Keeping Your Workplace Team on Track

Most team leaders understand that focus, participation, action planning and commitment are important for team success — and find managing the “process” challenging. Two common challenges are 1) keeping the team on track and 2) generating commitment toward achieving the goal.

Teams are often a group of diverse individuals (with a wide variety of opinions and viewpoints). It takes sound planning, structure and an effective process to foster team commitment to a shared vision and accomplish results. There are many methods that can help, but here are a few to consider.

Warm-up: Icebreakers can be helpful to “warm” the team. They often promote team-building, trust, rapport and familiarity with each other — some encourage creativity and “out-of-the-box” thinking. There are hundreds of icebreaker ideas to choose from; the most effective provide the team with insight into each other and those that promote shared laughter and fun.

Creative idea generation: Brainstorming is a group technique to generate a large number of ideas and/or potential solutions to a problem. Unfortunately, most team leaders don’t lead brainstorming sessions in a way that maximizes the creative synergy or potential of the team. There are a number of “dos and don’ts” for effective brainstorming. A few guidelines:

  • Brainstorm at the beginning of meetings (preferably in the morning) when people are fresh.
  • Go for quantity — record all ideas (on a flip chart or whiteboard).
  • Encourage creativity and fun (laughter aids participation) — even wild and crazy ideas can generate a winning formula.
  • Encourage people to build on the ideas of others.
  • Allow plenty of time.
  • While the team is brainstorming, do not allow anyone to use this time to criticize, reject, ridicule or evaluate ideas (no speeches, pontifications or arguments). Suspending judgment during this time allows participants to freely generate unusual ideas and “out-of-the-box” thinking.

Visuals help support clarity and creativity. “Mind mapping” is another technique that promotes creative problem solving via the use of nonlinear visual diagrams. In this exercise participants put up “branches” of words, ideas or tasks around a central issue or subject (represented by a circle at the center). Some teams use mind mapping to problem solve using each “branch” to represent who, what, when, why and how.

Refinement and consolidation: Once the team has collectively generated new creative ideas, the team often needs to decide (unless the leader is deciding) which idea is the best solution. There are a number of processes that can help — here are a few:

  • Establishing evaluation criteria. It’s a good idea for the team to generate criteria to judge which ideas best solve the problem — examples: “should be cost effective” or “should be able to complete by our target date.” Consider establishing a scale (0 to 5) to determine how each idea best meets the criteria.
  • Narrowing the list. Again, there are many methods for teams to prioritize and make decisions. If the idea list is long, it may be helpful to let the team “group” related or similar ideas and generate a heading idea that captures the essence of those that are similar. Another useful technique to narrow a list is called “dot voting.” It’s a simple and quick way to give everyone votes and flush out what the majority of the team wants. Each member gets a set number of color-coded dots to “vote” on their favorite ideas.

Evaluating strategies: A valuable technique to further examine upcoming change, decisions and strategies is a “Force-Field Analysis” (developed by Kurt Lewin in 1947). Using this method, teams chart two important forces — what is working toward the desired state (helpful forces in the team’s favor, such as new markets, products, technologies or other resources) and those working against it (restraining forces such as competitors, lack of resources, organizational apathy, etc.). This method helps teams visualize, understand and make clear all the forces acting on an issue. Using this technique can provide a team with new insights in the assessment of potential strategies.

The plan to move forward: Without action there are no results. Promote accountability with action plans that make clear to the team “who will do what by when.” What gets measured and tracked is often what gets done!

I can help: or 360 682 5807.

Leading Change

A common truth in today’s workplace is, “The only constant is change.” Change comes in many forms — from reorgs to new software and information systems, work flow processes and programs, etc. Many of these initiatives are presented as a method to “make our lives easier” or “make us more efficient.” The jury is still out for many workers on this.

Expectations around all of this change are dramatically different from even a few decades ago. When business owners in 1970 were asked in surveys how they viewed their future, 60 percent anticipated “no change.” Today, a mere 1 percent of businesses surveyed say they anticipate no change in their future.

The concept of “Kaizen” (a Japanese workplace quality strategy designed to constantly improve and eliminate waste) was introduced in the post-World War II era, and businesses today are still riding high on the continuous improvement wave.

What is so striking in today’s workplaces is the sheer volume of those continuous improvement changes and the rate of change to the changes.

