Conflict Management

Conflict Management

FireFly Facilitation Blog

By Kimberly Douglas 29 Jan, 2016
We’ve been talking about accountability, whether personal, team, or leadership. In our last post, we discussed the ways leaders can promote accountability, and touched on progress-tracking. Now let’s turn our attention to what might happen during these tracking sessions.

One of the most frequent and negative ways for someone to lose the trust of their leader and fellow team members is through the element of surprise. Negative surprises like, “I’m not going to hit that target date tomorrow” or “Surprise, this project is going way over budget,” can put you as the team leader in a difficult position. Your first priority is to deal with the situation at hand; the second priority must be to have a candid discussion with the individual. Try not to jump to conclusions about this person’s intent or motives, because sometimes, “We give ourselves credit for our intentions; but hold others accountable for their results.” In other words, we are always aware of our own reasons for doing, whereas we only see the effects of others’ actions.

Your main goal should be to understand what caused the delay, and why there was not more advance notice about the problem. Try to explain the ramifications of the employee’s actions–for you personally, for the task or project, and for others on or outside the team. The better you comprehend what occurred, the more you can help them to learn from the situation; so try to keep your conversation positive and future-focused. On the other hand, if this is a recurring problem, you might need to take further action. Leaving these issues unaddressed and unresolved will likely mean this will happen again in the future.

However, what about the opposite situation, when you need to commend your employees for a job well done? Let’s say you’ve reached the end of the project, and it is a success. How are you going to reward and recognize this accomplishment? Many books on the market describe a multitude of ways to show your appreciation to employees, but bear this in mind: appreciating differences in others means discovering how individuals like to be rewarded and recognized for their contributions. This is really just an extension of treating each person like a unique individual.

Do you know how your employees like to be recognized? It may be different than you think. Know how to find out? Ask them. You might fear that each of them will say they want money, but it might surprise you to find out that there are other ways to express your appreciation-a day off to spend with their family, a gift card to a movie or local restaurant. It might even be something as simple as a personal, handwritten thank-you note. If you saved at least one note of thanks that you received over the years, then you are like many other people who have been asked this question in team effectiveness sessions.

In our next post, we’ll look at an example of a team that took the issue of employee appreciation to heart. We’ll see how the leaders of this team turned their team around, by making a point to reward the right kind of behavior, in an effective way. Through this example you’ll learn more about the leaders’ role in using positive reinforcement to strengthen personal accountability.

Let’s talk! Reach me by email or phone: 770-989-7030.
By Kimberly Douglas 25 Jan, 2016

Are you ready to learn how to facilitate conflict resolution? When teams are having trouble communicating with each other, it can lead to conflict and reduced productivity. Fortunately, there’s an effective communication technique based on the Whole Brain® model and HBDI®, that can help people present information in a way that will result in the intended message and impact. Here’s how it works:

  • Ask the “why” questions.   Why are we here? Why is this important? Give them brief overview of the information you will be presenting. Wherever possible, connect this work to an overarching goal, a long-term strategy, or a broader positive impact on the organization.
  • Next, explain the “what.” Give them the relevant facts, the current status, how you will measure success, or trends analysis data.
  • Tell the team “who.” Now that you have engaged their heads, move to connect with their hearts. Open the floor for questions. If you know what the impact on them personally or other key stakeholders will be, tell them.
  • Ask “how.” Only after you have engaged their heads and their hearts can you engage their feet. This is where you make it very clear what you need the listener to do when they leave here.

Now here is the real kicker. Even though you present this information in the order outlined above, you create your message in the reverse order. You begin with getting very clear in your own mind about what you want them to know, think, feel, and do differently after your presentation. Then you back up and ask yourself, “What would they need to know in order to accomplish that? “ If you can’t answer that question based on what you know about the audience, then this is the time to reach out to others who might know them better. Finally, ask yourself, “How does this link into something bigger and more important that they would care about?”

