From the Coach’s Corner: Information Hoarders vs. Radical Transparency

Building trust on teams is critical. Egos, turf guarding, dysfunction and game playing are too often the norm in organizations. Some professionals are absolute information hoarders failing to keep their peers informed or updated by information that could help them succeed.

In his new book “Team of Teams” retired four star General Stan McChrystal (he led army forces against Al Qaeda in Iraq) promotes “radical transparency” for teams. McChrystal said to meet the challenges in Iraq he needed his disciplined military network to adapt and pass information quickly.  This is also required of most organizations to thrive in a complex ever changing business environment.

Another McChrystal concept I applaud is his “shared consciousness” for teams with decentralized management where people are empowered to execute with their own “good judgment.” I’m reminded of my favorite example of an employee handbook: Nordstrom’s sums theirs up in one sentence, “Use your best judgment in all situations.”  But getting teams to the point where they think and act like a team isn’t easy.  Many are bogged down with dysfunctional behavior–sometimes unconsciously emanating from the leader.

I firmly believe that if you have hired the right person and they are committed to do a good job–arm them with the resources, support they need to be successful and let them do their jobs. Part of that support from leaders is arming them with the information and the contextual understanding they need to succeed.  Another is taking the “dysfunction” out of their teams which is often the most difficult perplexing and frustrating part of any leaders role.

I am here to help leaders with their people issues – I take the “dysfunction” out of teams!

This is the season for retreats – I can help facilitate your sessions for increased engagements and less game playing!

Maureen Moriarty
www.pathtochange.com
425 736 5691

Facilitation Helps Teams

One of the greatest challenges facing most leaders today is how to maximize the creativity, quality, productivity and performance of their team. In my experience as an executive and team facilitation coach, not all leaders have an innate ability to bring the best of their people forward and even fewer know how to deal with a team mired in conflict.

A workplace team stuck in conflict, silence or frustration often lacks effective leadership. Effective leaders know how to facilitate a team in conflict towards healthy safe debate and new solutions that allow a team move forward. Without these skills, teams often waste their valuable human talent and potential. Team members become disengaged and morale plummets. In the worse cases, organizations lose talented performers. Many HR exit interviews reveal the real reason for a talented employee leaving is their frustration with a boss’s lack of leadership and team building ability.

The good news — help is available. There are professional team coaches and meeting facilitators that can bring in skills and tools to help people work together more creatively and productively.

A facilitator’s role is to improve the way the team identifies challenges, solves complex problems and moves forward with a successful action plan. The best facilitators can help meetings run more effectively so teams can accomplish more with less work hours. They develop customized exercises to increase safety and team skills to make dialogue and honest candid feedback possible.

Diversity of opinions, perspectives and experiences combine to make a team powerful. Complex team workplace problems are often best resolved with more than one head in the game. Good facilitators help team’s tackle difficult conversations in a way that increases trust and performance. They engage everyone so that all team members have an opportunity to have their input considered. Team meetings that are facilitated by professionals are rarely boring or frustrating.

Professional facilitator’s or team coaches can help your team:

  • End meetings with actionable items and clear decisions
  • Increase participation, dialogue, engagement and accountability
  • Work through conflict effectively
  • Surface any “elephants in the room”
  • Test assumptions
  • Drive to solutions vs. getting stuck with whining and blaming
  • Clarify roles, task expectations and goals/objectives

Outside facilitators (meaning they are hired from outside the organization) can be effective because they are impartial and neutral without internal political agendas that are often perceived when using someone on the “inside”. Outside facilitators have no decision-making power or authority over the team. They do not control or dominate but provide opportunities as a “servant” to the team. Their goal is often to empower and help unleash a team’s collective energy and talent.

Good facilitators must remain grounded and have enough personal authority to stay centered in the heat of conflict. To be effective, they also require education and tools in group dynamics and have the skills necessary to foster healthy dialogue and help a team move from destructive patterns to healthy ones. Yes, these are skills are worth investing in!

What do facilitators do?

  • Bring in structure for effective team process — activities and tools to enhance participation, engagement and high performance.
  • Know how to intervene to help a team develop new ways of communication so people can listen and understand each other’s viewpoints and participate in healthy debate
  • Help teams develop their own ground rules to address accountability, attendance, how they handle conflict etc.
  • Help keep meetings and teams on track, dealing with “disruptive” behaviors.
  • They have tools to guide teams through solid planning, decision- making, and problem solving, idea generation and actions.
  • Bring safety to a team where emotions are running high

Like most leadership skills, facilitation skills are learned through education, training, practice, feedback, observation and best practice coaching. They are invaluable to any leader seeking to inspire and influence their workplace teams.  Alternatively, facilitation experts like me are available to help you design and facilitate more effective meetings for engagement, creativity, decision making and buy in.  Call me to arrange:  360 5807!

