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.

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.

implement idea

This is Why It Takes Patience to Implement Your Brilliant Idea

Difficult and uncertain situations often highlight weaknesses and failures in our habits, systems and practices. Energized by any “Eureka” moment, you might emerge from difficult situations as an evangelist for a new ideas or ways of doing and being. As you begin to enthusiastically share your ideas and insights, you will often find your brilliance and excitement are not enough to energize others to change or act.

Instead, successfully bringing your brilliant insight into concrete reality when others are involved is not only about the specific policies, procedures, processes, and finances required to implement it. It requires understanding the psychological and sociological aspects of the stakeholders who will implement it, benefit from it, and be otherwise impacted by it.

Here are two things to focus on to make implementing a new idea a little easier over the long-term:

Develop a Shared Cause or Purpose with Others

Dale Carnegie famously said, “People support what they helped to create.”  Others won’t readily get on your bandwagon, even if you have authority over them. Even though your idea, insight, or cause has become apparent to you, others may not have shared the difficulties that gave birth to your idea. For this reason, many won’t understand what your insight will do for them. For some, it might even be threatening.

Thus, much of your initial work will be to create dialogues with stakeholders. These dialogues should center around the themes related to your new idea. This way, you can discover how it could relate it to their experience and be worthwhile for them. Additionally, you’ll see how you can adapt your purpose to encompass a wider group of stakeholders.

With a shared purpose, it’s more likely others will willingly invest their time, talent, and energy to bring it to life. With a critical mass of stakeholders joining you, momentum will begin to carry you forward.

Be Prepared to “Go Slow to Go Fast” Despite Your Enthusiasm

Turning your valuable insight into real change may require letting go of quick fixes and embracing delayed gratification. Meaningful change is often systemic change, and that can take time. This is true especially in the beginning stages when you are enlisting others to join with you. You must be prepared to change direction and handle setbacks.

For example, some stakeholders will be very supportive of your endeavor. You will be tempted to focus on their validation and stay the course. However, be mindful of less enthusiastic stakeholders. Some may attempt to slow or even undermine progress openly or covertly, quietly or adamantly. Take the time to engage with less supportive stakeholders to discover their concerns and how those concerns can be addressed. You may need to re-visit and adapt your shared purpose. And you may not be able to please everyone, but engaging with even the naysayers and remaining open to concerns will build your credibility.

Another way to “go slow to go fast” is by experimenting with one little change at a time to see how it goes. You’ll will be able to test any assumptions about which new ways of operating are needed or practical.

Don’t underestimate the psychology and group dynamics of creating a worthwhile endeavor from a new idea or insight. The hard work is not creating the new processes or procedures to implement. Rather, the real work happens when you bring together multiple stakeholders, who have different points of view, visions, fears, and allegiances. With time, patience, and a willingness to adjust and learn, you can make progress with a shared purpose and permission to experiment.  You’ll be fine — as long as you are prepared for conflict, resistance, complaining, uncertainty, disappointment, and disillusionment along with excitement, satisfaction, and sense of achievement.

 

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 team ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.

speaking up, truth to power

Speak Up to Disagree with Someone More Senior

Have you ever been in a situation where you wanted to state your disagreement or take a stand with someone who’s in a high position than yours,  like your boss, board chair, or someone else in leadership? It’s tough because you want to respect the person and/or the position, and at the same time, send the message that you think they’ve got something really wrong. Disagreeing with those in power was seen as an important function even in medieval times to the degree  that it was institutionalized in the form of the court jester. The jester was the only person who could use humor to disagree with or point out the follies of a ruler.

In today’s world, when you want to take a stand, or state something that someone in power may not agree with, consider a few things before you do that, so you remain a credible, respectful team player.

1. Check Your Own Motivations

Make sure that your message is not about you, but is for the good of the organization or your team. This is key because when you work with others, the central objective is not about furthering your own agenda. Rather, it’s about keeping the work at the center of the discussion and doing what’s right in the best interest of the project, the team, or the company. When you act out of unselfish motivations, you will likely reap personal benefits in the long run because because you will be seen as someone who is credible and has honorable intentions.

2. Assume Good Intentions

Everyone has good intentions and so does your boss and other powerful people. You might disagree with an assumption, an approach, the way they have framed the issue, but assume the underlying objective or reason for their “take” is good. You just need to figure out what those underlying motivations are for this individual and acknowledge them.

3. Speak Up When Stated Principles and Values Are at Stake

It’s not worth it to speak up about every detail that you disagree with. Speaking up to disagree with someone in a higher position is warranted when you see a stated ideal at issue. As you speak up to address the issue, go to the root of your disagreement by referring back to a broad principle that is very important to the company or to that specific individual. Observe how their current position seems to be at odds with a deeply held principle, purpose, value, or behavioral norm. By highlighting where you see the rub with what they’re advocating, speaking up to disagree is based on a loftier ideal and not simply a difference of opinion.