Sometimes people jump into informing the listeners of the facts, then moving straight to action planning - what the presenter wants them to do about the facts - without making a strong case for why the listener should care. Other people don’t offer the big picture-how the project will help the organization to achieve some larger strategy or goal. Some only share the facts of the current status of the project, assuming that everyone could see what needed to be done about it and who needed to do it. And many people neglect to address how their project impacts the listener personally, what support is needed from them, what questions they had. It’s important to notice how your communication reflects your own thinking and communication style versus reflecting what your listeners need to hear.

One good leadership trait is the ability to be multi-dominant, viewing each topic through multiple lenses. Yet, without a leader like this pushing us, most of us — if left to our own devices —would much prefer to run our presentations by someone who is just like us, thinking and communication style-wise! And so, you get what you’d expect...”It’s beautiful. I wouldn’t change a thing!”

Occasionally people ask me the question, “If I know that I am presenting to a bunch of people who think like I do, do I really need to go through all four quadrants? “ My answer is an unqualified   Yes , for several reasons. First, you can’t assume, based solely on a job title or department name, that you won’t have a whole brain present. Believe me, in over 10 years of debriefing team HBDI profiles, you would be amazed at how much they aren’t like what you think they might be. Second, although you might want to change up the amount of time you spend in each quadrant, the flow still makes sense as it is. Finally, it stretches your thinking to see the situation from all angles, and just might help you to truly have the greater influence you seek.

So, there you have it. How to make the sparks that fly when two departments with different goals, who might be competing for scarce resources, use that creative abrasion to light a fire that ignites an improved environment not only for these two departments, but also for others to follow in their footsteps. Isn’t that the real calling of leadership

By Kimberly Douglas 15 Jul, 2015

How can leaders can engage their teams in a meaningful way? By stimulating their brains positively through support and praise, rather than shutting them down with negativity. It’s important to encourage your team to concentrate on the most important things, rather than joining in a flurry of activity or allowing internal negative backbiting to get the best of the team. In the times they come together, teams really want problem solving oriented thinking, not report outs.

As problems or concerns arise during staff meetings, this is a great way to deal with them: say, “Let’s focus on that issue in our next team problem-solving session.”” Employees feel as though they’re being heard; they know action will be taken, and they are a part of the solution instead of just complaining about the problem.

In fact, neuroscientists have found that the brain doesn’t build connections when told what to do; it only changes patterns when we’re involved in the process. Thus, involvement literally equals changed mind-sets. So you believe in the value of engaging employees in solving the critical business problems, and you take time to address these as a team. If possible, have a placeholder in your regular team meeting for identifying problems that need attention at a future, separate session. I don’t recommend that you deal with them at the time of the meeting; you will merely take away from the original purpose. However, asking people to keep an eye out for areas of improvement on a regular basis is a great way to keep them engaged in the discovery process.

If you can’t cover this issue during a separate session and it needs to be incorporated into a regular team meeting, then only choose one problem to discuss and make sure you allow enough time on the agenda to really get into it. And don’t make it the last agenda item, because you might never get to it; or by the time that you do, the energy level has been sapped by dealing with the more mundane, but urgent issues and people are just ready to get out of there. If you can create separate, focused, creative, problem-solving sessions, then I recommend you move to a different location from your regular staff meeting. A different view out the window can trigger a different view from your mind’s eye.

Now that you have made it clear that thinking with creativity is a priority—and have demonstrated this by setting aside specific time to be creative—how do you make sure that your behavior during the session doesn’t put a damper on your teammates’ desire to offer their ideas?

People can feel very vulnerable sharing original thoughts; in fact, many consider the risk of speaking up to outweigh any possible benefits. “When in doubt, keep your mouth shut,” says that little voice in their heads. Some leaders have managed teams whose members only introduced issues at the weekly staff meeting that they knew had already been resolved. Bringing something new to everyone’s attention was simply perceived as too risky. In addition, they were worried that their colleagues would think that they were throwing someone under the bus or blindsiding them if they hadn’t already shared—and resolved—any problems with others outside of the meeting. Everyone except the leader knew implicitly that it was better just to keep quiet. So what’s a leader to do? In our next post, we’ll talk about this issue, and how you can convey to your team the value of speaking up.

