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.

team psychological safety adaptive leadership

How Uncertainty and Conflict Lead to Innovation and Creativity

Did you know that teams rated as the “best” make more mistakes (not fewer) than others? How come? Because the better teams that make more mistakes DISCUSS them. When they do this, they can work together to reduce them. In short, these “better” teams operate in an environment of “psychological safety”.

According to Harvard Business School professor and researcher, Amy Edmondson, psychological safety is the “belief that you will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.”

In contrast to a work environment the emphasizes only accountability to produce results, an environment of psychological safety is one that:

• Appreciates diverse perspectives and encourages disagreement instead of assuming there is one correct perspective or answer.
• Allows team members to admit what is unknown, uncomfortable, or uncertain. It is not a trendy “safe space” designed to shelter team members from things they don’t agree with.
• Focuses on experimentation to find ways to address current challenge. To this end, it encourages appropriate risk and allows mistakes.
• Approaches challenges as a system instead of looking for one thing or individual to blame.
• Allows for imperfection and encourages acknowledging personal fallibility and flaws without encouraging unproductive, dysfunctional behavior.

Through her research, Edmondson identified 3 leadership behaviors that help create psychological safety:

1. A Learning Framework.

Work is framed as a learning problem; not an execution problem.  This is accomplished, in part, by acknowledging uncertainty and interdependence. In this way, the team knows it’s OK to encounter fits, starts, detours, and failure before it arrives at an end result.

2. Lean in to Vulnerability and Flaws.

As a leader, when you acknowledge your own fallibility, you emphasize the need for all to speak up and add their perspectives. You can say things, like, “I’m curious to know how you see this.” or “What am I missing here?”

3. Model Curiosity.

Ask lots of questions to show the team how to speak up to get the information they need without being afraid to look less than competent.

For your part, creating psychological safety means that you as a leader must manage your emotions and reactivity. You might think you’re modeling curiosity to encourage participation in a discussion. However, if you get visibly upset at what your team’s input, you’ll undermine psychological safety.

In conclusion, when you create psychological safety with your team, you create an environment that taps into the human element of work instead of treating them as simple cogs in a machine. When coupled with high accountability for results, psychological safety helps you create a learning team that constantly adapts to challenges. In this way, your team has the best chance of expressing its full potential. And that leads to more innovation and creativity in your organization.

Learn more about Amy Edmondson’s research and how to create psychological safety in your organization with her book, The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety or her TedX Talk.

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. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Re-Inspire and Engage Your Team with These Simple Tips

inspire engage teamIt’s easy to lose focus on the fact that your team’s work is part of a strategic plan to accomplish the company’s big picture vision and mission. You can get so caught up your own focus and tasks that you assume everyone else is automatically aware of how their work connects to the company vision and mission. Consequently, your team and its work becomes mundane, reactive and uninspired. This kind of atmosphere can lead to higher turnover and lower productivity and engagement.

This disconnect between vision/mission and daily work happens in part because you forget that leading others requires you to continually make the connection between their work and the company’s vision, purpose, and mission. Also, you might be making assumptions that others can read your mind and that they know why they’ve been asked to complete various tasks. People are not mind readers. This is why you must be transparent, explicit, and quite frankly, redundant. After all, it’s said that people don’t really “get” something until they’ve heard it 7 times.

When you don’t share the vision and overall outcome with your team for a project or individual assignment, you’ll likely experience less cooperation between team members because they will focus only on their piece. Your team doesn’t volunteer their perspectives or participate in problem solving because they can only see as far the tip of their current task — they don’t see the bigger picture or the final aspiration. When your team is this myopic, they can become defensive when mistakes happen and look for someone else to blame. After all, they did what they were assigned.

Daily work happens routinely and re-actively; direct reports are uninspired; and your team dreads meetings because they are boring. Even one-on-ones become simple updates with little discussion or input from your employees.

