7 Reasons Collaboration Breaks Down

Great ideas come in halves,  these are the words I hear often from my LGL en Español partner, Kay Valenzuela. I believe it.  Work is enhanced by true collaboration. One of the best parts of my entrepreneurial journey has been the amazing collaborations, in writing, in business, in shared passions.

I’ve got four deep collaborations in process now, including writing a children’s picture book with Alli Polin  and the launch of a Parent’s Guide to Leadership (a free ebook downloadable from the sidebar.)

I’ve also had a few false starts.

Here are my lessons learned. I look forward to hearing yours.

  1. Misaligned Passions –Collaboration works best when you’re both deeply in it to win it. Your shared passion fuels inspiration. If one or the other of you is less of a zealot, sooner or later the spark will fade.
  2. Propinquity- Joining up with the usual suspects or the guy next door, simply because of convenience limits possibility. Go slower and cast a wider net when looking for potential partners. When you stumble on chemistry search deeper. Sure working with partners around the globe is logistically more tricky, but becoming easier each day due to amazing technology.
  3. Score Keeping – Real collaborators don’t keep score. They’re too engaged in the cause to count who’s doing what. The focus is on the end state.
  4. Surface Respect – For true collaboration to blossom mutual respect must run deep and thick.  It becomes slippery when one or the other feel superior.
  5. Fuzzy Communication- Collaboration requires a constant flow of real-time communication. Don’t rely on email or chats, look in each other’s eyes, even if it’s over Skype.
  6. Short Term View- True collaborators value the relationship over the small stuff. They’re willing to let go what really doesn’t matter and spend time seeking to understand differences that do.
  7. Rigid Boundaries – True collaboration involves doing whatever it takes to get the job done. Toe stepping goes unnoticed or is met with a real time discussion.
  8. Mismatched Talent – The best collaborations involve diversity of talent– pairing up with folks who amaze you (and are amazed by you.). If  anyone is not bringing enough to the party, resentment and conflict are imminent.

Leadership Spine Poems as Reflective Practice: If Your Books Could Talk…

What does your bookshelf say about you? What if your leadership books could collaborate to support your growth? Spine Poems provide new perspective on your reading choices. The idea, take a quick look at your shelf, and use the spines to create a poem.

The exercise provides perspective your topics of choice and how they hang together. Give it a try. What are your books yearning to say?

I asked my online friends to play along. Here’s what their books are saying.

Leadership Spine Poems (Examples)

Be the Best At What Matters Most-David Dye

Create Distinction
Think Sideways
On Leadership
Make a Scene
The Mission Myth
Own the StageContinue reading

Collaborative Competition: The Extraordinary Power of Trash Talk

Collaborative competition inspires. Seeing “them” inspires “us.” Competition makes work fun. Unless, it doesn’t. Stay on the right side of trash talk.  Create collaborative competition to inspire your team.

A New York State of Mind

I ran a 2000 person sales team so did the guys in New York. They were the “ones to catch” on some metrics. In others we led the way. We studied their playbook. They studied ours. We both sent “spies” to learn more. We left voice mails talking trash. My cellphone rang tunes of “New York State of Mind” and “I love New York” reminding every one of the competition.

Of course, the vision was bigger. Competition was play. We traded “players.” Benchmarking became a game. Both teams grew. The bar rose. Both teams achieved. Work was fun.

Collaborative Competition

  • inspires
  • unifies
  • finds fun
  • sparks creativity
  • improves
  • shares

Unhealthy Competition

  • hides
  • loses
  • stifles
  • diminishes
  • creates stress

Creating Collaborative Competition

“”If you want to be incrementally better: Be competitive. If you want to be exponentially better: Be cooperative.”
~unknown

Leverage competition to drive collaboration. Make collaboration a competitive game.

Here’s how…

  • Align intent
  • Interact
  • cross-pollinate
  • Share playbooks
  • Mandate sportsmanship
  • Speak well
  • Talk a little trash
  • Keep a scoreboard
  • Celebrate small victories

Words With Teams: A Simply Insightful Teambuilding Exercise

I’m always looking for ways to keep remote teams connected.  Remote work drives thirst for daily inspiration and touch points.  Sharing words helps.  Words uncover meaning.  Words inform.  Words create community.