Want to chat before next week’s post? Reach me by email or phone: 770-989-7030.

By Kimberly Douglas 04 Jun, 2015

“We don’t have time for this!” A common sentiment when it’s suggested that busy executives head off-site for team-building activities. But when teams make the time, they often find that these exercises ultimately lead to a deeper understanding and appreciation of one another.

One group decided to use the Olympics as their theme to participate in an assortment of physical, mental, indoor, and outdoor events. This was purposely differentiated from those executive golf team-building outings, where the same people who always hang out together still hang out together on the course. Events like that separate out the haves (as in have the golf skill) from the have-nots (better sign up for that massage or walking tour now).In this case, four cross-functional teams together found the various competitive events to be fun and challenging

Some people were hesitant about this session, because they didn’t think they could break away from the office for a day to play games. But by the end of the Olympics, they were having such a good time it was actually hard to leave. They were all reminded of the power of teamwork. People were engaged, and the different environment caused them to see each other in a new light, which in turn increased morale and communications.

So, what do you, as leader, do when everyone says they are too busy to join in the firefly hunt, leaving group problems to remain unresolved? It is hard to take time—correct that, make time—to be away from your daily tasks for the purpose of enhancing your collaboration, creativity, and cohesiveness as a team. But I promise you that the payoff will be the long-term vitality and effectiveness of this group of people. As the preceding Olympics team discovered, the results last way beyond game day. If you are only getting together as a team during regular staff meetings, then you are really missing out on the many other powerful ways to bond together as a team.

It’s easy to find concrete, doable steps, created to carve out time on the team’s calendar for higher value-added activities. On the easy end of the continuum (in terms of not a whole lot of up-front planning being necessary) are such ideas as a team declaration of a moratorium on meetings for just one day out of the workweek. This has the unintended (but happily foreseeable) consequence of causing people to be much more invested in making the meetings they do attend on the other days much more impactful. Why stop there? Why not declare a ban on all habitually pointless meetings? How do you know a meeting will not be worth your investment of time? No one, including the meeting leader, knows what the critical meeting deliverables are. There is never a well-thought-out agenda for the meeting, much less one sent out in advance so participants can prepare to participate. We never have everyone there, since this meeting is not seen as a can’t miss event, so the same discussions happen over and over again, and decisions get delayed until just maybe the problem resolves itself. Sound like meeting hell? Well, in addition to implementing the ban on meetings for at least one day of the week, you could also try making the meetings you do attend more effective using the above-mentioned tips. And you could try replacing an unnecessary meeting with a brief phone call or one-on-one conversation, an e-mail exchange, or posting a document on a shared drive for people to add their comments and questions.

Hopefully, these suggestions will prompt you to find the elusive excess time on people’s calendars that is needed to engage in quality team-building events. How about engaging your team in picking one of the events above to try out? Better yet, release their creative talents and allow them to design one that will truly engage them, and result in newfound collaboration and ideas to apply to your toughest business challenges and your most exciting business opportunities! Reach me by email or phone: 770-989-7030.

By Kimberly Douglas 20 May, 2015

In our last post, we talked about a team building exercise that took place in a large division of a Fortune 500 consumer products company. Participants were divided into cross functional groups, with each assigned to visit a different setting to observe how unique teams function. One team went to a jazz club, another to an emergency room, another to a fire station, and the last team went to the San Francisco zoo. The challenge was to go and observe how the team worked together, and to observe aspects such as how each member fulfilled their individual roles, how they collaborated to get the work done, how they prioritized the work, and what could be applied to the teams. We’ve already discussed the jazz team’s findings, but what of the other teams?

