Team Trouble? How to Build a Team One Person at a Time

My phone rang again this week. It was a front-line leader I have known for years having team trouble.

“I can’t get them motivated. They just don’t seem to care like I do. I am not sure what to do, I’ve tried everything.”

I have received this same call many times over the years, not from this person but from others in similar circumstances.

When the frustration level hits a wall like that, I go back to my most fundamental belief about team building: great teams are built one person at a time.

Until that fundamental trust is built between the leader and each individual team member, team meetings will likely remain superficial and team builders won’t get much traction.

Also, it’s a lot less daunting to think about how you can empower one person’s success, rather than feeling like you need to influence an entire team all at once.

Doing this involves meeting the person where they are. And as Dan Rockwell suggests, adapting your style the person you are working to influence.

Steps for One Person at a Time Team Building

Set the stage with the group

  • Start positive: express your commitment to their development
  • Be careful not to position it as fixing something broken
  • Let the team know you will be reaching out to set up individual meetings

Prepare by thinking about your impressions of each person

  • What are they most proud of?
  • What do they care most about?
  • What excites them?
  • What’s their biggest strength?
  • What seems to scare them?
  • Who do they respect? Why?
  • What is their role on the team?
  • What do they want to do next?

Hold individual discussions

  • Ask some of the questions above
  • Really listen
  • Resist the urge to comment or challenge, take it all in
  • Consider: what surprised you? What did you learn?
  • Agree on one or two key actions with measurements of success
  • Pick one great thing and ask them to share back at the next team meeting
  • Establish time to check in

On the side

  • Find time to learn more about who they are and what they do outside of work
  • Share a bit about yourself and look for common interests
  • Look for opportunities to work with them on something fun
  • Encourage opportunities for team members to work together

Incorporate some highlights into future team meetings

  • Start with asking each team member to share something they are proud of
  • Ask them to share a best practice or teach something
  • Have them share wins around their key actions

Please share your experiences what team building techniques have worked best for you?

The Reluctant Leader: Why Confidence Matters

Sometimes people find themselves in positions of leadership before their self-confidence has caught up with them, and are reluctant to lead.

Helping reluctant leaders to see themselves as the leaders they are, can make them more powerful. Here’s a story of why confidence matters.

Yesterday I herded cattle.

Not by myself, but with an eclectic group of 7 other novice city slickers out to try something new.

As we began our journey, I overheard our reluctant young cowgirl guide tell her friend “you know this is just so hard for me, I am not a leader, I am much better at following.”

She then proceeded to guide us on a journey which involved the complex balancing act of leading horses, cows, annoyed bulls, and inexperienced, unconnected strangers. Everyone followed. She knew what she was doing and she taught us well.

Under her competent leadership, we all worked together and herded the cattle just where they needed to go— having fun along the way. When one of us would get mixed up in the middle of the mooing mass, she would shout “you’re a cow!” That was our signal to move to a more productive and safer space. She used everyone’s name, and constantly checked in with each person on their feelings and how they were connecting with their horse.

She was indeed a leader.

Except for one thing.

She lacked confidence which surfaced in the way she spoke of herself.

“Oh, I am not very good at getting people’s attention.” “I really talk too much, it’s not good sometimes I just can’t stop talking.”

I watched as people were leaving, and I am fairly certain this impacted her tips.

She was teaching people what to think about her.

As leaders, what we say about ourselves matters a lot.

How can we help young leaders to feel more confident in their abilities?

 

Leadership, Influence and Self-Deception

In the context of the conversation on “influence,” my friend, Lisa Kohn turned me on to The Arbinger Institute’s work on Leadership and Self-Deception. Not a new book (first published in 2000), but quite useful in this context.

The main idea, in any leadership role, we must first look deeply at ourselves– and understand how our experiences and motives impact our view of others.

“Self-deception, blinds us to the true causes of problems, and once we’re blind, all the ‘solutions’ we can think of will actually make matters worse. Whether at work or at home, self-deception obscures the truth about ourselves, corrupts our view of others and our circumstances, and inhibits our ability to make wise and helpful decisions.”

The first obstacle is understanding when we are operating from a less than objective place.

The irony is that even when we think we are working on a conflict, or working on ourselves, we can’t really do it, if there is self-deception involved.

From a place like this, it’s tough to.

change ourselves (because we don’t believe we need to)

implement new skills or techniques (because we are not truly open)

communicate clearly (because we are not sure how it will be received)

reach compromise (because we believe our way is right)

what else?

I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter

The conversational thread following my post last week on Email as a Reflective Practice led me to a fantastic post from Germane Consulting group, Dear Leader:  Do We Have a Deal?

They imagine a letter written by an employee to a CEO, looking for all they need spiritually and developmentally from the relationship.

