily devolve back to being a group of individuals, each in pursuit of looking good individually.

As with most things in life, it’s a balancing act. A healthy team must strive for a balance between encouraging the individual team members to fully contribute while ensuring the shared team purpose drives the work.

Here are some things to monitor if you want to forge a collection of individuals into a high-performing or even transformative team:

Strive For Your Team’s Individual/Team Balance

A team leader along with the team must strive to create conditions where individual team members:

  • know which unique skills, knowledge, and abilities they contribute to the team.
  • are willing to reflect on their abilities and their limits to grow through the challenges of working with others.
  • have interesting and purposeful tasks to perform.
  • are willing to engage in productive conflict to find creative solutions with others.
  • are willing to ask for and offer help when needed without judgment.

Additionally, the team as a whole must:

  • agree upon a shared purpose, norms, goals/aspirations, and priorities.
  • recognize and appreciate individual contributions and encourage individual growth.
  • prioritize its work together with the stakeholders and shared purpose at the center.
  • take collective responsibility to improve as a team and to assist each team member in their individual development
  • engage in dialogue and productive conflict to find creative solutions
 Warning Signs That You’re Losing the Individual/Team Balance

To strike that individual/team balance, there are also things to avoid.  For example, signs that the focus is too much on individuals include:

  • individual opinions and preferences drive decision-making over what’s best for the team and its stakeholders.
  • the team allowing a louder or outspoken team member to dominate team discussions frequently.
  • the team allows individual preferences or behavior to derail group progress towards a shared goal.

Signs that the team might be stifling individual participation include:

  • group think sets in — team members don’t challenge interpretations or points of view out of habit or because they fear not being seen as “team players”.
  • a dogmatic or misguided group personality emerges that isolates the team and creates difficult interactions with others outside the team.
  • the team as a whole dismisses individual contributions (+ and -) that could lead to breakthroughs.

Building a great team is not easy. When you get full team member participation that serves the purpose of the team, it will be a thing of beauty.

 

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.

 

failure, learning

Why You Should Prize Failure

Failure happens when a desired or expected outcome doesn’t materialize. It can happen whether or not there was something you could have done about it, too. Whether the mistake is a small glitch or a major flop, failure often weighs heavily on you personally because you’ve been conditioned that, without exception, “failure is not an option”.

This is a lot to overcome. In most people’s experience, nothing is perfect; you and the people around you are flawed, and the world is constantly changing. Thus, you’re not always going to get things right on with mistakes, foibles, and failure and re-frame them as ”learning”:

1. Failure points to weaknesses in behavior, skill, processes, your overall system, or level of support provided.

Use an error to examine a weakness in how you are performing the work. People involved may need to build technical or interpersonal skills. The steps designed to produce the work output may be inadequate. Also, you might need to increase follow ups or check ins during a process to increase the ability to get and give needed guidance.

2. Failure provides you new information and data about what does and doesn’t work.

Mistakes help you home in on what will ultimately work well, especially when you are in uncharted territory. Repeated, incremental failures can help you fine tune toward success.

“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” – James Joyce

3. Failure can highlight false assumptions.

Consumers didn’t embrace the Ford Edsel in the late 1950s in part because the company mistakenly assumed consumers wanted big cars when they wanted smaller, more economical ones. The maker of Coke incorrectly assumed that it would convert Pepsi drinkers if it made its product taste more like its rival. While it’s too bad that these companies went all the way to market with ill-conceived products, they did learn that their thinking was flawed at a fundamental level.

4. Failure can create curiosity that leads to inquiry and more engagement.

With an eye towards learning, you can use failure to focus your team on the work. To do this you must avoid blaming and shaming individuals, which can drive a wedge in the middle of your team. Instead, focusing on what happened can bring your team together to solve problems. Additionally, your team can go one step further to share what they learned with others in your organization.

Perfection is not the goal. Nothing and no one will ever be 100% error free. Rather, view the performance of work as a creative process that can teach you a lot through the errors, mishaps, and failures that occur along the way. Be grateful you have opportunities to discover what and how you can improve the next time.

 

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER OR BLOG? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.