The firehouse team spent a lot of time preparing for emergencies. Close quarters and constant contact 24/7 for days at a time; these conditions demanded that everyone get over small petty conflicts. In fact, their lives depended on it.

And what about the emergency room? Their work was the embodiment of seamless integration. Everyone clearly knew their role and how it contributed to the greater good—saving the patient. Crisis caused complete collaboration.

Those who made the trip to the zoo learned that there was a clear, twofold sense of mission. They needed to please the crowds—letting them get as close to the animals as possible—while also protecting the animals (many of which were endangered) and the humans from each other. You can’t always give the customer what they want exactly the way they want it, but this perceived limitation had actually sparked real creativity in the way the barriers were designed. These team members had a thorough and intimate knowledge of their product’s capabilities and their customers’ needs. They had to communicate continually and clearly—how the animals were behaving, if there were any signs of disease or distress, when to call in experts, and so on.

Aside from the actual lessons that could potentially apply to the real teams back on the job, it was a wonderful way for new employees to get excited about the drive for creativity and collaboration that was apparent in this company. There were a few other field trips that had a similar impact, and we’ll discuss them in our next post. But before next week's post, let's talk! Reach me by email or phone: 770-989-7030.

By Kimberly Douglas 28 Apr, 2015

Now that we've discussed how leadership should approach conflict resolution, let’s discuss norms for getting teams to work together effectively. It’s a good idea to create “rules of engagement” -- escalation rules for when and how an issue would be taken to higher levels in the organization. This prevents escalation into mistrust, anger and resentment. The following is an example of how this was resolved in one organization.

There had been conflict between the corporate and field units of a single function because issues that were not being resolved at the lower levels were bumped up for resolution to higher levels far too quickly. The complexity of the matrix structure, with a dual sense of allegiance to both the function and the business unit, hampered the effectiveness of these interdepartmental communications. Bad feelings resulted, all because of a lack of agreement on the ground rules for escalating an issue. These were some of the escalation guidelines we developed:

  • Make sure you have all the facts your boss will need to help solve the problem. If you don’t, push back to get them prior to escalating.
  • Indicate why you are escalating it. If it’s informational only, put FYI in the subject line of the e-mail; if their involvement is needed, put ACTION NEEDED.
  • If it’s impacting the business or is a deliverable, escalate it. Don’t use escalation to cover your back.
  • Escalate when you think the issue will come to your management so they’re not surprise.
  • To best escalate, know the communication style of the person you are escalating to and utilize that knowledge to alter the communication for greater impact.

  “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

Cool Hand Luke   had it right; sometimes the conflict between departments is as simple as that. One group is looking at things from the left side of the brain, while the other group is looking at it from the right side, big picture versus need for detail. Making assumptions about what needs to be in a report can lead to confusion and discord, but once there is a common understanding, it’s easier to relay and receive information.

Often, someone asks for a report to be run or for data to be gathered, but they don’t slow down to tell the listener how this information will be used. To be a successful liaison between two departments, someone needs to have the best interests of both parties at heart. It’s important to avoid taking sides, understanding that each group had good intentions. Showing respect for the competence of both parties, can help them to work together to achieve their shared objectives. In our next post, we’ll delve deeper into facilitating conflict resolution. Until then, let's talk! Reach me by email or phone: 770-989-7030.

By Kimberly Douglas 20 Apr, 2015

When two departments are trying to work through conflict, the heads of each department play a critical role. This is because conflict between leaders of the departments has an impact on other people. While some leaders fool themselves into thinking that the people in their organization don’t know how they feel about the leader of another department, that is almost never the case. Though some leaders may be more politically correct than others and don’t directly bad-mouth their peers, the subtle message is just as damaging.

