Orchestrated Teamwork

The windows in my apartment were replaced recently. This is a huge project in my community as the contractor is replacing windows in some 550 apartments.

I had some prep to do leading up to “the big day”, which included emptying and packing up two bookcases and a china cabinet to allow smoother access to certain windows. Additionally, I was responsible for a neighbor’s apartment, which was done on the same day.

Let’s just say that doing this during typical August weather in New York had a level of stress attached to it….

I was completely surprised by what actually occurred, that is, it was an amazingly positive experience.

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The Labor of Leadership

Labor Day in the U.S. occurs on Monday, so it seemed timely to ruminate on the subject of work, in particular, in your role as leaders. Undoubtedly, your work extends way beyond the official office hours, so it’s important to take the time to hit the pause button and ponder.

Do work and play coincide for you? Do you feel energized by your work or does it drag you down? Do you enjoy what you do so much that you’d do it for free?

Your leadership role has an impact on how you view your work based on the challenges you face regularly. You may have loved your work while you advanced as a “doer” of the work, but as a leader, your perspective may have changed.

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On Being Dependable

Are your employees dependable? These are people who fulfill their commitments accurately, on time, and with no excuses. They come to work on time and work as long as it takes to complete an assignment.

Think about your staff and honestly evaluate their dependability. During the past couple of weeks, I’ve heard all kinds of stories that demonstrate a lack of dependability. Here is a sampling:

– A senior staff member attended a meeting with her partners and not only was completely unprepared but didn’t “get it” as to why this was a problem.

– A former employee approached his previous employer to return, was rehired, and resigned with no notice by text two weeks later.

Consensus or Collaboration

Leaders often talk about achieving consensus. If you look at its definition, it is “a general agreement about something: an idea or opinion that is shared by all the people in a group”.

Be honest: how easy is this to achieve? How easy is it for everyone to share the same opinion about something?

Consensus involves a lot of give and take, and depending on how strongly the stakeholders feel about their individual positions, it can turn into a no win situation where a decision is made that no one really believes in.

Compare this to collaboration, “to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something”.

This distinction is important. To collaborate focuses on working together to achieve a common goal, where consensus requires everyone to agree on an opinion. It’s subtle, but important.

Go for the Gold

Unless you have disconnected from all media in the past couple of weeks, you’ve at least periodically tuned into some Olympics activity. People get wrapped up in their favorite events and feel that they’ve won a little something personally when their favorite team or individual wins. It’s not just an exciting time, it can be an inspirational time.

How can you use the Olympics frenzy to connect more closely and effectively to your team? I’m confident that if you use an Olympics metaphor to drive people to their goals in the next few weeks that you will be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

Whether you are leading a company, a construction crew, or a group of teen volunteers, the message is the same: Go for the gold!

This is a great way to get engagement. Brainstorm with your staff about a particular goal and how you can work together to “get the gold”. They’ll provide ideas that you might not have thought of. Come up with a plan and put it into action.

Check It Off

Productivity suffers when your staff’s organization skills are weak. I’ve been studying this because it’s rampant in the workplace and an issue that many clients face. People are overwhelmed by the volume of tasks that cross their desks, their lack of knowledge of how to become better organized, and how to handle the technology that invariably creeps into the equation.

A checklist, for example, is an old tool whose form has morphed from analog to digital to apps. Any version will work, and as I’ve said repeatedly, the best system is the one that you actually use and helps you to stay organized.

Checklists can’t be stagnant tools. One person told me that he reviews his checklist first thing when he arrives at work. But he also revealed that often this review is derailed because other things require attention immediately.

Leadership Accountability

Consider your key employees. You trust them. Rely on them. Give them more responsibilities. And then one day things aren’t the way they used to be. You notice that they’re leaving work a little early on most days or missing agreed-upon deadlines or getting into arguments with co-workers.

Something has changed. Although their performance has slipped and their attitude may have deteriorated, consider how you may be managing them. Have you kept pace with the way things have changed, or are you managing them the same way you did 10 years ago in a less complicated environment?

Someone’s slip in performance may be due to no longer knowing what you expect. Your expectations have changed, but you haven’t clearly communicated what is different.

In other situations, however, the person may be resisting doing the job as it has evolved. They may not have the right skill set or may not be motivated to change with the position.

A Microscopic Miss

Over lunch with a good friend, I learned that his team had missed an aggressive financial goal by .2%. That’s two tenths of one percent, to emphasize the point. This was especially disappointing because one key stakeholder neglected to complete his piece on time.

What do you do when this happens? Do you beat yourself up because your team is an eyelash away from the goal? Do you blame the stakeholder who wasn’t accountable? Do you make up another narrative to make excuses?

In some respects, it would be easier to miss the goal by a substantial amount, because it is easier to excuse away a big miss if there were volatile market conditions or a natural disaster.

Is Your Team Keeping Pace?

If you’re a leader in a rapidly growing environment, you may find yourself in a quandary about how your staff keeps pace with the business growth. No matter how well you hired until now, you’ll find that you have employees who don’t cut it now and that you need to contemplate new ways to build your staff.

This can be extremely challenging, especially if some of these employees were loyal to you during earlier stages when they did whatever it took to keep things going.

I’m not suggesting that you abandon these employees; rather, think about who you need to add to take it to the next level.

Perhaps you need to consider a middle level manager who can add some much needed supervision and guidance to an otherwise overworked senior manager. Or you may think about adding administrative support which didn’t exist in the past.

Deconstructing the Unknown

When organizations undergo change, one of the commonly expressed concerns is dealing with the unknown. Leaders who are directly involved with the change process will be well served if they take time to anticipate specific concerns and diffuse them before they take on a life of their own.

In order to illustrate this, I’ll use the example of the departure of a senior leader who is replaced by someone from outside the organization. Inevitably, there is buzz about the newcomer. What is she like? What changes will he make? Will it be business as usual or will things change dramatically? And the most important….

…How is this going to affect me personally?

The new leader needs to keep in mind all of the unspoken chatter that is implicit in this question. Will she take me seriously? How is he going to understand how I think? What if he doesn’t value my contributions? Will she take an interest in me? I thought I was going to get her job – how am I going to save face among my co-workers?