While most senior leaders are constantly focused on making continuous improvement changes, far too few of them stop and consider the true systemic impact of these initiatives, why they succeed or fail, and what they can do to improve the success rate.

I counsel leaders to choose their change chits wisely (change fatigue is real), and to recognize that to sponsor change requires dedication, commitment and specific change-management skills and methods. Most managers today are tasked with leading change, but few have the necessary time, attention, commitment, tools or skills to do it effectively.

The truth is corporate America has a poor track record implementing change. According to the McKinsey Quarterly, approximately 70 percent of major change initiatives fail in today’s workplaces.

Another study (Booz Allen Hamilton) reflects similar statistics — with only 25 percent of all change projects being successful while 63 percent are canceled and 12 percent are identified as failing outright. Clearly, leading change isn’t easy.

The majority of my executive coaching clients reflect that managing change is their most pressing challenge.

Here are just a few of the hurdles they face:

  • It’s human nature to resist change. Change can be highly stressful. Most leaders underestimate a) the impact of this stress, b) the intensity of the resistance to change and c) the problems this resistance creates. While it’s true that some are energized (even exhilarated) by change, these individuals are the exception versus the rule. The truth is that most people dislike change — and often react with fear, anxiety, resistance or denial.
  • Nobody addressed “What’s in it for me.” Major change won’t happen without people on board. Too often employees have not been provided with sufficient information and understanding of the intention or expected benefits of the change. Complacency results when a) there is no buy-in by the expected participants, b) consequences for success and/or failure are not understood and c) the stakes aren’t high enough.
  • The “No one asked me” syndrome. Employees are more resistant to change they feel is “done to them” rather than formulated and designed with their input. The biggest mistakes leaders make are not involving the end user and undercommunicating the change. You can bet on this formula: The more surprised people are by change, the greater the resistance.
  • The “Here we go again” reaction. We have all become tired of the typical scenario of “management” making another “flavor of the month” change that in the end won’t stick. Employees learn (because of previous failed attempts at change in their workplaces) that if they wait it out, the change project will often run its course before anyone really holds them accountable to it.
  • Failure to understand change roles. Successful change happens when senior leaders understand how to effectively sponsor change, and those tasked with making the change happen learn how to be an effective agent of change.
  • Failure to look at the big picture. Few organizations take the time to map out their change efforts and realize how the change will affect the whole system.

A push on one side of the system will always cause a bulge somewhere else in the system — the challenge is to identify where and what impact it will have on the organization — short term, long term and systemically.

The good news is I can help! I have solid tools, change management models and insight that can help you beat the odds.  Call me at 360 682 5807 or email:

I coach professionals via Skype all over the world.


Best Leaders Bring Out Best in Others

Do you have what it takes to be a leader?

Trying to define the success criteria for effective leadership is challenging. It is virtually impossible to identify a singular trait to adequately capture the successful leadership experience or define its complexities. There are entire sections in bookstores devoted to this subject.

People are often promoted into leadership roles due to their “technical” expertise or because they have performed well in other roles (that may or may not have required leadership ability). Yet technical expertise doesn’t necessarily equate to successful leadership capability. Before automatically saying yes to that new promotion that will thrust you into the role of “leader,” consider doing an honest and accurate assessment on your leadership potential.

Here are a few questions and core competencies to help you gauge if you “have the right stuff.”