Before the actual departments come together, the two leaders should meet to make sure they really want this session to be a success. How they kick off the session - not only their words, but the passion with which they speak them - will oftentimes set the stage for what will happen the rest of the day. Of course, the actions that follow their words had better be in sync, or they run   the risk of losing not only the trust of the other department, but their credibility within their own team.

One other thing: these sessions need not be a one-time activity. Before the session ends, everyone should agree that they will come back together again in 60 days to check progress. This is a great way to hold everyone accountable for sticking to their commitments to each other, and it also clearly communicates to everyone that folks aren’t expecting quick fixes from one 8-hour meeting. It is hard to get everyone in the same room at the same time to deal with issues that cross departments. Putting a date on everyone’s calendar for a follow-up sets the expectation that there will still be things to work through.

If collaboration between these two departments is mission critical - and if there is still significant room for improvement at the check-up meeting - then regular gatherings should be held between these departments, at least quarterly, and perhaps monthly or bimonthly. Make sure these meetings have a positive focus and that the agenda is filled with important topics.

Go for some quick wins: Interdepartmental relations can improve dramatically through something as simple as an easy-to-use, up-to-date contact list that clarifies who is accountable for what, so that you clearly know whom to call when an issue arises. The frustration and wasted time that this prevents is well worth the small investment of someone’s time to create it. Find opportunities for members of each of the departments to form ad hoc teams and work on critical business priorities of mutual interest. The more opportunities for them to collaborate successfully, the better.

In our next post, we’ll discuss creating norms for how the group can work together effectively. Until then, let's talk! Reach me by email or phone: 770-989-7030.

By Kimberly Douglas 13 Apr, 2015

In our last post, we talked about times that the system doesn’t fit with your department’s needs. But what about those critical processes that cross the boundaries of department lines? These can result in situations that are potentially rife with conflict, and can be sources cause of great tension, because these are the places where departments rub against each other. In those cross-departmental situations, you often see the first signs of loss of trust, doubt about others’ intentions, and attribution of bad attitudes or lack of competence to each other.

Fortunately, there is a reliable technique that can be used to ascertain and then address these areas of discord.

To do this, bring together the two departments with the most heightened conflict, whose discord has the most critically negative impact on the business. Break them into their respective department teams and ask them to discuss and flip chart their responses to these four questions:

  1. What are we held accountable for?
  2. What do we think the other team is held accountable for?
  3. What is our greatest conflict with them?
  4. What do we think is their greatest conflict with us?

It is amazing how much the dialogue among the team and in the large group debriefing can help to shed light on where the key difficulties and misconceptions lie. Having the groups discuss what they believe the other team is accountable for will help you to develop a true appreciation for the tasks they regularly undertake. Additionally, acknowledgment of your own conflicts helps to deflect the natural defensiveness that would occur if others just told you outright. Many, times these clashes revolve around broken processes, and that is actually good news, because it’s something on which the groups can collaborate to improve and together put their creative talents to work. A simple version of this process improvement method looks more like this:

  • Step 1:   Identify the starting point in the process—that is, the trigger or triggers that something needs to be launched or changed. Write them on a sticky note and put it at the beginning of the process flow.
  • Step 2:   Define what success looks like at the end of the process, write that on a sticky note, and place it at the end of the process flow.
  • Step 3:   Determine the 8 to 10 major steps involved in getting from the triggers to the ending point. We are expecting a high-level overview of the process, not deep detail. Write each of these major steps on a sticky note and place it on the process flow chart.

Sometimes just walking through the process steps helps all parties to realize where the problems lie. Is there a handoff that isn’t going smoothly? Did either group lack clarity as to who needed to be involved in a key decision versus who was the final decision maker? Has there been duplication of activities or functions because of a breakdown in trust or communications? Are there key people who are unaware of, or simply not using important supporting processes and procedures? Why and how could they be revised to make them more useful? These are the natural discussions that will evolve if you don’t overcomplicate the process, and use it instead as a vehicle for healthy, candid dialogue. In our next post, we’ll discuss the role of leadership in this type of session.