Increasing Employee Engagement

I am concerned about the lack of engagement that I perceive from many of my clients who work for mid to large sized organizations (by the way non profits aren’t immune). From my vantage, it seems that a disturbing large number of workers these days feel “trapped” by this recession and are desperately looking for an “exit” strategy.

Few organizations can afford a mass exodus of talent. Yet here is a brief list of common complaints I hear daily as a coach: resentment about being micromanaged by a “toxic” boss, feeling under-appreciated and/or undervalued, weighted down by too much work, too few resources, a lack of autonomy and a mountain of processes/minutia that suck the life out of them!

Employee engagement matters greatly to performance and organizational success. One study by the Corporate Leadership Council found an increase in employee engagement can generate an increase of 20% in performance and an 87% reduction in employees’ probability of departure. The same study looked at the top drivers to employee engagement and determined the most important is a connection between the employees’ job and organizational strategy and an understanding (by the employee) of how important their job is to organizational success. Other top drivers were manager characteristics (as well as cultural traits) chiefly, good internal communication, a reputation of integrity, and a culture of innovation.

Most workers leave bad bosses not “bad” companies. Workers who like their boss and who feel their boss cares about them are more productive and less likely to fly the coop. We go the extra mile for bosses who we feel appreciate us and demonstrate respect for us.

My coach’s tips for increasing employee engagement:

  • Conduct an employee survey. Take the temperature of the organization and determine how they feel about morale, culture and management. Get input about what they would change. One suggested survey resource– the Gallup 12 question engagement survey.
  • Assess the strengths and career aspirations of your people. Ask them what they do best—what are they doing when they are in the “zone” or in flow. Find out how they think they can best contribute to the team or business. Help design their day-to-day work to maximize their potential to deliver their best.
  • Assess whether or not your processes/systems are helping or hindering your people’s success and performance. Ask them what they would change and how they would change it. Often manager’s get too far from the action to know what is working or not from the vantage of those on the front lines. Ask them!
  • Delegate and “coach” vs. micromanage. No one likes having someone look over his or her shoulder all day! Talented, committed people want (and deserve) autonomy and decision making authority. If they aren’t growing, improving and allowed to captain some of their own ship, odds are they will bail as soon as they have an opportunity.
  • Appreciate and recognize your people when they deliver for you. Reinforce what you want done again. Call them, send an email or better yet, go shake their hand, look them in the eye and say thank you. Sadly, most American workers report very low levels of workplace recognition (one Gallup survey reported 60% of workers saying they receive no praise or recognition in their workplaces!) If the only time your workers hear from you is when they do something wrong—you qualify as a bad boss.
  • Set clear goals and expectations. Define what success looks like when delegating projects.
  • Give and receive constructive specific feedback. Offer helpful feedback regularly. Most people want to know how they are doing and if they are behaving in a way that is problematic for the business or coworkers. This gives them an opportunity to change and improve. In turn, bosses need to go out of their way to create safe conditions for their people to give them reciprocal feedback (this means the boss should NOT get reactive or defensive when they do!). Ask your people what they want more of or less of from you.
  • Involve your people in creating a culture of innovation. Facilitate brain storming sessions and opportunities for them to contribute to improved ways of delivering for customers/clients.

Executive Coach to Increase Dialogue & Engagement

Getting people to speak their truth in workplaces isn’t easy. Most people have been conditioned to guard themselves carefully. They are cautious and often reluctant to bring tough issues to the table or to give a boss or co-workers candid feedback about problematic behaviors. Reasons range from an intimidating boss, hostile work environment, hidden or political agendas to our natural self-protection (and/or self interest) as humans.

We pay a high price in business when tough subjects are avoided. Fearful employees walking around on eggshells are typically disengaged, unmotivated, and dissatisfied. Games of masquerade and pretending all is well prevail. Because tough issues are avoided– collaboration, improved communication, relationships and team productivity go by the wayside. Frankly, in my career coaching experience, most talented or high performing individuals will soon seek greener pastures in this environment.

As a team coach and facilitator, I try to help foster “dialogue” to transform this unhealthy dynamic. Simply put, dialogue is a conversational style that can dissolve barriers and fosters collaboration, trust, accountability and partnership. Dialogue is possible when there is trust, mutual respect and a commitment to inquiry and understanding. Dialogue can be a critical tool in workplaces to promote team learning and finding “shared meaning” even in conflict and disagreement.