How To Use Vision to Re-Inspire and Engage Your Team

To inspire your team and to increase their engagement in their work, use these tips to re-connect daily work to the big picture vision and mission:

  1. Communicate the vision and mission regularly. At the start of a project, during meetings, or when processing through mistakes or failures, make a brief introductory statement to remind everyone involved why you’re working on what you’re working on and what overall end results you’re headed for. Embrace any chance you get to remind your team of the big picture for why your company exists.
  2. Connect the dots from general vision to daily work. When assigning work to your team, describe the general outcome desired and why this outcome impacts the world, your customers, the team, etc. Then describe how the team’s work is meant to contribute to moving the company in that direction. Doing this provides your opportunity to discuss which aspects of the work are critical along with the timing of the work to reach milestones.

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 women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

5 Beliefs That Are Wasting Your Time

jugglingFeel like you don’t have time to get around to important tasks? You might be frustrated that you are extremely busy but aren’t accomplishing the important stuff that would move your strategy forward. Underneath, you may be angry or resentful that you have to do it all. What if you are wasting your own time because of a few of your own subconscious beliefs? These five beliefs are counter to time mastery and could be causing you to waste your time:

1. “No one else will do it right.”

Have you ever found yourself working on a project or task that you could have delegated or assigned to someone else because you didn’t have faith that others would do it correctly? You are the victim of a perfectionistic belief that only you know how to do things to high standards. That may or may not be true, but does everything need to be done perfectly?

When assigning a task to a direct report, make sure you describe the quality standards required. To keep things on track, schedule follow-up meetings to check in and encourage your employees to check back with you if there are questions about how well something needs to be done.

2. “I can’t count on anyone else to get it done.”

Do you find yourself working on something that a direct report should be doing because you don’t trust them to get it done? Similar to perfectionism, you might have a trust issue around the timeliness of completion. In addition to deadlines and check-in points along the way, counter this belief by working with your employee to prioritize the work. This may include identifying other tasks that can be postponed, re-assigned, or dropped altogether. This way, you can keep things on schedule for timely completion without doing it yourself.

3. “I’ll pick up the slack because my employees are already overworked.”

It’s not a bad thing to assist your team with task work once in a while. However, you know it’s a problem if you believe you need to rescue them often. Also, you may feel resentful that you are picking up slack even though you chose to do it for them. When you frequently take on the work of others, you often bury yourself with work that is not of strategic value for your own role.

Before being tempted to ride to your employees’ rescue, help direct report prioritize their tasks. Often, they will be able to see where they are spending too much of their time on tasks and projects that are not that important at the moment in favor of those that are more pressing and strategic.

4. “I need to be available to everyone 100% of the time.”

When you put yourself at the mercy of the needs and timetables of others, others will interrupt your attention and focus frequently. You might “need to be needed” or “need to be liked”. It’s not selfish to schedule some uninterrupted time to work on your own tasks. It’s akin to being in a meeting when you wouldn’t expect others to interrupt you for routine questions.

To counter this belief, train your staff that a closed door means “I can’t talk to you now.” Also, build some predictable “open door” time into your schedule, when they are welcome to pop in. Finally, train them to save non-urgent questions for regularly scheduled meetings, such as weekly one-on-ones or weekly team meetings.

5. “It’s easier to do it myself.”

Yes. You can do many tasks faster than your employees because of your experience and knowledge. However, when you do this, you deprive employees of the experience. You also deprive them of the lessons they could learn from making a few mistakes along the way. Either you’re showing off or you are falling victim to a notion of false expediency.

Making time to delegate the task with clear expectations and a reasonable timeline will save you time in the long run as you build up employees’ independence and competence. Over time, you’ll be able to delegate more and more to them, saving you more time in the long run.

As a leader, your main job is to facilitate the work of others based on strategic priority. Your job is not to mire yourself down in the task work of others. When you catch yourself with these beliefs, you’ll find that they are really about you wanting to show that you can produce the work like a sole contributor. Great. But that’s not your job anymore. Time to pass on your know-how to your direct reports and free up your time to lead.