4. Help Them Save Face

This is not about you putting your boss or other senior person “in their place”. This is about you simply speaking up in a way that helps them to see the deeper issue that you’re trying to highlight. To avoid making their viewpoint seem “wrong”, you can propose a different solution or alternative that aligns with the higher ideals and with their their concerns. When you disagree in this way, other with seniority are more likely to listen to you and see you as someone who speaks up thoughtfully.

I can’t guarantee that everything will work out every time, but when you do seek to speak up to disagree with those more senior than you in this way, you remain respectful, maintain your credibility, and will be seen as a “team player”.

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 women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater presence and composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Take her 5-minute Leadership Impact quiz at https://assess.coach/firebrandconsulting to discover how you might be holding yourself back.

Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Do You “Run Toward the Roar”?

roar, face fearsWhen was the last time you got out of your “comfort zone”? Here’s a story, from storyteller Michael Meade, about the fact that seeking safety might be costing you something:

On the ancient savannas life pours forth in the form of teeming, feeding herds. Nearby, lions wait in anticipation of the hunt. They send the oldest and weakest member of the pride away from the hunting pack.

Having lost most of its teeth, ITS ROAR IS FAR GREATER THAN ITS ABILITY TO BITE.
The old one goes off and settles in the grass across from where the hungry lions wait.

As the herds enter the area between the hunting pack and the old lion, the old lion begins to roar mightily. Upon hearing the fearful roar most of the herd turn and flee from the source of the fear.

They run wildly in the opposite direction. Of course, they run right to where the strongest lions of the group wait in the tall grass for dinner to arrive.

“RUN TOWARDS THE ROAR,” the old people used to tell the young ones.

When faced with great danger run towards the roaring, for there you will find some safety and a way through.

Sometimes the greatest safety comes from going to where the fear seems to originate. Amidst the roaring of the threatened and troubled world, surprising ways to begin it all again may wait to be found.

Michael Meade, Excerpted from his book, The World Behind the World

What you can take away from this story:

1. Running towards what appears “safe” can be deceiving and lead to its own kind of trouble.
2. Run towards what scares you.

Look for those situations and circumstances that scare the crap out of you. You will never know your true talents and gifts if you don’t face what you fear to test yourself.

3. Things almost always seem worse in your head than they turn out to be.

Once you identify those fears, move beyond your comfort zone to face them. What you originally feared could end up being an elderly, toothless lion that can’t hurt you and is only a distraction.

4. By facing your fears, you find out what you can truly do and what’s possible.

And with each successive time you venture out toward a “scary” adventure, you’ll find that you are safe and capable. At the worst, you might fail but you’ll find out where you stand and what you have to learn. Then, at least you can figure out a way through to what you want.

And in all likelihood, you’ll live to venture out another day.

Which current “roar” are you avoiding? How might you test it to see if it really has teeth?

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with leaders who want to confidently become the leaders they are meant to be while maximizing the “people side” of business. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

4 Tweaks to Fine Tune Your Response to Employee Issues

employee issue

 

It takes so much energy to address an employee issue. If you’re doing it at all, you are on your way to creating clearer expectations and a better working environment for everyone. You can fine tune your repertoire with these tweaks:

Be Timely.

When finding the right time to broach an employee issue, you may fall into one of two extremes: taking immediate action when your emotions (usually anger) are high or ignoring or avoiding the issue in hopes that it goes away on its own. Neither is usually preferable.

Instead, use the 24-7 guideline. If you tend to get angry or really frustrated, take 24 hours to calm down before you meet with the employee. Alternatively, if you’re an “avoider”, give yourself up to 7 calendar days to address the issue. If you don’t, then fine. Let it go. But you don’t get to bring up the situation again in the future because you chose not to address it timely the first go-round.

Assume Good Intentions.

People screw up, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t intend something good underneath. By assuming and looking for the positive the employee was trying to accomplish, you keep yourself on the employee’s “side” and will avoid making them defensive.

Reinforce Their Autonomy and Accountability.

During your conversation, ask them to state what they are committed to doing differently going forward – whether that’s following the relevant policy or procedure, interacting with co-workers in a different way, or correcting a bad work habit. It’s just more powerful when the employee says what they will do differently next time, instead of you telling them what to do.

Underscore Your Expectations.

The point of addressing employee issues is to set or re-set an expectation, so they do better in the future. In addition to stating your expectations during a timely conversation with the employee, send a follow-up email that summarizes the basics of the conversation, including how you expect them to act going forward and any new commitments they made. This has the added benefit of creating something written and dated for future reference if needed.

To foster the kind of talent and mutual respect that makes a top team takes continual growth as a leader. Hone your leadership skills the next time you need to address an employee issue by trying just one of these tweaks.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with corporate leaders who want to enhance their leadership abilities to drive bottom-line results. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

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