Leading High Performance Cohesive Teams

“There is a desire in each of us to invest in things that matter, and to have the organizations in which we work be successful…Our task is to create organizations we believe in…to be part of creating something we care about so we can endure the sacrifice, risk, and adventure that commitment entails. That’s team work motivation.” – Peter Block

 A characteristic commonly seen in high-performance teams is cohesiveness, a measure of the attraction of the group to its members (and the resistance to leaving it).  How do you get people to work together, to collaborate, to manage tension without emotion, especially in a virtual environment?  

Often in business today, people are siloed and focused on their own objectives, losing sight of the overall purpose, direction, and goal of the team or company.   When they attend virtual staff meetings, they are not 'present' and unable or unwilling to practice active listening and full participation.  They often are not responsible for their promised outcomes or objectives.  They are active on their mobile devices during meetings and at other times during the workday, and don't contribute at a level necessary for productive growth.  Their peers are also impacted due to a loss of focus on team productivity focus.  Leading a team in today's business environment can be challenging.  
 
Here are some questions I ask when working with clients struggling with these issues:

  • How does a manager get people to work together without a lot of drama? 

  • How do they conduct staff meetings or 1:1 meetings with their direct reports?  

  • How do they find and continuously develop talent?  

  • How do they foster a culture of responsiveness, innovation, and value creation?  

  • How can they get their people to better align with their vision of the company?

  • How do they manage their people and get them to be more focused on results that drive enterprise value? 

Here is what I think…

Leadership takes courage, devotion, and passion.  People don’t follow titles, they follow courage, and leaders who demand excellence will win.  Organizations are limited by their leaders, and your education, character, capacity, ability and vision define what John Maxwell describes in his classic book (21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership) as the ‘leadership lid’.  

Leaders don't really lead people, they set the vision and manage processes.  As leaders, our people will decide whether or not to follow us.  Our people will determine if we are a leader. Our people are perfectly capable of managing themselves and, if not, they need to be reassigned their job, or set free to work elsewhere. Our job as leaders is to articulate a strong vision; engage the available talent who design and perfect processes; execute on the strategy; measure outcomes vs. plan; search for ways to improve the processes, and train people to be accountable to those processes.  Most of the time this involves team interaction. 
 
Creating a highly functional cohesive team is the number one job of the CEO.  In a team environment, each team member must be aware of what they are doing individually, and what contribution they are making.  They must also hold each of the other team members accountable to their respective roles and progress towards objectives.  This takes a high level of trust, and willingness to be bold in providing honest objective feedback, and to deal with conflict and tension that inevitably arises when debating important topics and initiatives.
 
Assembling and managing collaborative cohesive teams in today's virtual and distributed workforce is a growing and real challenge for leaders.  Natural work teams coming together in person with a pre-set rhythm is more effective than meeting virtually on a video or voice call.  Staying in physical contact or being in close proximity to our teammates promotes discussion, camaraderie, esprit de corps, and progress which simply disappears in a virtual environment.   

Want more detail? Check out the resources below:

ARTICLE: Understanding Team Cohesiveness.  Daniela Molnau. Six Sigma. [15 min read] 

The author describes 4 stages of team development, from a theory advanced by researcher Bruce Tuckman:  forming, storming, performing, and norming.  Highly cohesive teams focus on the process, not the person; they respect everyone on the team, assuming good motives; and they fully commit to team decisions and strategies, creating accountability within the team. Morale is also higher in cohesive teams because of increased team member communication, friendly team environment, loyalty and team member contribution in the decision-making process.  Daft, R., & Marcic, D. (2009)
 
High performance teams are what make companies successful.  In order for strategy to be imagined and deployed, a cohesive team must be in place to do the work.  Such teams achieve higher levels of performance because their members trust one another, share a strong sense of team identity, and have confidence in their abilities and effectiveness.
 
Recognizing the team has a level of collective Emotional Intelligence (EI).  Research from organizational behavior experts Vanessa Druskat and Steven B. Wolff suggests following three practices to build your team’s EI:

1. Make time for team members to appreciate each other’s skills.
2. Raise and manage emotional concerns that can help or encumber the team’s progress.
3. Celebrate success.
 
VIDEO: The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team.  Patrick Lencioni. [2:28 min.] 

If we can get our people working together, focused on doing everything well, we would have fewer issues to deal with, less entropy, and a happier more fulfilled workforce with delighted customers.  Teamwork is the greatest competitive advantage that any group can have.  Building a highly functional cohesive team is a fundamental strategic decision we have to make as managers or leaders.  It takes courage, sacrifice, and personal investment to make this work properly, and it is often not easy to accomplish.  While you lead the team, you have an opportunity to impact the lives of the team members in a way that is much greater than anything you do in your life's work.  In fact, it may become the biggest and most altruistic thing you ever do in your life.

