Tag: Facilitation and Workshops

Accelerating Teamwork

Optimising a Team’s Potential by Accelerating Teamwork

Workplaces depend on team effort more than ever.  What’s driving this?  In part, it’s the frenetic pace of change, redundancy was once an infrequent occurrence, now it can be a weekly event.  This creates ambiguity and uncertainty, which can be both exhausting and threatening at the same time.  One certainty amongst this uncertainty is that teamwork comes to the fore.  A united team, underpinned by its collective knowledge and experience, is going to better weather adverse situations.  A silver lining in this is that mutual effort accumulates and makes the next challenge easier to handle, a win/win for the organisation and the individual.

A challenging statistic from a survey by the Centre for Creative Leadership (CCL) indicated 86% of leaders surveyed believe that the capacity to work across demographic, geographic, stakeholder and other boundaries is extremely important.  Yet only 7% of these leaders described themselves as “very effective” at working in cross-boundary teams.

The consoling fact in this figure is there must be huge potential for organisations to harness this upside potential!

So how can this process of working as a team be accelerated?

Self-awareness is the starting point for accelerating teamwork.  Feedback is key to self-awareness.  Feedback should come from multiple sources including assessment tools, colleagues, third-party business parties (suppliers, customers), associates and friends. A high degree of self-awareness allows each team member to excel and exploit his or her full potential.  What this includes is identifying each person’s skill potential; their operating style; and where they may need development.

Encouraging individuals to share something about themselves is a good step towards accelerating team development.  It’s important to provide an environment conducive to this that promotes openness. A simple team building exercise is to ask people to select a photograph or symbol that means something to them, they then share what it means to them and why, invariably you learn much more than where they went to school or their favourite food.  Once people start to talk about their photo/symbol you can ask more questions and understand whom they are.

A shared purpose will accelerate teamwork.  At times the conversation around purpose is missed if the team assumes they have a shared understanding of the “why”. A real conversation, with no ‘super chickens’ (a term from Margaret Heffernan’s TED Talk – “Why it’s time to forget the pecking order at work”) around the team’s purpose, followed by the underpinning behaviours achieves this objective.

Being conscious of the desired team behaviours requires relentless focus (we are only human!). If the team selects behaviours such as curiosity; challenge; listening; and optimism then a strategy may be to focus on one behaviour until it becomes “how we work”, then progress to the next.

Optimising a team’s potential takes time and effort.

So what can you as the leader do right now?

  • Get people talking – face to face, over the phone, Skype – whatever media is available
  • Have some fun together – this doesn’t mean the team has to climb the high ropes – this can be simple: individuals share a Dilbert cartoon that appeals to them; using an abstract image ask individuals to identify what they “see”; have a ‘cook-off’ and ‘break bread’ together, humour and fun is a key ingredient in highly satisfied teams
  • Buddy up individuals – this is a great idea until you are able to get the team together (either physically or virtually)
  • Collaboratively establish a team charter – these are the norms that you and the team establish to ensure efficiency and success.
  • Role model the behaviours you expect from your team – the team will take cues from the leader about what is expected and acceptable behaviour – discuss these expectations as soon as possible with the team

Accelerating teamwork is possible.  The benefits will be worth the effort.

Being Memorable

Getting Your Message Across and Being Memorable

Anything to do with change can often be challenging to communicate. To be memorable and to get your key messages across, you need not only need to think about the why, how and the what (ie. Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle framework) you also need structure.

A presentation, meeting or discussion has three elements to it, the beginning, the middle and the end, obviously. Each part is critical but each has a different effect.

The beginning links into the term ‘primacy of learning’ – this is when you are likely to have the greatest effect. This is where you need to make your key points in putting forward your proposition. It is what the listener is most likely to retain cognitively. Many people thread their key thoughts throughout a presentation but this will only dilute the effect.

The end is also critical as it benefits from the ‘recency of learning’- we all know that what you hear last is likely to remain with you, but not to the same extent as what you hear at the start.