By Kimberly Douglas 31 Mar, 2015

I have shared a success story with you in the last post, so let me balance it out by telling you about a near disaster:

I was selected to facilitate a two-and-a-half day strategic planning session for a branch of the military, and began the hard work of designing the session. I was working very closely with the planning committee, but not the key decision makers, which was a different setup than I was used to. I normally spoke directly with the key stakeholder on the desired outcome of the session, and then began to design the process and content to achieve that end.

This time, I took the planning committee at their word when they told me we needed 42 presentations on possible strategic initiatives - each one hoping to make the cut and get the funding. Basically, this was each presenter’s opportunity to get in front of the most senior leadership and shine, and no one was willing to forego it. I kept questioning this method of presentation, but I was assured that everyone coming knew what they were getting into.

The small hotel room in which we gathered to hold the session was jammed with people. There were 18 highly decorated uniformed officers sitting at U-shaped tables, with 25 more people seated in chairs around the perimeter. After brief opening comments, I explained the process we would be using to determine the rank order of our top 10 strategic initiatives, and the criteria they should use to make the determination of what was strategic. I also distributed the handout they would be using to summarize their thoughts during each presentation. This was my attempt at keeping them engaged by requiring that they think and look for things during these 42 four-minute presentations.

We jumped right in and the first presenter distributed a handout about his initiative, talking as people passed along copies, since he only had four minutes. When this presenter’s time was up, I asked everyone to please jot down their comments as to whether they thought this initiative met our criteria for strategic, and why. I noticed a little discomfort among the participants, but there was no time for me to address it, since the next presenter was up. The next four minutes went by even faster than the first four.

The tension and anger building in the room was palpable, and I knew this scenario wasn’t working. I had to decide whether to keep going or run the risk of changing the process, even though I had no idea how to make it better at that very moment. Would the planning committee think I was throwing them under the bus? What if they were right and this was the only way?

When I decided to take the leap and ask everyone in the room whether the process was working for them, it was like the dam burst! No one was happy with the process. Once I knew that, I was able to pull aside the top five leaders and come up with a rather easy solution. These leaders met with their direct reports and support staff for 30 minutes to review the initiatives they’d submitted and determine which ones should be presented or consolidated, based on specific criteria.

The lesson is simple: Be crystal clear on what the key stakeholders want to achieve, and let that be your guide as you plan the content and process of the session. Trust your judgement, and test all assumptions to keep them from getting in the way of your success. Then, if something isn’t working, have the courage to change it, engaging the creativity and perspectives of others to solve the problem.

In our next post, we’ll talk about addressing processes that cross department lines, in order to create solutions that work for everyone involved.   In the meantime, let's talk! Reach me by email or phone: 770-989-7030.

By Kimberly Douglas 12 Nov, 2014

In the last post, we mentioned the impact of embracing conflict, and in this post, we’ll delve into that topic a little more deeply. One good example is a particular group of leaders for a wonderful school, who had exerted a great deal of effort to overcome their natural tendency to gloss over conflict. The norms they created were very effective, because they reflected what they most needed to keep in mind and improve upon when making decisions.

About a month later, one of the staff members reported, “We just had a great fight in our staff meeting this morning. You would have been so proud of us!” The leader confirmed, with a rueful smile, saying, “Well, the team is certainly more animated than they’ve been in the past!” These team members were now able to express a sense of passion about their work with which they had never before been comfortable; one that would help them face and resolve their most pressing issues.

Now, here is the second important point: there needs to be an agreed upon process for making the decisions. Not every decision will truly be a team decision. However, almost every decision could benefit from receiving robust team input. In some instances in which the leader should decide alone, but this should very much be the exception rather than the rule.

In deciding the best approach to take for decision making, many teams find Vroom- Yetton, a decision-making framework named for its creators Victor Vroom and Phillip Yetton, to be simple yet invaluable. Vroom-Yetton is a powerful tool for determining how groups will make decisions, providing leaders not only with a thought process for determining the optimum level of involvement of others in the decision, but also a way to make that rationale explicit to the team.