BOOK: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.  Patrick Lencioni. 

In this classic work, Patrick Lencioni describes the challenges to the team that present themselves when different personalities are operating in the same team environment.  

With the stress of a new product release, even the eventual success or failure of the company at risk and looming in the near future, Lencioni takes his readers through a sequential process of optimizing team function.  Briefly, his model first establishes the importance of building trust amongst team members.  Once trust is established, the team can begin to deal with the inevitable conflicts that arise in working together.  If the team members can overcome the reluctance to deal with constructive conflict without emotion and drama, they become committed to each other, and hold themselves and each other accountable to the objectives, initiatives, and priorities they have set for themselves.  Sometimes this activity results in team members having to leave the team, or the company, because they are uncomfortable with giving and receiving feedback in a group environment.  But after the right members are in place and functioning well together, the team achieves an outstanding result, and the company continues at a much higher level of performance.  

A self-inquiry question to consider:

  • What is your company doing to ensure world-class team performance?

And finally, I'll leave you with a quote:

“The ability to establish, grow, extend, and restore trust with all stakeholders – customers, business partners, investors, and coworkers – is the key leadership competency of the new, global economy.” —Stephen M. R. Covey 

The War for Talent

With the rise in U.S. GDP from 1.8% in 2017 to 4.1% in 2019, our economy is accelerating at massive speed, essentially doubling. To keep up with the growth, you will need to hire in every department to continue to deliver on your customer requirements. If you’re having a problem finding skilled 'A' level talent, it’s because we are in a battle, a war for talent, the likes of which hasn’t happened to this extreme in recent history. This war on talent is driven by several key factors:

  • Low rates of unemployment: Right now, in a lot of cities around the U.S., unemployment is well below 5%. In Washington State, where I live, unemployment has been at 3.7% and is moving lower, and expected to be at 3.4% by Q3-19.

  • Skills Gap. By the time most graduate from college, what they have been trained for may become obsolete, and new skills must be learned. The key is finding people who are receptive to learning, with a desire for continuous education even after high school or college.

  • Sea Change in Demographics. Millennials now outnumber Boomers in the workforce, with Gen Z representing 25 million new workers. The pace of demographic change is accelerating, and companies must adapt.

  • Disruptive competition. It can come from anywhere. Companies need the best talent to help guide them to uncommon winning strategies which ensure long term growth and survival.

So what can we do about it? Here's what I think:

1. Create a culture that’s a magnet for prospective employees. 
Demonstrate your commitment to Core Values and Purpose through your daily actions. Develop a consistent WOW customer experience that creates loyalty and continuity of revenue streams.

2. Embrace the TopGrading™ methodology of hiring. Take the master class in TopGrading™, or hire a certified coach to teach TopGrading™ throughout your hiring process.

3. Train your workers to be learners. Learn to learn. Set up online access to learning, and encourage your employees to take full advantage ... including on company time.

Food for thought:

  • If you had to start over tomorrow, would you enthusiastically re-hire every employee you have today?

Want more? Here are 3 excellent resources defining the problem:


ARTICLE: The War for Talent: It's Real and Here's Why It's Happening [6 min read]

The skills that most people have today will be rendered obsolete in the future due to technology shifts, so we need to train our people to be learners and create cultures of continuous learning. Creating a place to work for people with changing needs, expectations and skills must be a strategic focus for growing companies.  

VIDEO: Jack Stack at 26th Annual Gathering of Games  [41 min watch]

Jack Stack, CEO of SRC Holdings and founder of the Great Game of Business™, predicts that 'PEOPLE' will be the most critical focal area of business near term. More traditional Critical Numbers involve financial metrics, but PEOPLE will be the new Critical Number for the next 24 months. At the recent 'Gathering of the Games' keynote, Jack predicts a downturn in the economy in the next 18 months and encourages his audience of nearly 1,000 executives to be focused on PEOPLE. Listen at the 16:52 mark as Jack cites the probable causes of the upcoming economic downturn. Jack reflects that the talent pool for skilled workers in the current economy has declined to the point that they are increasingly unavailable. If we focus on talent, as opposed to cash flow, profit, or other financial measures, we stand a much better chance of winning through the looming downturn and beyond.

BOOK: WHO by Geoff Smart, Ph.D., and Randy Street. 

