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Sunday, June 24, 2018

Harvard on TEAMS

1. Overview. HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Teams. The Harvard BusiessReview has gathered some of its best articles on teams into one convenient book. Authors and scholars like Hackman, Pentland and Katzenbach, Eisenhardt, and Amabile fill this volume with rich content for leaders seeking research-based guidance. For example, using high-end sensors, Sandy Pentland and his MIT colleagues describe accurately how great teams behave based on massive data tracking. Theresa Amabile uses hundreds of daily work diaries to help us understand that people just want to make progress toward a meaningful goal every day—the “progress principle.” And Kathleen Eisenhardt and colleagues teach us how to engage in constructive conflict to produce excellent results while preserving relationships. Here is a summary of several of the best articles in this volume.
2. The New Science of Building Great Teams (by Alex “Sandy” Pentland). What separates average from great teams? MIT researchers equipped over 2,500 people with sensor badges (like those ID badges people wear at work). MIT’s special high-tech badges collected copious interactive communication data, such as voice tone, position of speakers relative to each other, time spent talking and listening to each other—but not recording conversation. From this communication data, highly reliable patterns emerged that allowed researchers to make reliable predictions about effective team behavior. “Those communication patterns were as significant as all other factors—intelligence, personality, talent—combined.” The three key communication factors that impact on performance are energy, engagement, and exploration. Thus, in the best teams, members of the team: 
a. Talk about the same amount of time and in short bursts—no speeches!
b. Face each other and energetically gesture.
c. Connect with the team and each other individually. 
d. Carry on back-channel discussions within the team. 
e. Explore outside the team (conferences and meetings) and bring back new info to the team.  
3. Why Teams Don’t Work (Richard Hackman interview). Teams often underperform due to issues with coordination, competition, and motivation. Even excellent leaders often don’t produce great teams. To increase the chance of a great team:
a. Appoint and protect a deviant. A devil’s advocate (deviant) helps to keep the team from agreeing too much—becoming too homogeneous—a real danger to innovation. The deviant says what others might be thinking, but no one has the willingness to say. S/he must be protected and allowed to tell the truth to power and the team.
b. Keep the number of team members low. Hackman suggests no double digits, even no more than six members. Become ruthless about whom you allow on the team. ONLY the necessary few should be allowed. Don’t let politics or lack of courage of the leader get in the way of key selections. 
c. Set a compelling direction and purpose. People need to know the strategic direction—the why—of what they’re doing to have any chance at being aligned and successful. A compelling purpose with a single agenda needs to be the rule. 
d. Focus on group process. Forget guiding and correcting individual behavior. Rather, use a coach-approach and group process. Leaders need to know how to launch and assess team progress and outcomes.
e. Stabilize teams. Data shows that stable teams win more often—whether flying planes, conducting surgery, or running companies. Regular turnover destabilizes teams.
f. Engage a team coach. Leaders who receive executive coaching are not as effective as the entire team getting coaching—especially at the beginning, midpoint and end of a team project. 
4. The Power of Small Wins (Amabile and Kramer). When people make progress toward a meaningful goal every day, they stay engaged. These authors reviewed the daily work diaries of hundreds of knowledge workers and found that a positive inner work life made the difference between average and high-performing, engaged workers. And engaged employees and teams produce measurably more than others. The finding of this research is that when leaders help people make regular progress toward a goal, people feel empowered and motivated. The authors call this finding “the Progress Principle”—the single greatest motivator a leader can offer. In these diaries, best days were described with the word “progress” and on worst days, the word “setback” showed up.
5. How Management Teams Can Have a Good Fight (Eisenhardt, Kahwajy, Bourgeois) Leaders want differences to be debated without having personal attacks. Thus, separating personalities from issues is critical. Constructive conflict in a high-speed economy will be critical in the future. So how to do it? Vigorous debate on the issues but little time name-calling and politicking. These steps will help: Focus on facts. Develop alternatives. Agree upon goals, not solutions. Inject humor. Maintain a balance of power. Resolve issues without demanding consensus.  
6. Virtuoso Teams (Fischer and Boynton). Successful virtuoso teams consist of top performers; intimate and intense relationships; strong communication systems, collaboration and conflict; assumptions that consumers are smart. The temptation is to settle for OK teams. The authors’ advice: DON’T. Ordinary teams produce ordinary results. With the right strategies, virtuoso teams produce high-end results. So, 1) Assemble stars. It’s an investment worth doing; 2) Build the group ego, not individual egos; 3) Make work a contact sport. Cause face to face contact/conflict that’s managed.;4) Respect the customer’s intelligence; 5. Herd the cats. Respect individualism and keep the team focus.  
HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Teams by Harvard Business Press, 2013, reviewed by Steve Gladis, June 2018.