I emailed my larger team,

“what’s one word that inspires your leadership?”

Powerful responses within 24 hours, over 40% of my team shared their words with their peers.  Powerful, easy, fun.

Words Provide Insights

Words offered quick insights.  Words revealed values (and therefore what they needed from me).  Joe’s word is “challenge,” I’d  better stretch him.  Sally’s word is “balance,” something may be off.

A Few Highlights

  • Persevere: An excellent leader will persevere despite frustration, exhaustion, discouragement or opposition
  • Navigation: Anyone can steer the boat, but it takes a leader to determine its course. If you know where you are going, others will come on the journey with you
  • Flexibility: It’s important to look at others points of view outside of your own,  or change course when necessary. I think we grow more as an organization and as individuals when we are open to the possibilities
  • Energy: I believe that everyone carries with them a certain “energy” that determines their way of being. It’s not what you do, but how you do it.”
  • Succinct
  • Loyalty:   I believe that loyalty should be at the core of leadership.  You cannot expect a tem to follow your vision if you don’t have loyalty or if they don’t believe their leader is loyal to them.
  • Humor: I try to keep things humorous.  A happy team is a productive team

How To Build A Community of Collaboration

What is a community?

Can you have one at work?

Should you?

If you want more of a community feel, how do you create it?

Whose job is it?

Senior management? Frontline leaders? The employees? HR?

Do programs produce community or do people?

Today, I raise more questions than answers.

Community Can Happen

Some of the teams and organizations I have been part of have become a community. Some have not.

You know it when you are in it. I was recently reminded of the great community we had built in an organization I worked in years ago. On Saturday, I walked into a funeral home to support Maria, a woman who worked for me many years ago whose mother had passed. I was surprised to see the parade of familiar faces coming in the door, most of whom hadn’t worked with Maria for years. Many of them were retired. The community had spread the word, and they were back to help Maria deal with the loss of her mom. The conversation was important and rich. We hadn’t missed a beat. That’s community.

I watch my husband grow in his firefighter community. They all come in well before their shifts so the person they are relieving can leave early. It’s unspoken. They are always wiling to trade shifts to help one another manage work and family. There is always someone cooking for the group, and everyone contributes to keeping things clean. Watching this gives me a whole new perspective on the word, “union.” If someone isn’t contributing to the community, it’s noticed, but isn’t a large topic of conversation. There is a feeling it will all work out in the end. As far I can tell, the behavior has little to do with someone in management leading the charge.

And so, I’ve been asking everyone I see:

Have you ever worked on a team that had genuine community? What did it look like?

Here’s what I’ve collected so far, what would you add?

  • We trust that everyone’s doing the best they can
  • No one keeps score
  • We have each other’s backs
  • No blindsides
  • We share best practices
  • We don’t let one another fail
  • I can feel safe asking for help
  • We talk well about one another to our boss and others
  • We surface disagreements and fight when needed don’t take conflicts personally
  • I know their families (or at least about them)
  • We celebrate
  • We eat (and drink) together
  • We do volunteer work together
  • ???

Team Chemistry: Leveraging Diversity to Drive Team Performance

There is much good research on the characteristics of high-performing teams. It is possible to structure teams in ways that maximize performance (e.g. small number, shared vision, complimentary skill sets). A great resource for this is
Katzenbach and Smith’s The Wisdom of Teams.

I have been on teams that are identical in these criteria, and yet there is an invisible factor that seems to drive performance– chemistry.
When I was in my early twenties, I played Sergeant Sarah Brown in a Community Theater production of Guys and Dolls. Young Sarah is a spunky Salvation Army worker with a logical list of characteristics she is looking for in a man. Sarah meets Sky Masterson, an attractive con artist and gambler, who laughs at her long list of desired traits and gives her his one-factor list, “chemistry.” Well, of course it’s a musical, chemistry wins, they fall in love and sing happily ever after.

The thing is, in both love and teams chemistry matters.

And yet, when we make hiring decisions, we often start with a list of desired competencies, backgrounds and skill sets at an individual level. Like Sarah, we work to attract the best talent for the individual roles, and then after the fact, work to pull them into a high performing team. Chemistry is even more vital when looking to select the leader of the team.