Here are a  few key points from the letter in the Germane post:

  • Trust me to do the things you brought me here to do, and then some.
  • Know, I mean really know in your heart and mind, I am a rich (not in dollars) human being with a multidimensional life, and please take that into account
  • Time and space to play with others, because that’s another way I learn and come up with really good ideas

What if my employees wrote me such a letter?  What would it say?

Asking folks to write such a letter would be a fantastic way to start a new job… both as reflection for the team, but as vital input to set the cultural stage and norms.

I may just do that in my next role.

But what can I do now?   I just did an open-ended employee survey (and received lots of great candid insights), and I have my team doing the “mid year, end of year letter” I talked about in the Email as Reflective Practice post.  So asking my team for more writing at this stage of the game, is not in the cards.

So, as a reflective practice, I am writing myself a letter.  A composite of the hopes and asks I have heard from my teams over the years.  An aspirational list I use to guide my actions… sometimes more effectively than others. Not yet written down until this rainy Saturday afternoon.

A Letter To Myself

Dear Karin,

Here are the things we need most from you as a leader.

  • Establish a trusted place at the table–the more credibility you have at the senior levels, the more you can advocate for what we need to accomplish.
  • Say the tough things that need to be said– nudge us to do that too.
  • Be transparent about what is going on–trust us with the real story.
  • Help us understand how you think and process, let us in your head.
  • Build a strong and diverse team–let us hash out our differences without getting involved.
  • Care deeply about our careers and help us to grow– continue to support us after you have moved to the next role.
  • Encourage us to take risks– be gentle when we fail.
  • Tell us when you screw up– maybe we can avoid the same landmines.
  • Give us direct and candid feedback (but sugar coat it a bit more than you sometimes do).
  • Come to the field with us, roll up your sleeves and get involved, that’s how you will learn.
  • But, don’t get too involved, we’ve got this.
  • Let us use your energy strategically, in recognition and in large events.
  • Role model work-life balance– be interested in, and support us in our outside lives
“I am grateful for all the teaching my teams have done through the years to guide my development as a leader.”

Namaste.
Karin

I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter

The conversational thread following my post last week on Email as a Reflective Practice led me to a fantastic post from Germane Consulting group, Dear Leader:  Do We Have a Deal?

They imagine a letter written by an employee to a CEO, looking for all they need spiritually and developmentally from the relationship.

Here are a  few key points from the letter in the Germane post:

  • Trust me to do the things you brought me here to do, and then some.
  • Know, I mean really know in your heart and mind, I am a rich (not in dollars) human being with a multidimensional life, and please take that into account
  • Time and space to play with others, because that’s another way I learn and come up with really good ideas

What if my employees wrote me such a letter?  What would it say?

Asking folks to write such a letter would be a fantastic way to start a new job… both as reflection for the team, but as vital input to set the cultural stage and norms.

I may just do that in my next role.

But what can I do now?   I just did an open-ended employee survey (and received lots of great candid insights), and I have my team doing the “mid year, end of year letter” I talked about in the Email as Reflective Practice post.  So asking my team for more writing at this stage of the game, is not in the cards.

So, as a reflective practice, I am writing myself a letter.  A composite of the hopes and asks I have heard from my teams over the years.  An aspirational list I use to guide my actions… sometimes more effectively than others. Not yet written down until this rainy Saturday afternoon.

A Letter To Myself

Dear Karin,

Here are the things we need most from you as a leader.

  • Establish a trusted place at the table–the more credibility you have at the senior levels, the more you can advocate for what we need to accomplish.
  • Say the tough things that need to be said– nudge us to do that too.
  • Be transparent about what is going on–trust us with the real story.
  • Help us understand how you think and process, let us in your head.
  • Build a strong and diverse team–let us hash out our differences without getting involved.
  • Care deeply about our careers and help us to grow– continue to support us after you have moved to the next role.
  • Encourage us to take risks– be gentle when we fail.
  • Tell us when you screw up– maybe we can avoid the same landmines.
  • Give us direct and candid feedback (but sugar coat it a bit more than you sometimes do).
  • Come to the field with us, roll up your sleeves and get involved, that’s how you will learn.
  • But, don’t get too involved, we’ve got this.
  • Let us use your energy strategically, in recognition and in large events.
  • Role model work-life balance– be interested in, and support us in our outside lives
“I am grateful for all the teaching my teams have done through the years to guide my development as a leader.”

Namaste.
Karin

Failing Better: Please Help Me Fail

Failing happens. Helping our teams to learn from failure can be one of the most vital aspects of our role as leaders. Even when the situation seems devastating, how we show up can make a tremendous difference in someone’s growth.

John Maxwell talks about this well in “Failing Forward.” In fact, I have bought many copies of his work, and have shared them over the years when the time seemed right. I have also used the concepts to help recover from my own mishaps.