Competency interviews have failed to produce the “A” performers that companies need to grow and multiply. TopGrading™ interviews, including both initial screening and TopGrading™ tandem interviews are a more effective method of hiring “A” Performers. The book describes a 12-step process that can be condensed to 5 key points—recruiting, interviewing, hiring, onboarding, training and retaining top talent. In addition, Smart and Street suggest we must also assess our current employees and ask the question: Do we have the right performers in the right positions, and if not, what are we doing about it?

When Processing Feedback, Apply the 'Rule of 1%'

Are you getting feedback on a regular basis as a leader?  If you are a CEO, is your senior leadership team comfortable giving you feedback?  Are you getting feedback from your board?  How are you handling it?

What does it feel like when you get negative feedback?  For me, sometimes I can get defensive.  It can depend on the subject, and on my own emotional state and level of stress at the time, but more often than not my tendency is to be defensive.

The Value of Respect

Barron’s recently published results from its annual survey of institutional investors about their views of the world’s top 100 companies, based on market cap as of May 12, 2014. This cross section of U.S. money managers ranked companies on the basis of 1. Strong management, 2. Ethical business practices, 3. Sound business strategy, 4. Competitive edge, and 5. Product Innovation. Barron’s has been conducting this survey since 2005, and uses a numerical scale relating to four statements of Highly Respect , Respect, Respect Somewhat, and Don’t respect.

Radical Empowerment…Exponential Growth

Kip Tindell, Chairman and CEO of The Container Store has a system of onboarding that is revolutionary.

Tindell is author of Uncontainable, How Passion, Commitment, and Conscious Capitalism Built a Business Where Everyone Thrives. Training is a large part of The Container Store’s onboarding process, where new employees receive nearly 300 hours of education and training, compared to a retail industry average of 8 hours. As a result of the investment, The Container Store has a following of devoted customers who love to shop there, and who tell others of their experience.

Leading Your On-Boarding Process

Are your on-boarding processes functioning well?  Are they used strategically to introduce new employees to the systems and mechanisms used in your organization designed to accomplish the goals and deliver a remarkable customer experience?  Are you as a CEO involved in the process?  If not, you need to be.

A Tale of Three Cultures

A definition of culture that I like is from Jim Collins, author of Good To Great, Built to Last, and numerous other books and articles … Culture is a combination of core values, core purpose, combined with the BHAG, or Big Hairy Audacious Goal, which is a very aggressive stretch goal set for a long timeframe.  Another is what people are saying about their company to others, including customers.  Culture is either intentional by active design and promotion, alive in the organization and cause for continued operations, or it is unintentional and largely ignored by passive default.

Most companies have two cultures.  The first is the one reflected by your view of the world as a CEO.  It is written on your website, and discussed in your annual retreat.  It is a corporate worldview that may be shared by your Senior Leadership Team.  However you have a big problem if that view of culture is not shared by the majority of employees in your company, who are actively supporting Culture #2.

Culture #1.

  • Developed at the annual strategy retreat by the senior team a number of years ago.
  • Mission, Vision, and Core Values written on a sign on the conference room wall.
  • Posted on the website, and sometimes on the back of business cards.
  • Descriptive words are similar to Integrity, Quality, Innovation, Responsive, Customer Focused.
  • Listed on certain company documents, like an employment intake form, to be signed after reading indicating the new employee has read and understands the mission and vision statements, and agrees with the core values shown on the conference room wall.
  • Not frequently communicated, or clearly understood or remembered by anyone in the company
  • A somewhat cloudy vision of culture the leader believes exists in the company.
  • Something that is separate from day to day operations.
  • Not used as a strategic differentiator, recruiting tool, or weapon with which to dominate markets.

Culture #2

  • Informal, default, risk averse, and protective of the status quo.
  • Alive in the organization at levels below the senior team.
  • Unwritten, but clearly understood by all employees, at levels below the senior team.
  • Accepting of triangulation, where it’s ok for folks to talk about others when they are not present.
  • Completely different than the words used by the leaders to describe it.
  • Protective of the group, who desires a paycheck for time spent working each day.
  • Promotes job security, and a strategy that says ‘Don’t rock the boat’.
  • Confused by efforts of leadership to enforce Culture #1, which few if any understand.

Culture #3

  • Could be a blend between #1 and #2
  • Could be something entirely new and different, but clearly understood, adopted, and promoted by all employees.
  • Should be used as a competitive advantage in recruiting talent and acquiring customers.

With culture #1, you will have difficulty scaling your business, and will be stuck and frustrated each day working ‘in’ the business instead of ‘on’ it.  And employees will not have the same view of culture that you as the leader and your Senior Team have if you do not consistently and frequently communicate the core values and core purpose, and BHAG of your company to others.