 

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 business leaders who want to increase productivity and retention by shifting their focus from daily tactical work to the strategic work required to move their companies forward. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

The Hidden Meanings Behind Those Pesky Interruptions by Employees

“Hey, Boss. Do you have a minute?” How many times a week do you hear that? It can be frustrating to hear those words when you

interruptionswere finally getting some momentum on your own projects. What can you do to maximize your own time at work by minimizing interruptions by your direct reports? First, you need to understand the hidden meanings behind them.

Hidden Meaning 1: “Should I even start this?”

Employees will interrupt you to get clarification about what you really expect them to do. This occurs when employees are unclear about your expectations or when you have a habit of jumping in to do their work (aka “micromanaging”). To counter this, get clear about how your time is best spent and which tasks and meetings could be delegated to direct reports. Also, clarify your expectations by defining the scope of work you assign them, along with deadlines and check-in points.

Hidden Meaning 2: “I’m not touching this with a 10-ft. pole.”

When things “blow up”, employees will interrupt you to solve the problem they see as “above their pay grades”. Often, you can avoid these types of “fires”. Minimize this type of interruption by exploring “why” things went sideways to begin with by using The 5 Whys technique. Once you know the root cause of the “fire”, you can put things in place to avoid these types of events and the interruptions that result.

Hidden Meaning 3: “This isn’t working the way it should.”

When processes aren’t working consistently to produce the expected results, you’re likely to get an unannounced knock at your door with a question about how to do something. Decrease interruptions due to process questions by spending time up front to (1) clarify ownership of processes, (2) automate what you can, and (3) fix the root causes of backlogs, poor hand-offs, and errors.

Hidden Meaning 4: “When are you gonna be around to discuss this?”

Your employees will interrupt you haphazardly if they are uncertain of your availability for questions and consultations. It pays to create predictable and consistent opportunities for them to give and receive information they need to do their jobs. To do this, ensure you have scheduled, timely meetings with direct reports – in groups or individually — for reporting back, checking up, and checking in. This allows you to stay abreast of what’s going on and encourages employees to save their updates for your next scheduled meeting.

Daily huddles and meetings on a weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis can cover the strategic and tactical information that needs to be shared. Additionally, you can schedule a couple hours throughout the week where your door is open for employees to talk with you for up to 15 minutes about the inevitable “things that come up”.

Instead of getting annoyed at interruptions, take the time to assess the reasons for the interruptions. Then, create the clarifications, processes, and meetings that give your direct reports the access to you that is warranted and productive.

 

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 business leaders who want to increase productivity and retention by shifting their focus from daily tactical work to the strategic work required to move their companies forward. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Employee Engagement: Ready to Call Off the Wedding?

employee engagementTired of hearing about employee engagement or ready to give up? For some companies, it is an elusive concept that’s been around for decades. So, it’s telling that companies are still struggling to figure out the magic formula for attaining employee engagement nirvana.

Perhaps the quest to attain the optimal level of employee engagement comes from the fact that “engagement”, “motivation”, and “satisfaction”, while related, are confused as the same phenomenon. I think of these terms like this: engagement is how committed employees are to taking action that will benefit the company; motivation is the reason someone will put forth effort and take action to benefit themselves or the company, and satisfaction is how employees “feel” about everything once it’s all said and done.

Engagement, therefore, is intentional, committed action taken by employees to contribute, which is the opposite of being on auto-pilot. It happens when employees are so involved in their work that they take ownership in what the company produces because the see big picture for how they fit into the whole.

It all starts with respecting employees for their talents and contributions. While there may be generational differences, every employees wants to be respected and know that their contributions to the overall endeavor count for something.

With that, Liz Stincelli, DM. of Stincelli Advisors suggests these 4 actions you can take to create greater employee engagement.

  1. Be seen so each direct report knows you as a real person. Know at least basic personal information about your employees and retain appropriate workplace boundaries in place. “I do care about you, but we’re not friends – I’m still your boss”.
  2. Communicate the big picture. Give employees information about company goals and how they contribute to achieving them, basic financials, and what’s on the horizon for the company and the industry.
  3. Ask questions and listen to the answers. Find out what’s going on at the employee issue and follow up on what you did with the information you gathered.
  4. Invest in employee professional development. Bolster their skills to further company goals and to build their capacity for future career development.

