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.

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.

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.

team environment, psychological safety

5 Ways to Back Off and Boost Team Results

Most likely, you were promoted to your first leadership position because you were good at performing the task work related to your job in your chosen field. It’s likely that once you landed a formal leadership position, you continued operating by using your expertise to exert influence or control over the task work of your team. After all, your expertise with the work is what got you promoted.

Don’t get me wrong. Your expertise is valuable. And there is value to understanding best practices. However, when leading a team, you don’t need to be so hands-on with the daily work to create a team that achieves outstanding results. You can decrease your stress AND boost team performance by being less directive and involved in how things get done. Instead, focus your time and energy on fostering a more productive team environment, individual team member development, and relationships with and between team members.

Here are 5 ways to back off and boost team results:

1. Get out of the hub.

This may sound odd to you. After all, how can you lead the team if you’re not in the loop? As the ultimate decision-maker, you do need to be aware of how the work progresses in general. But you don’t need to know every detail. All communication doesn’t need to flow through you. In fact, this contributes to any stress you experience.

Instead, relinquish acting as the hub of the team and put the work and its purpose at the center of everything your team does. When you do this, your team learns that all of their decisions are driven by what’s needed to further the work and achieve the purpose.

2. Keep the team focused on the bigger picture.

Many details will change throughout the course of an initiative, including tactics, timelines, and even goals and strategy. Trying to control the details can be exhausting.

Instead, keep your team focused on what really matters, the bigger picture. Take time to frame the bigger picture, which includes the purpose of the work, the impact it will have, the values that guide how the team operates. Focusing on the big picture opens up more possibilities for how to tackle the work. And maybe more importantly, being reminded of the big picture can re-focus the team on what’s important after setbacks and during disagreements.

3. Clear away obstacles and distractions.

Instead of directing all the action, give team members the space and responsibility to navigate the way forward as much as possible. By taking more of a back seat, you can spend your time enabling and protecting their progress. Shift your focus to insulating the team from distractions, removing obstacles, and troubleshooting.

4. Model a growth mindset.

Results do matter. And you’re more likely to achieve and even exceed the results you aspire to by adopting an attitude of curiosity and humility. Convey the idea that everyone and everything is a “work in progress”. Focus on “perfecting”, instead of on being “perfect” or achieving “perfection”.

In spite of your professional experience, back off from thinking you know best and stimulate the team’s curiosity. Instead of telling the team what to do and how it should be done, ask questions to tease out their thinking. Based on their thinking, encourage them to take appropriate risks to test assumptions, run experiments, and learn from mistakes that can inform subsequent actions.

5. Create Accountability.

When it’s ultimately your responsibility for the team’s results, it’s tempting to take the way they behave and perform personally. It can be tempting to be too focused on controlling individual team member conduct and performance.

Shift from seeing it as your responsibility to control team members to making team members responsible for their own conduct and performance. In this way, your efforts start with communicating parameters upfront, including team and/or company policies, procedures, behavioral norms, performance expectations, and other team-made agreements and commitments.

Thereafter, if someone runs afoul of an expectation, you simply address the infraction  with an appropriate response. One caveat is that if you avoid addressing known issues, you’ll send the wrong message and undermine future accountability with individuals as well as the entire team.

It may take a new set of skills for you to get the best out of others. Leading others is less about you controlling HOW your team performs tasks and is more about CREATING CONDITIONS that encourage them to be at their best. When they do THEIR best work, you have done YOUR best work.

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 senior leaders to create team environments that boost team performance. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com

Team camaraderie, group training

This is What’s Keeping You From Building a High-Performing Team

It’s invisible, silent — you’ll never know it’s there. But it most likely occurs on your team and will keep it from doing its best work.

It is the fear of speaking up about ideas, concerns, questions, and mistakes.

Twenty years of research at Harvard by Amy Edmondson found that the best teams overcome the stigma around being wrong, asking questions, making mistakes, or presenting wild ideas. That is, members of the best teams feel an obligation to speak up with ideas, questions, concerns, and about mistakes.

Surprisingly, teams that encourage members to speak up don’t make any fewer mistakes than other teams. However, because they speak up, they are able to address issues that would have otherwise remained in the shadows. Thus, the teams that encourage speaking up learn from mistakes, catch and address issues early, take more risks that lead to innovation, and are better able to adjust to improve their work.

How Come Your Team Members Don’t Speak Up?

There are a few reasons your team is staying silent when speaking up could be helpful. First, they are normal human beings who have adapted over eons to survive. Your team, like all of us, are wired to prefer certainty over uncertainty. Thus, they choose the certainty of remaining quiet and over the uncertainty of the reaction they’ll get for speaking up (e.g., getting fired or ridiculed). Additionally, humans are wired to fit in and be part of the group, instead of sticking out like a sore thumb with a crazy idea or “silly” question.

Second, past experience taught your team how to avoid pain. Past experiences of speaking up in their families, at school, or at work by asking questions or even opposing others, likely trained them that speaking up usually isn’t worth the negative reaction received.

Third, it’s possible that your team environment and/or company culture, has some respect for hierarchy and/or unwritten rules about when, where, how, and who can and should speak up. Your team’s reticence to speak up may signal that you or your company reinforces silence, even if the culture claims to value speaking up.

Why Speaking Up is Important.

According to Edmondson’s findings, the belief that one can speak up without reprisal is called “psychological safety”, and it is THE critical factor in creating a high-performing team. This is especially true when outcomes are uncertain and where people are interdependent on one another to perform work and achieve goals.

Separately, Google reached the same conclusion when it reviewed the data on its own teams to determine what made the best teams the “best”. Google found  five factors important to creating the best teams (including clear roles, goals and plans; meeting deadlines; and doing meaningful work). Of those factors, psychological safety was the lynch pin. In other words, a team could have the other 4 factors of high-performing teams, but without psychological safety,  they didn’t do the level of work that would distinguish them as the highest performing ones.

How come? When individuals feel safe to speak up about things that might show their ignorance, lack of skill, or unconventionality, new ideas come into play and new learning occurs that allows teams to innovate and improve their collaboration and the quality of their work. This is huge because when psychological safety is present, team members are able to overcome the ingrained aversion to speaking up that comes from biology, experience, and culture. So, even if they make the same number of mistakes as other teams, they have a better chance of catching mistakes earlier, addressing and resolving issues that may not have surfaced, and improving the work they do in the future. . . all by feeling free to speak up without fear of punishment or reprisal.

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 leaders who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by increasing executive presence and composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Take her 5-minute Leadership Impact quiz at https://assess.coach/firebrandconsulting to discover how she can help. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.