  • If your company’s culture looks like culture #1, then you are not consistently and frequently communicating the purpose and core values, and your goals.  The generic words you have written on the conference room wall have no viability and are basically useless.  In fact, having two cultures takes a lot of energy to manage, drains the organization of creativity and innovation, and creates tension.  It definitely hurts your credibility as a CEO.

If this resonates with you, it is a problem… your problem.  You created it, and you need to fix it.  Your big job is to create a new culture, one we’ll call Culture #3.  Culture #3 could be a bridge between what you would like to have as a culture, your ideal state, and what actually exists within your firm.

My guess is that if you don't do something about it, your company will be challenged to be relevant going forward.

I would like to hear your thoughts.  Feel free to connect and we can discuss how to create a high performing culture you would be proud of.

A Living Passion for the Vision

Are you passionate about your work as a leader?  You know the answer, and what may come as a surprise, so does your team.  If you aren’t, you may be frustrated, ineffective, and struggling to get results.  It may be the reason you are not making progress.

Leaders need to have a passion for their work, and have a vision for their organization, exuding the essence of it in all thoughts and expressions to all stakeholders, at all times.   S/he needs to be passionate and stay focused like a laser on bridging the gap that exists between that vision, and the mission…what the company actually does day to day.

The Turnaround. Part 3 of 3

In one turnaround I was leading, a member of the senior leadership team was always in agreement with everything we discussed and pleasant to be around, but was quietly and effectively undermining my efforts to discover variances that were causing waste numbers to be excessively high. His department was causing the problem by using materials that were over specification because the correct inventory was not available when needed to meet order lead times.  This senior manager didn’t want to spend the time or energy to solve it. Instead he tried to bury the data with evasive maneuvers.  His passive/aggressive behavior proved not only costly to the company, but fatal to his career.

The Turnaround. Part 2 of 3

Strategy can emerge from a gap analysis illustrating where you are currently, your mission, vs your vision of where you want to be. Strategies, goals and objectives can all be set once the mission and vision are identified and agreed upon, and those strategies must be in alignment with the mission, and the organizations overall vision. Its extremely important to identify a unifying strategy(s) and to gain buy – in from all stakeholders in the value chain, and that includes customers, suppliers, employees, bank, and board.

The Turnaround. Part 1 of 3

Congratulations!  You’ve just been hired as CEO of a company in deep financial trouble. The ownership and board of directors have given you free reign to do your job, and you feel up to the task of leading the effort, but you have limited time to turn this ship around, and get it moving in a different more profitable direction.

What will be your plan starting Monday, your first day on the new job… the first month…the first six months. How will you evaluate and manage the company and its processes.  How will you engage with the customers?

Three Questions for Leaders

Roselinde Torres, in a recent TED talk, describes a new 21st Century world which is global, digitally enabled, transparent, with faster speeds of information flow and innovation, and where nothing big gets done without some sort of a complex matrix. Ms. Torres suggests that leadership is defined by three important questions that we should be considering for ourselves as leaders, and for those whom we lead.

Are You a Passionate Leader?

Are you passionate about your work as a leader?  You know the answer, and what may come as a surprise, so does your team.  If you aren’t, you may be frustrated, ineffective, and struggling to get results.  It may be the reason you are not making progress.

5 Characteristics of a Thought Leader

What is a thought leader?

Wikipedia defines thought leadership as follows: A thought leader is an individual or firm that is recognized as an authority in a specialized field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded.[1] The Oxford English Dictionary gives as its first citation for the phrase an 1887 description of Henry Ward Beecher as "one of the great thought-leaders in America."

Dealing with Disruption

There really isn’t anything like a safe job in a safe company anymore. Job security has become a casualty of disruptive innovation. Earlier generations spent entire careers in the same company in a ‘cradle to grave’ track.  My father worked for two companies in roles of progressively greater responsibilities during his career.  I have worked for or started six companies during my career. 

Results Based Leadership

Quotations from luminaries whether in business, sports, medicine, law, or politics can inspire and clarify. A great quote is concise and crisp, capturing a thought or idea in an entirely new way.

Great quotes can speak directly into our own unique situations. One quote from Peter Drucker on leadership said ‘Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.’ Of course, he is right about getting results, but in my own view Drucker leaves something on the table for debate.

Obsess Over Your Customer, and WIN!

In a recent Peer to Peer discussion with some CEO’s, most were defensive on the topic of how to deliver an outstanding customer experience. They mostly felt that their employees were always focused on the customer. One CEO said his company has data showing their consistent delivery of full customer satisfaction through customer surveys reflecting on time deliveries, rapid response rates on corrective actions, on time billing, and so forth.