Primacy of learning is king in the process.

This brings us to what you say in the middle to be effective and to reduce the clouding over effect in the eyes of the people you are presenting to.

So how do you make this section effective?

Hedwig von Resotrff (1906-1962) a German psychiatrist identified what she termed the “isolation effect”, now known as the von Restorff effect. Essentially when multiple homogeneous stimuli are presented, a stimulus that stands out from the rest will be remembered more effectively.

What does this mean for your presentation? You’ll need to seed the middle with interesting inserts to break what could be the monotony of the middle. This is not to say the middle is not important but it’s likely to be filled with ‘what, when, how’ type details. For example, while providing details you might want to throw in an interesting story, experience or anecdote.

The logic of this is simply demonstrated, if you were given a list of tasks to undertake and all the tasks were in black ink but one was in blue, the one you’re most likely to remember well is the blue.

The other important technique in the middle section is to selectively use repetition, particularly for the information that is important for the listener to retain. However, repetition should be used sparingly as it can become annoying if you repeat everything. To quote William Rastetter, CEO of IDEC Pharmaceuticals, ‘The first time you say something, it’s heard, the second time, it’s recognised, and the third time, it’s learned.’

Another important technique is to make the middle interactive – ask questions and seek input, particularly if it supports your proposition. Participants aligning their comments to your comments will either directly or indirectly lead to greater retention in their memory. I like the observation that ‘when you’re introduced to someone the only name you’re likely to hear is your own’.

These are some simple techniques to help you communicate change (or anything actually) with impact and therefore making the message memorable.

Building Resilience in an Ambiguous Environment

At the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, one of the memorable stories was from US star swimmer Michael Phelps. ‘Swimming blind’ his goggles filled with water during the Butterfly final, an event that he went on to win. “I didn’t panic,” he said. “I went back to all of my training. I knew how many strokes it takes me to get up and down the pool, so I started counting my strokes I didn’t reach the time I was aiming for, but I did win the race.” Of course, this is a story of great talent, discipline and training – his coach had prepared him for such an eventuality – but given the pressure of the event, the huge expectation and his own personal goals, it is also a tale of great resilience.

“More than education, more than experience, more than training, a person’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails. That’s true in the cancer ward, it’s true in the Olympics, and it’s true in the boardroom.”

Resilience and Constant Changes in an Organisation

The volume and pace of change in organisations, whilst perhaps not quite an Olympic event, is a constant and relentless cycle. It necessitates resilience from individuals’ time and time again in order to sustain the pace and focus that is needed during a transformation. Beyond personality attributes, such as optimism and humility, the process of building resilience is a well debated and discussed topic. Yet, resilience is still a key challenge and often creates real risk in the delivery of change. In our experience, the key element for embedding resilience lies in an appreciation of the context – one that is shaped by ambiguity.

Ambiguity is the norm in change and also the opportunity. Internal and external factors impact the change process and create an uncertain environment. One of the major impediments to building resilience is often a lack of connectedness as this impacts not only on the individual but also on morale and team dynamics and can lead to a breakdown in communication or working relationships if an individual ‘checks out’ of the process.

So what are some of the key considerations for building resilience in an ambiguous environment?

  1. Be optimistic – this does not mean that everything is to be seen as positive, rather visualise a successful outcome and ensure this remains the focus in spite of setbacks;
  2. Analyse an activity at work and see how many alternatives you can come up with;
  3. Be curious: ask open questions and listen actively;
  4. Think in reverse: instead of brainstorming how to solve the problem, ask what has caused the problem;
  5. Hold onto your sense of humour, be prepared to laugh at yourself and with others;
  6. Take charge of thoughts – as they are not facts;
  7. Make a note at the end of each day about what went well, not so well – reflect on the note the next morning and make any adjustments/refinements you need to make.

There is no shying away from the fact that resilience is hard, particularly in challenging and unpredictable environments. It is essential to embrace this reality in order to build resilience: this is the opportunity and the common denominator for all involved in change and will provide the basis for success.