Failure is the key to success. Many so-called “failures” are just steps along the journey.

But what about when we really screw up?

Here’s my first big leadership memory on the subject. It was over a decade ago a pivotal moment in my leadership development. It happened in my pajamas.

I hadn’t slept all night. I was completely stressed because I had to terminate several employees that morning for integrity violations. I fully agreed with the decision, but that did not make it much easier. I ran approaches to the meeting in my mind all night long nothing I could think to say seemed right.

Then, my husband poured me a cup of coffee and said, “look, if I was going to be fired, I would want to be fired by you.”

That was it.

I completely changed my approach. I threw away my imaginary script and just showed up.

I met with each person. I listened with my heart, and then I fired them. But then, we talked deeply about what they had learned dreams, hopes, talents, skills and next steps. I don’t know what those guys are up to now. But I do know that at the end of each meeting, I heard the same reaction, a real “Thank you.”

Since then, I have had the privilege to support many small and big fails (and consequently many small and big wins).

Stuff that can help:

  • Stay calm
  • Be calming
  • Ask a lot of provoking questions
  • Ask some more questions (look for patterns)
  • Ignite confidence
  • Listen for a clear recovery plan
  • Establish a time to check-in

Self-Directed Meets Connected: Gentle When Needed

Leadership challenges us to anticipate what is happening in the hearts and minds of our people. This is particularly difficult when working with strong, self-directed human beings. Strong performers are self-critical by nature and when the going gets tough, the tough get going usually starting with beating up on themselves. Leaders can help by staying connected, and offering compassion.

I experienced this first hand, when I was the one struggling. I was the leader of a large retail sales team, and it was one of those big days with high expectations. I had started at 4am and was driving from store to store to rally and inspire the team. Each hour, the sales totals would flash on my phone via text message. They were disappointing. I felt more stressed with each incoming tone. And then the phone rang. It was my boss. “Oh great,” I thought. “He is freaking out too.”

“Where are you?” He said.

“I’ve been to 8 stores, headed South for more. Everyone is working really hard ” I wanted him to know I was “on it.”

“Please pull over now,” he said firmly.

And then continued, “Stop it.”

“Stop what?” Not the response I had expected.

“Look in the mirror. See that look on your face? Stop beating yourself up. I know that you planned well, the team is prepared, everyone is fully customer-focused, and you are executing on all cylinders, Aren’t you?”

Uhhh, “yes,” I said, still surprised by his reaction.

“The only mistake I see happening is the one you are about to make when you go into that next store. No matter what you say to the team, they are going to see that look of disappointment on your face. It is going to crush them because they care about pleasing you.

Powerful coaching. He was absolutely right He knew me. He knew my team That is exactly what was about to happen.

That was the best coaching he ever gave me.

I experienced this from the other side of the coaching fence as well. I was talking to a seasoned member of my HR team. She was really upset at how a project had turned. Then she sighed, “and on top of that I am being yelled at.”

I was startled. I had been making every effort to stay calm and offer support (even though I was really frustrated).

“I am so sorry, I didn’t mean to yell at you, I know this was an honest oversight.”

“Oh, it’s not YOU who is yelling at me, it’s ME yelling at ME, and that’s far worse.”

Indeed.

Sometimes the best we can give our teams is empathetic connection.


Felons, Leopards, Spots and Feedback: A Short Story of Missed Opportunity

Last night I accidentally had dinner with an old college friend. It was one of those fun chance meetings which quickly leads to a run down of every mutual acquaintance and what they are up to. He shared a story that got me thinking about feedback, and my responsibility to give it.

The Story of Missed Feedback

He began, ” and Joe (not his real name) is a convicted felon.”

“What! Story, please.”

Joe is a bright, talented guy who quickly became a successful businessman. My interpretation of the story is that his white-collar crime was not an oversight or an accident, but a substantial breach of integrity motivated by greed and vengeance.

I looked at my friend, “I am embarrassed and sad to say, that I’m not shocked.”

So why wasn’t I startled by this news? In my interactions with Joe there were times when things just didn’t feel right in the way he treated his relationships or stories that just didn’t stick together. At this point, the details are fuzzy, but I do remember thinking, “I should give him some feedback.”

I never did.

Why hadn’t I?

Was I afraid? Worried it “wasn’t my place?” Worried I would lose the friendship?

What if I had?

What if others had in the 20 years between then and now?

What if friends and colleagues had called this leopard’s’ spots as they saw them emerge-when the stakes were low. What if he had more ticked off people calling his bluff along the way? Would he have failed sooner and softer? Or, perhaps they did. I will never know.

What is our responsibility to give feedback and hold up mirrors for our friends early in the game?