Most team members know that they won’t be making every decision, and they don’t mind not having this authority, as long as they understand the decision process up front and view it as fair. Teams do not appreciate thinking that the leader wants them to make the decision, and then having that authority taken away. When a manager takes the decision back, it can leave members feeling as though they did something wrong, which seems like failure to the team, and this doesn’t foster commitment to the final decision.

The leader can use Vroom-Yetton to help decide which level of input is wanted from the team, before engaging them in the discussion of the issue. Thus, it is much less likely that the authority will be taken back, and expectations will be clearly explained, from the outset. The levels of the Vroom-Yetton Decision Making Model are as follows:

  • Autocratic:
    • A1: Leader solves the problem alone using information that is readily available.
    • A2: Leader obtains additional information from group members, and then makes decision alone. Group members may or may not be informed of the final decision.
  • Consultative:
    • C1: Leader shares problem with group members individually and asks for information and evaluation. Group members do not meet collectively, and leader makes decision alone.
    • C2: Leader shares problem with group members collectively, but makes decision alone.
  • Group Based:
    • G2: Leader meets with group to discuss situation. Leader focuses and directs discussion, but does not impose will. Group makes final decision.

So with all of these levels to choose from, how can a manager decide which is the most appropriate for each decision? There are several factors that affect this decision, which must be made by someone with an understanding of both the team and the project. In our next post, we’ll discuss ways to determine which level is right for your team. Until then, let's talk! Reach me by email or phone: 770-989-7030.


FireFly Facilitation Blog

By Kimberly Douglas 31 Aug, 2016

The Grammy-award winning Orpheus Chamber Orchestra wows crowds around the world with virtuoso performances of Stravinsky, Mendelssohn, and Mozart. Garnering prestigious awards (a Grammy in 2001) and accolades (Musical America’s “Ensemble of the Year” in 1998), the New York based orchestra fills the world’s finest concert halls with adoring audiences and the some of the sweetest sounds on earth.

Astonishingly, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra has no conductor! Its 28 members alternate roles and share responsibilities. From guiding rehearsals to interpreting selections, leadership of the group rotates among its musicians.

Thinking about the unusual structure of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra sparked ideas in my mind about the nature of leading teams.

1) Being a leader doesn’t mean that we always have to pick the tune, set the pace, and assign the parts.

In a conductor-less organization, in which leadership and authority are dispersed throughout, creativity abounds. Each member has the freedom to contribute his or her unique talents for the benefit of all. On the contrary, the combined creativity of an organization is blocked when a single leader hoards authority.

2) In the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, no one has a back to the crowd.

Absent of the human barrier, the audience is invited into the midst of the orchestra and can share a more intimate connection with its music. Conversely, an organization with power concentrated too heavily at the top can easily lose sight of its customers. Generally, the most senior leaders have the least frontline interaction with customers. If we, as leaders, don’t make room for the instincts and input of people throughout our teams, then we’ll gradually blind ourselves to the needs of the clients we’re trying to serve.

By Kimberly Douglas 27 Jul, 2016

It’s been said, “Variety is the spice of life,” but for many managers the spiciness of diversity causes heartburn. Leading a team would be much easier if one size fit all. However, the reality for managers involves cleverly tailoring roles, reward structures, and recognition. In doing so, leaders have to balance unique treatment of dissimilar personalities with a uniform application of fairness.

Diversity in the workplace goes much deeper than race, gender, job title, or even daily responsibilities. Leaders have to discover how team members think, what drives them, where their strengths shine, and so on. Leaders light the way by making this kind of inquiry a priority, and by creating the tools and processes that allow people to see one another in a new light.

Here’s a practical application to illuminate diversity on your team and reap benefits from it.