  • Initiative. Do you readily seize opportunities to develop and contribute? Do you eagerly volunteer for additional responsibility? The most successful leaders share a common attitude — they do whatever it takes. The best leaders do not shy away from challenge or accountability. They are conscientious, dedicated and take pride in delivering results.
  • Interpersonal skills. Do you enjoy working with people (really)? Do others enjoy working with you? Relating well with others is essential, as well as being able to adapt to many different types of people and personalities. Bullies, control freaks and manipulators (people who don’t play well with others) usually fail at leadership because most people won’t follow them.
  • Inspiring others. Can you inspire and motivate? The best leaders create an environment where people want to contribute and do their best. This is the “heart” of leadership. Successful leaders inspire others to get on board with their ideas and vision. This requires an ability to communicate clearly and with passion.
  • Emotional intelligence. Are you moody and reactive when stressed? Can you have empathy for others when in conflict or disagreement? Emotional intelligence is dealing effectively with your emotions and the emotions of others. Understanding your primary reaction tendency (and modifying it when required) is important to leading effectively under stressful conditions.
  • Self-awareness. Are you aware of your strengths and challenges? Do you know how your actions (or inactions) affect others? Do you admit your mistakes and learn from them? Do you seek feedback to improve yourself? Self-awareness is looking in the mirror. It’s understanding how our behaviors (and their consequences) hinder or help us meet our leadership goals.
  • Decisiveness. Can you confidently make difficult decisions? Leaders need to make good decisions even under duress in a timely manner. Good decision-making is often a blend of understanding success criteria, analysis, consultation, wisdom, experience and judgment.
  • Adaptability. Are you resistant to change? Today’s fast-paced and dynamic marketplace requires the ability to refocus, change direction and adapt to changing conditions. Leaders today can’t survive with a rigid attitude. Equally important for today’s leaders — being able to manage change effectively.
  • Personal integrity. Are you trustworthy? Can you handle difficult situations with integrity? Are you a role model for what you ask from others — in other words, can you lead by example? The best leaders are transparent, straightforward and earn the trust and respect of their people.

From my viewpoint, anyone taking on the role of leader needs to be focused on self-awareness and self-development. I remind clients and students that leadership skill training can’t replace who you are and what you stand for. At best, leadership training is a supplement to your core gifts, experience, wisdom, values and judgment.

Working on you isn’t easy. For many, it will be the most difficult challenge of their professional career. It requires openness, vulnerability, risk-taking and courage. It takes accurate assessment, workplace challenges, experience and support to grow your leadership skills. Think of leadership as a lifelong journey versus a final destination.

As an executive coach, I help with leadership development.  I Skype with clients all over the world and meet you where your challenges/opportunities lie.  I will teach you methods, techniques and tools to help you take your leadership to the next level.  Isn’t it time to invest in your future?  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email:


Leadership Should Recognize Staff

DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON many employers recognize employees for their hard work and contributions throughout the year with parties, bonuses and gifts. These annual rewards are important to boost employee morale, but so is demonstrating ongoing appreciation for individual excellence throughout the rest of the year.

If you have ever been publicly recognized for your workplace contributions, you know how great it can feel. Wise leaders get this and look for ways to treat people like winners.

Decades ago, both Maslow (1943 with his hierarchy of human needs) and Herzberg (1959 with his workplace job satisfaction and motivational factors) identified the basic human need for appreciation and recognition. Today’s employees rank recognition as the most important factor to job satisfaction. Mary Kay Ash (who rewarded her top performers with pink Cadillacs) astutely noted, “There are two things people want more than sex and money: recognition and praise.”

Recognizing worker contributions is the simplest motivational tool available to managers, yet it’s shockingly underutilized. Sadly, according to the Gallup survey folks, 60 percent of American workers claim they have received no praise or recognition in the past year.

Many “old school” bosses balk at giving workers a pat on the back for “just doing their jobs.” They underestimate the importance of visibly appreciating others. Times and generations have changed. Today’s youngest workers, the “millennials”(born after 1980), grew up with doting parents and receiving trophies on sports teams for showing up. This generation is positive, confident and expects encouragement and acknowledgement of their contributions. Bosses who never say thank you will drive away today’s talent. Dissatisfied workers often result in lower morale, motivation and performance and more employee turnover.

Remember that good behavior can be extinguished. If no one acknowledges efforts and contributions, employees may easily conclude it isn’t worth bothering with anymore. Smart managers understand that what is recognized (and rewarded) today often will be done again tomorrow.

An important disclaimer — give acknowledgment where it is genuinely deserved. It undermines your credibility to lavish reward or praise for mediocre or non-performance (i.e., giving someone the employee of the month award simply because it was “their turn”).

Employees tell us in countless surveys that getting encouragement helps them perform at a higher level. Yet less than half of all managers claim they actually give recognition for high performance. They say things like:

  • “They know I appreciate them.” Really, how do they know unless you tell them?
  • “I don’t have the time.” The best leaders make time to motivate their people.
  • “They’re professionals, they don’t need it.” Everyone needs recognition.
  • “I feel uncomfortable giving praise.” Practice would help.

It’s a simple courtesy to recognize a job well done. Don’t assume they know; tell them! A personal, heartfelt thank you is often deeply appreciated and motivating, particularly when it comes from the boss.