Thursday, June 14, 2018


Thrive by Design: The Neuroscience that Drives High-Performance Cultures (Forbes Books, 2017), by Don Rheem, reviewed by Steve Gladis, June 2018.

Overview: As a species, humans are compelled to work together on teams. Survival as a species has always depended on teams; for example, early hunter-gatherers were only able to survive by taking down large animals or farming large areas with teams of people. In today’s high-pressure, competitive workplace, we require that same kind of connection and teamwork to survive and compete. As herd animals, we need to feel connected. The author concludes that a great job in the future will be more about how it feels than how much it pays. So, creating conditions that sustain motivation, provide meaning and instill trusted relationships will produce high-performance cultures. Thus valid, regular feedback and recognition of people on the team makes individuals and the team stronger and more high-performing.
1.      The Evolving Workplace.  We’ve moved from the Age of Compliance to the Age of Choice when it comes to talent. People now have many more options and control over their employment. As a result, many people seek not only career opportunities but meaning and purpose in their professions. My-way-or-the-highway leaders will suffer epic talent losses in the coming decades. Attachment theory indicates that we’re wired to connect as humans, and when attachment is absent, we feel isolated, fearful, and vulnerable. Having reliable, trusted resources at work supports a thriving culture. Leaders who provide a relational culture (values, mission, vision), not simply a “cool” culture, develop high-performance. Our limbic, early warning system provides survival instincts and overrides our conscious brain—control precedence. When employees are immersed in a toxic environment, their brains divert important resources from problem solving and innovation to here-and-now survival. Thus, they become worn down, are exhausted and burned out. Our brains ask two questions, especially at work: What’s next? And, How am I doing? Leaders who provide regular, positive, honest feedback develop high-performance cultures.
2.      Employee Engagement.  Leaders who deliver predictable, consistent, and fair behavior; provide clear mission, vision and values; and, offer regular feedback and recognition to employees will attract and retain key talent. And, employees who feel like they’re in a safe environment will thrive. Leaders may be of three types: 1) Traditional—top down, hierarchical; 2) Motivational and Charismatic; and, 3) Transformational, team focused and relational. Isolation diminishes the capacity of people. They need connections to colleagues to free up their mental resources to become more innovative. Disengaged employees pull down strong performers, not the other way around. Don’t let negative employees hijack the culture. Leaders must model the behavior they want. Positive leadership strategically moves cultures using a positive bias that supports employee well-being, productivity and engagement. High-performance teams have a 5:1 (positive to negative) ratio of interactions. Effective leaders offer 3 intentional gifts: Validation—recognizing worth of another; Recognition—praising performance, behavior, attitude; Feedback—monthly meetings to give each employee clarity, focus and offer two-way communication.
3.      The Accountable Leader.  Without accountability, high-performers get discouraged and progress stalls. Both individual and organizational obstacles lead to such stalls. Individual obstacles to accountability: Learned helplessness, victim mentality, and holding grudges. To thwart these obstacles, leaders need to listen, be vulnerable and invite employees to be part of the solution. Organizational obstacles to accountability: Poor priorities, silos, avoiding conflict. To counter such organizational obstacles, leaders who offer inclusive decision making as a group and have open and honest communication create high-performance organizations. The old accounting saying—what don’t get measured, don’t get done—holds true. Metrics make a difference. Measuring engagement is important and must be done well to ensure you’re measuring engagement, not satisfaction; it’s of sufficient length without being either superficial or taxing; and the metrics correlate to engagement principles.
4.      Culture of Engagement. There are 4 types of engagements at any company or organization.  1) Actively Engaged—these are your highest performers, who are in a calling. 2) Engaged—they have a positive mindset. 3) Somewhat Disengaged—these folks are ambivalent and have a wishy-washy commitment.  4) Actively Disengaged—these folks are checked out and toxic.  Leaders need to give employees a sense of safety, clear focus, and training to create better engagement. Determine the level of engagement by using a valid and reliable engagement instrument. Leadership needs to get the results and issue several key themes to employees to show they’ve been heard.                                                                                                                     

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