At the close of a week, gather your team together. Give each person ten minutes to make two lists:


List #1 - Three work activities from the past week that felt draining or tedious.


List #2 - Three job activities from the past week that felt enjoyable and invigorating.

Do not discuss the lists as a group; simply collect them after the ten minutes are over. Repeat the exercise each week for a month.


At the month’s close, convene a team meeting. During the meeting, assign each person to share one recurring activity they enjoy and do well. Also, have them talk about one regular activity they dislike and find draining.

This simple exercise will bring awareness of the various strengths and weaknesses on your team. Over the course of the meeting you may want to reshuffle a few tasks or open avenues for team members to volunteer their strengths in new ways.

By Kimberly Douglas 13 Jul, 2016

When archers draw a bow, they’re far more accurate when they zero in on the bull’s-eye than when they broadly aim to hit the target.

 The same applies in golf. When players concentrate on landing the ball at a specific spot near the pin, their shots are more precise than when they target the green in general.

What’s true for archery and golf translates to strategic planning as well. The sharper your focus is, then the smaller your margin for error will be when you execute. Put simply, “Aim small; miss small.”

What can you do practically to shrink the scope of your goals so that you’re laser focused?

If everything is important…then nothing is. Identify the three strategic priorities for you team. Don’t get bogged down on specific verbiage, but make sure everyone agrees with and can articulate your strategic priorities.

Knowing what not to do   can be just as important as knowing where you’re going. What distractions will tempt you to veer from your strategic priorities? Dialog about them, and list them. Instill in your team that these activities are taboo.

Decide upon metrics. What is unmeasured goes undone. Set your criteria for success. Don’t feel constrained by numbers—qualitative goals have every bit as much merit as quantitative ones. However, make sure your metrics are simple and concrete.

Track performance together. Evaluating results as a team provides instant accountability—no one wants to look bad in front of peers. Also, talking through results helps you to decipher problems or opportunities buried beneath the facts and figures.

By Kimberly Douglas 04 Jul, 2016

Everyone has the ability to be creative—if you broaden your concept of what creativity means, and if you know how to tap into it. My experience with hundreds of groups leads me to be able to say, with confidence, that at their core, great teams are comprised of creative, committed individuals who are using their best efforts to reach a common goal.

In fact, teams that solve problems and tackle challenges together have a special bond that’s not often found in other groups. And they don’t see these challenges as drudgery or something outside the scope of their work; they view it as the excitement and fun of being a part of a team.

 Think of the members of the team of which you are currently a member or a leader. Would   creative   and   committed   be the words you would use to describe each one of them?

By Kimberly Douglas 20 Jun, 2016

Vision without execution is hallucination.”     Thomas Edison

Did you know that one of the reasons the population of fireflies appears to be diminishing is because of ambient light or “light pollution”? There are too many distractions. All these other bright lights keep fireflies from performing at their best. How similar and true for the people on our own teams, if we don’t have a common vision of success to focus our time, attention, and resources.

Scarcity of resources—both human and financial—demands that we focus our efforts. If you’re scheduling an annual planning meeting in the coming weeks, you’re probably aware that the value of strategic planning is not only deciding what you   will   do, but also deciding what you will   not   do. When done well, strategic   focusing   can be one of the most exciting and effective team development tools available to a leader.

There is a well-known saying: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”     I have found that the most effective teams are exceptionally clear on two things—where they are going and how they must work together to get there. In taking hundreds of teams through the strategic focusing process, I have found this metaphor to resonate with people:


The road we are on is our   mission .     If this organization ceased to exist, what would the world lose?  

  • The mountain in the distance is our   vision for success . Three years into the future, how will we know if we have been successful in living up to our mission?

Mile markers are the   key milestones . How will we measure our progress against the vision and course-correct if needed?

  • The guard rails are our   guiding principles . How will we commit to work with each other to reach that mountain?

Next post...the top 5 ways my approach to strategic planning has changed over the last 10 years.

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