If your company is still struggling to achieve greater employee engagement, don’t call off the wedding or give back the ring yet. Be mindful that you might need to adjust the way you operate to move closer to your employee engagement goals.

 

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 women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their companies by gaining greater focus, self-awareness, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

 

Liz StincelliThis post was inspired by a conversation with Dr. Liz Stincelli. Find out more about her and her company Stincelli Advisors:
Her blog site: stincelliadvisors.com
Twitter: @infinitestin
Google+: Elizabeth Stincelli
Facebook: www.facebook.com/stincelliadvisors
LinkedIn: Liz Stincelli

8 Reasons Your Employees Want to Break Up With You

February is the month we think about our relationships. While you might not go so far as to call them your “valentines”, do you have good relationships with your employees? Having good relationships with your employees increases productivity and retention of top talent. Leaders who don’t foster good relationships with employees will find themselves rejected and abandoned like a jilted lover.

Beware of these eight reasons your employees might want to break up with you:

1. You’re Incompetent. Employees want a competent leader who knows how to communicate, sets clear expectations, addresses all relevant issues (even tough ones), gets results, and holds everyone accountable. In short, they want a good leader. If you’re not at least average in these areas, you’ll see higher than average employee turnover rates for your industry as employees say, “It’s just not working for me anymore.”

2. You’re Not Credible. (Note: there is a difference between lacking credibility and being “incredible”.) Employees want a leader who says what she means, means what she says, and does what she says she’s going to do. These admired leaders have character and integrity. Employees notice when a leader’s conduct is inconsistent with her stated values and when promises are broken. In that situation, employees will dump you for someone else as soon as something better comes along.

3. You’re Not Personally Committed to the Organization’s Mission and Goals. While you ask your direct reports and other employees to give their “all” at work, do you put the effort and time into achieving your company’s goals? As a role model in your organization, you of all people should be working hard. To do this, use your time wisely and put in the planning it takes to fulfill the requirements of your leadership role. Otherwise, your employees will break it off saying, “I’m not saying it’s you; but I know it’s not me.”

4. You’re Rigid or Stuck. While “resilience” might be an over-used, trendy buzzword right now, your employees don’t want to be involved with a boss who can’t roll with the punches. Employees want a leader who can bounce back from failure, who can cope with the disappointment of an unrealized goal, while renewing their sense of hope and re-energizing them as the company gets back on track. If you can’t bounce back when you fall, your employees will break it off and find someone else they can admire on this score.

5. You Are Focused On Your Own Needs First. Do you seek personal ambition over putting the needs of the company first? When you egocentrically put your own desires and ambitions first, your employees understand that you are simply using them to enhance your own status instead of the company’s brand. Employees provide better value to customers when they feel they matter and their leaders care about their well-being. If you’re a “user”, employees will kick you (and your company) to the curb.

6. You Are Not Committed to Employee Success. Do you think your employees should just know what to do with little guidance from you? Employees want to know how they can improve. A good leader understands that talent must be continually developed for the good of the organization. Leaders who don’t, lose bench strength quickly. Without giving specific and frequent feedback and without supporting employees to gain skills, you might just miss out on some of the best employees you could have ever asked for. They will be the “ones that got away”.

7. You Don’t Admit to Your Mistakes. Can you admit when you are wrong? Or do you stubbornly insist on being right? Leaders who admit to their mistakes show humility and courage and emphasize that taking risks may not always lead to the ideal outcome – and that’s OK because you learn something along the way. Leaders who admit their mistakes teach employees that failure is a part of trying and can be more helpful than success.

8. You Need to be Liked Instead of Respected. This is the romantic equivalent of being co-dependent. These leaders curry favor with employees in the hopes of making a friend at the expense of their duty to do what’s right for the company. Of course, it’s ideal to be both liked and respected, but if you have to choose one, choose respect. Employees will see you as unbiased and consistent (fair) if you do. And you’ll respect yourself in the morning.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman is the Executive Coach for senior leaders who want to get focused and get results. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting at: www.bethstrathman.com.