Bringing in a skilled “outside” third party objective coach and/or facilitator can help foster dialogue and bring safety and skills to your workplace. They can help:

  • To create safety for participants to surface the “elephants in the room”. Skilled facilitators can create conditions where people feel safe to speak truth. Whenever there are issues/topics that team’s avoid I find blocked creativity, collaboration and learning. Avoidance isn’t a strategy. In my experience avoidance only makes things worse. The issues don’t go away they just bubble up in unhealthy ways like water cooler backbiting, rumors, and pent up frustration that eventually “blows” and good people leaving.
  • Teach your team healthy interpersonal skills like active listening. Teams can get mired in conflict without listening. Real listening with an intention to understand one another vs. debate or out argue one another is rare. Listening doesn’t just happen magically. Most people need to be taught listening skills due to the human tendency of justifying and defending vs. truly trying to understand the other’s perspective. Listening is critical for a healthy workplace and to be able to get real with one another.
  • To promote inquiry through asking the right questions and promoting a climate of curiosity. Skilled coaches and facilitators know the right questions to ask (often the “unasked” questions) to promote balanced participation and reveal the thinking behind positions or ideas. Facilitators can help surface and make assumptions visible for all while challenging participants to suspend judgment while they explore the issue. Learning can then happen through inquiry, reflection and dialogue leaving a team stronger and better able to tackle future tough subjects.
  • Develop team norms to continue fostering learning, dialogue and shared meaning when tacking difficult issues and challenges. Few workplace teams spend enough time figuring out how to work together more creatively and collaboratively. They get sucked into the myth that workplace meetings should be “task” focused. High performing teams spend as much time on task as they do fostering effective communication and teamwork.

An outside expert facilitator can help your team develop better group process and meeting ground rules to foster accountability and healthy productive meetings. Another benefit—meetings with skilled facilitators are rarely boring as usually there is healthy debate and open exchange of ideas and feedback! It’s not uncommon for me to hear participants describe well-facilitated meetings as “the best we ever had”.  Call me at 360 682 5807  — I can help you make your next executive retreat the best yet!

Managing Workplace Expectations.

Clear contracting is an important process for business success. Contracting involves establishing mutual expectations, negotiating resources (budget, time etc) and developing ground rules or agreements for working together moving forward.

I view contracting as a continuous process in any business interaction involving an interaction/transaction between people. Continuous is an important distinction as many think of contracting as something you do only in the beginning of a business transaction. To my way of thinking, anytime an employee or colleague is taking on a task for you, the principles behind contracting apply.

I had an experience with a vendor this week that offers us a “best practice”-contracting contracting example. I called a well-known software provider for technical support this week (I was in “pain” making the call). From the moment a voice answered (albeit a recorded one), they were “contracting” by setting clear expectations, “your call will be answered in three minutes or less”. From the consumer perspective this is better than being put on what feels like terminal hold. I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that I wouldn’t be waiting all day for live help.

The first live voice that came on the line began by setting expectations and clarifying their “role” with me on the call, “I am here to first identify/assess your problem and determine who best in our system can help you…” From there she brought onto the line an expert in my “trouble” area. This software technician began by establishing expectations, explaining how much help he could provide (something along the lines of you get two calls with this product for up to x amount of minutes per use.) When he realized that my problem was going to require more time than allotted, he re-negotiated with me after hearing my distress, telling me since it was my first call into their system on a new product, he would take the extra time required to help me. This is important because had he not fixed my problem, I would have returned my product, as my customer expectation was it should work! After he finished walking me through step by step his solution to “fix” my problem, he asked if he had resolved my problem to my satisfaction, which gave me a final opportunity to identify and communicate any “missed” expectations.

Most failures in business are more failures in managing expectations than they are poor performance. The number one way to lose trust with customers, workplace colleagues or your boss is to not meet expectations. Defining realistic expectations up front can save you a lot of trouble, heartache and lost business on the back end.

From my coach’s perspective, most interpersonal workplace or business conflict is a result of missed or unclear expectations and can often be resolved with a return to “contracting” to re-negotiate or re-clarifying expectations when things go off course (preferably while they are still small).

My coach’s tips for contracting:

  • Think of sharing expectations as simply communicating what you want to have happen specifically in a future situation. Whenever you are giving a task to an employee or colleague, think of it as a contracting situation.
  • Don’t assume expectations are naturally shared or are clear. Take the time to clarify standards and success criteria up front. What does success look like and how will we measure it? Don’t assume that you agree on definition of words like “adequate” or “quality performance”. The same words often mean different things to different people. Spell it out—define your standards for words like clean.
  • Paraphrase or summarize when trying to understand expectations, “This is my understanding of your expectations of me on this project…”
  • Specify desired outcomes (quantify where possible)—who will do what by when and at what cost. Identify schedule and deliverables.
  • Define roles—“My role in the project will be to…” “Your role in this project will be to…” Identify who has decision -making authority and what level of support, and communication (frequency and form: face to face meetings/email/text/reports etc) will be needed.
  • Manage meeting expectations by contracting at the beginning of the meeting around how much time we have agreed to meet, the meeting objectives and/or agenda etc.
  • Lastly, ask if anything is unclear or confusing before walking away.