I am not suggesting hiring based exclusively on DiSC, MBTI or some other personality profile. However, all other things being equal, hiring for diverse backgrounds, experiences, skills and approaches can help to create some serious positive combustion.

I recently went through a DiSC workshop with my larger team. After the session, one of the women on my team came up to me and asked, “Did you do that on purpose?” She was referring to the very eclectic mix of personalities on both my direct report team and throughout the organization.

At first, my reaction was “no, I hadn’t even thought about DiSC.” But the truth is, having had a unique opportunity to build the team almost entirely from scratch, I had been very deliberate about hiring leaders with different backgrounds, experiences, expertise and styles. They in turn did the same. As a result, we have a team that works hard to leverage one another’s strengths and make up for gaps. They have each other’s backs. They have chemistry and results on are on fire.

Opportunities to Build Team Diversity

In addition to the more traditional views on diversity (race, age, gender), there are other important factors to consider when hiring for a high-performing team

  • Expertise, attracting unique skill sets helps to foster respect, creates interdependency and enables cross-training
  • Background, hiring people with diverse experiences helps to provide different perspectives to complex problems
  • Styles, not always comfortable, but hiring a team with different personality preferences can offer richer approaches and solutions
  • ??? what other factors do you find important?

Where Similarities can Help

I also find there are some characteristics were similarities are quite helpful. I find having a team unified by these factors helps them to work more effectively with their diversity.

  • Passion: I see teams come together best when they all share a common passion for a unified vision. They all care deeply about accomplishing something important. I look for passion from the moment they enter the job interview.
  • Gumption: This manifests itself in various ways in different people and personalities. But energetic commitment and strong work ethic matter. High-performing teams seem to operate on a similar gumption frequency.
  • Receptivity: Openness to feedback and change. High-performing teams have members who are able to adjust and learn from one another and the environment. They are hungry for feedback and willing to share.

Think about the teams that you have worked on with the best chemistry.

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?

Email as a Reflective Practice: Thoughtful Writing to Spark Conversation

Having a Reflective Practice means finding a deliberate way to stop and think. It’s a ritual you do regularly to pause, consider, and learn. So, can email be a good medium on which to build a reflective practice? Stop laughing.

“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”
~ Peter Drucker

Now of course, I hate most email as much as the next guy. But after years of having large and geographically dispersed teams, I have found that email can be transformed into a useful tool for reflection and creating deeper connection with my team.

A Few Examples

Weekly Reflections

One tool I often used is a weekly reflection email. I ask the team to reflect on a few key questions..and send me a note each Friday. I always start with these 3, and then sometimes mix in an extra bonus question depending on what is happening in the business.

I am most proud of…

I am concerned about…

I need your help with…

To be frank… not everyone loves this (and I make it optional). But usually the people who resist it the most are the ones who reap the most benefit. I have used this technique for years, across some very diverse contexts and people. Of course, this is not a substitute for regular face to face connection, but can offer a nice supplement.

For some, this is a way to share some good news without seeming boastful. Others seem to feel safer putting something in writing, rather than surfacing tough issues in person or on the phone. I have been surprised about how some heavy professional and personal concerns have come up in these emails throughout the years. When they do, I always write back and ask if we can talk live. The answer has always been yes… and the conversation is rich.

 Mid Year, End of Year Letters

As part of the mid year appraisal and check in process, in addition to the normal fare, I ask each member of my team to write me a letter as if it were the end of the year.

Yikes… this has been the best year of my career…

I am so proud that…

My team accomplished…

I learned so much about…

I will never do ___ again.

I find people typically bring a good bit of humor to this exercise, and also dream BIG about their accomplishments (many mention a promotion). I also find that they include personal dreams and aspirations as well. The humor creates a fun and light opening to the meeting that follows. But after we laugh, we talk about how it’s not really that crazy, and talk about how they can accomplish those big goals.

Of course, I bring the letter out again in the end of year discussion (earlier as appropriate), and it is great to see how much they have accomplished. If their vision has not been fully accomplished, we build it into the plans again for the next year.