One of my favorite recognition stories is a boss who sent a brass band to a person’s workstation to trumpet what she had done to save a key client account. Now that’s recognition!


Consciously think about how to reward success. Make a list of all those whose work for you or with you and the things they have done well or beyond expectations. Walk around and look for what’s right. When you find it, here are tips on how to recognize it.

  • Just say it: “Thank you.”
  • Take the team to lunch to celebrate completion of a project.
  • Bring in dinner for those staying late to complete something.
  • Publicly share recognition and positive customer letters at company meetings, in e-mail, employee newsletters or bulletin boards.
  • Find an object that creatively symbolizes recognition. (Charles Schwab passes around a stuffed giraffe to employees who “stick their neck out.”)
  • Write a personal thank-you card.
  • Follow up with a worker’s suggestion to let them know their idea has been implemented.
  • For any company recognition programs, make sure the “rules” are consistent, clear and fair. Research shows that the most effective company recognition programs are ones that employees design.

Retain top employees

IF YOU ARE a boss, you might be surprised to learn just how important your daily words and actions are to the attitude, motivation and morale of your employees. Think back to your first job and recall how one positive or critical word from your boss could make or break your day. People are hungry for feedback, particularly positive recognition and appreciation. Unfortunately, few receive enough (if any) of it.

Leadership is a relationship. As a manager, how you interact with your employees is critical to your success — and theirs. Many studies demonstrate that caring, sincere bosses have a far more positive and sustainable influence on their staff than those who lead by fear, power and control.

Sadly, in my coaching practice I see good employees who are leaving good jobs as a result of unchecked “bad bosses.” Exit interviews are enlightening (too bad few companies do anything with them), with descriptions of these bosses such as “insensitive,” “out of touch,” “negative,” “punisher,” “demeaning,” “critical,” “micromanager” and “control freak.” It’s hardly surprising these employees want to go elsewhere.

I don’t believe that most bosses wake up with an intention to treat their people poorly or want to act like a jerk. The gap lies between the intention and the delivery. Many of today’s managers were promoted into management positions because of past performance in a job or technical expertise. Regrettably, many lack the emotional intelligence, training and skills required to build productive, empowering relationships with staff.

To avoid mass exodus of good people, senior managers need to a) be a good role model, b) pay more attention to how the managers below them are treating those below them, c) set clear expectations for improvement, and d) provide training, support and coaching to help them build emotional intelligence, team building, interpersonal and leadership skills. These are learnable skills.

The good news: improving isn’t rocket science. The bad news: it’s not easy and will likely push a number of bosses (particularly those with lower emotional intelligence) past their comfort zone.

Simple (but not easy) tips for how to be a better boss:

  • Earn the respect — and trust — of your followers. This is far easier said than done. Go back to basics — acknowledge your limitations, explain your decision-making and do what you say you will do. Request input and feedback from your people. Try not to “overreact,” and remain calm during tough times. Model what you want from your people.
  • Display interpersonal warmth. A simple smile when greeting your associates goes a long way. Be mindful of how your behaviors may be interpreted — including your pace, tone (be careful not to speak too rapidly or loudly) and body posture (crossed arms or furrowed brows).
  • Acknowledge good behaviors. Don’t underestimate how motivating praise and recognition are — people are hungry for it.
  • Be approachable and open to influence (I can’t tell you how many people tell me they feel powerless to influence their boss). Establish a process for feedback. As a manager you can’t afford to have your people afraid to talk to you about their challenges or concerns. Proving to them that you are open to their feedback and can listen to it without becoming defensive will keep you in the know vs. in the dark or potentially blindsided one day.
  • The most admired bosses share common traits — they inspire unity and loyalty with hope, optimism, clear direction/vision and their sincere commitment to helping their people achieve success.
  • Finally, treat your people how you would want to be treated.

Yes, much of this is common sense — the problem is it’s not often common practice.

It’s easy to get sidetracked and take your eye off the ball. Tiger Woods didn’t develop that great swing overnight by “thinking it” — you need to take action on new behaviors and practice until they become “muscle memory” and your natural swing.

I help clients everyday (all over the world with Skype) with the people side of leadership.  Invest in your future – Phone me: 360 682 5807 or email: