Category: Teams

Take a Knee

I have always enjoyed watching Colin Kaepernick play. He plays with abandon, exhorting his team mates, taking risks, and showing the courage to stand his ground and take the hits that sometimes come from making a play. I’m just a fan, an emotional one I will admit, and it gives me pause to see him treated with disdain by so many.

Now it’s a different game for Mr. Kaepernick. He has taken a knee. He declared that kneeling in silence while everyone else stands for our national anthem is his way of saying ENOUGH! Our police unjustly kill people of color, and I have to do something to call attention to it. Every time he does it, or others join him, it affects us. By taking a knee, he has used the power of silence combined with the visible sign of resistance. “I will no longer participate in this,” he says so powerfully. It reminds us that the reason for taking the knee is ongoing. The problem remains, and deep inside us, I believe we know that his cause is just.

So many of my friends ( I am an elder white male) chide me for taking Mr. Kapernick’s side. They get upset when they see him take the knee. “He won’t stand for our Anthem” is the most common thing they say, And in their logic, he deserves punishment for doing so. When I posted my support on facebook, I got no “likes” and no “comments.”

Anytime someone raises the “undiscussable” they can expect to get push back from their group. They break the norm, (the undiscussed way of acting in a given situation. If you want to experience this for yourself in a safe way, face the back of the elevator next time you are in one, and you will experience what it’s like when people shun you (in a light way.)

The question I have learned to ask when I get challenged about my support for Mr. Kaepernick is, “When would you take a knee? What circumstances would have to exist for you to decide to take a knee in a stadium? What about at work? Have you ever taken a knee for something you believe in? Can you give me an example? These are great conversation starters. I mean it. Try them out. And the stories will lead to new insights about your friends.

Acting ethically is fundamental to business. The executives at Enron did not take a knee, and they were known as the brightest around. The executives at Volkswagon didn’t take a knee, and neither did the executives at Wells Fargo. Arthur Andersen is no longer around. The Challenger exploded because no one dared to take a knee.

And it’s one I have had to answer for myself. I have taken a knee, and because of doing so I launched my consulting career thirty years ago. When I reported my boss for sexually harassing my reports, I got the visit from HR. It hurt. I remember going home to my wife and saying, “I am going to be a consultant now. You will have to keep us afloat until I get enough business.” We survived, and we never looked back. Now I get paid well for telling people the truth.

Going along and not speaking up causes so much pain in the long run. We all need to learn how to stop a group process at times. It’s one of the real ways to innovate. Mr. Kaepernick proves this point. I respect your opinion about his action but at least admit that he does not deserve punishment for calling out attention to a real problem. And I will not be watching this season until Mr. Kaepernick gets a job offer. I want to see him play again and deep down I believe you do too.

 

Stem Cells for Group Process

Sometimes a well-placed metaphor is just what a group needs. A while back I consulted to a department in trouble. This area was mission critical to the success of the company. Three divisions comprised this function and although successful completion of the work required interdependence among them, the very structure of the department fostered irrelevant competition. Furthermore, everyone knew about the issues, but these had become “undiscussable.” What to do?

At an off-site, we divided the group randomly into three smaller groups. We gave the groups the following assignment:

In a fairy tale, tell the story of our department. You may use all the characters usually found in the great stories we remember from our youth, dragons, kings, princesses, queens, elves, goblins, etc. The tale must begin with, “Once upon a time . . . ” It also must end with, “And they lived happily ever after.” You must write this tale and read it to the entire group. The tale will describe our current state, only in fairy tale language.

We gave them thirty minutes to complete their work. Their presentations were fantastic. They were creative, hilarious, and filled with healing, self-deprecating humor that loosened their perceptions and allowed them to see themselves differently. Their issues were smaller than they thought. And now they had just become discussable!

Towers that stood alone surrounded by deep forests with large thorn bushes became laughable in the telling. However, there were still real feelings connected to a history of real hurt and pain. The group needed a way to transcend these historical sources of rancor.

A solution came from one of the groups in the form the most creative metaphor I have ever seen. A team member suggested that we could implant “stem cells” in places where old patterns needed to be replaced by newer ones. She said that stem cells were undifferentiated cells that could adapt and change into what was required to bring about new health, flexibility, and vitality. In her words, these stem cells needed to contain both feedback and forgiveness. The combination of both would allow for a new sense of collaboration.

Three new groups formed, and they worked separately on where to place the stem cells. They worked for an hour. When the groups presented back, they surprised themselves with their consistency. Team members signed up to make the changes and to create the new ways of working. The team also thanked the leader for being vulnerable enough bring the issues to the forefront so that they could work on them.

And the moral of this story is that group issues don’t go away on their own. They must be worked. Nothing beats a good story and a great metaphor for innovating new group processes.

Stand Out By Fitting In

Elverson, PA Sunflowers

You can find any number of articles written on how to stand out from the crowd, to differentiate yourself. The click bait is everywhere. Fitting in is another way to stand out. Collaboration is hard. It requires facing the group paradox head on and solving the I / We dilemma for your self. On real teams, members can lead from anywhere. They can suggest, support, give and take. Membership can be measured by how connected you feel you are to the team and the team’s goals. Heating up team membership is a powerful way to increase team productivity. And it’s done through the work of the individual members. Helping others on the team can be a real source of joy and celebration. On sport’s teams, we call it an “assist.”

Fitting in does not necessarily mean compromising your beliefs or values or giving away the store. On great teams, members learn to anticipate the needs of others and fill those needs quickly, often without talking. It’s wonderful to see this in action and even more enjoyable if you happen to be the recipient. In this context, fitting in is about increasing one’s awareness to include other members as well as the team. Humor, lightness, flexibility, and healthy self-deprecation can all be part of this way of working.

In our Life Orientations work (LIFO) we identify these team members as having an Adapting / Dealing style. What’s more, these preferences can be learned and practiced. When these behaviors become part of the group norm, you can expect surges in productivity, joy, celebration, and cohesion. These are truly memorable teams. Sure click on the promises of how to stand out, as long as you incorporate those ideas into how you can fit in by helping your team to succeed.

What Does The Silence Mean?

What Does The Silence Mean?

 

A silence in a group once gave me twenty years of work. I was asked to see the working dynamics of the top executive team of a major insurance company. My pitch to the CEO was to let me observe his meeting for an hour. If, when the time ran out, I couldn’t say something that was of real value to the CEO or the team, we would part ways.

Twenty-five minutes into the meeting the CEO said to the group, “On this next item, we are all in agreement that we should spend the $12 million on “the integrated desktop, right?” The team followed up with a deafening silence. I saw my chance to add value. “What does the silence mean?,” I asked. Silence again. I turned to the CEO and said. “I think we should poll the group.” “What the hell does that mean he asked?”

I said that I would ask each member of the group individually to say Yes to the question I teed up. “Do you agree that we should spend the $12 million on the integrated desktop?” I then added that if they said anything whatsoever other than YES, I would record their vote as a NO.

I began, “So Rich, Do you agree that we should spend the $12 million on the integrated desktop?” Rich started by saying, “Well…,” I said, “That’s a No, Rich.” “What about you Carol Ann?” Another No. And so it went. In the end, I had 12 NO’s, a unanimous vote for NO. The CEO asked, “Now what?” I responded quickly. “I think you should pay me 1 million dollars because I just saved you 12. With all the issues we just uncovered you would not install that desktop, not now or perhaps ever.” Instantly I had gained credibility by just stating what people feared to ask, What does the silence mean?

Their team went on to become one of the highest performing teams with whom I ever worked They turned the business around and together they became a great team. I ended up working for all of their teams. One of my teachers, George Leonard once remarked. “Energy follows attention.” Sometimes silence is an invitation to look for the power that’s behind the silence and just waiting to be expressed.

Team Tune-Up

Team Tune-Up

Group issues don’t go away on their own. Teams need to work through their problems by talking about them, not in pairs, but in the context of the whole group.

What teams need is a model and a map to get them started. We make use of the Drexler Sibbet Team Performance Model to illustrate the stages a team goes through on the way to high performance. The model helps by focusing areas for team members to discuss what they see and what they want.

 

As you might imagine, a professional facilitator, with a lot of experience will help the leader and the members to put the difficult issues on the table and work through them. We make use of what we call the Tune up Kanban process to guide teams through these topics. The model serves top point out in where the issue resides and, the Kanban board allows members to surface their description of the problem and its effect on team productivity.

Teams identify the problems as “options to solve.” They pull one of these options to the “Solving” column, and they work on it. We call this Action Research, and it involves a few steps.
1. Describe the issue/problem and state how it affects the team’s productivity.
2. Jointly agree on how to approach the concern (collect more data, interview each other, etc.
3. State the findings and own the issue/problem.
4 Generate solutions.
5. Choose a solution and jointly agree on actions, point person, and time frame.

Tune-ups are energizing. They can be done in a day or linked with other strategic priorities as part of a larger meeting. Like constructive feedback or robust debriefs, Tune-ups are an acquired taste. Doing them often and well can lead your team to high performance quickly.

Here is an example of a team Kanban Board using Trello. You can also use a flip chart and sticky notes. Have Fun with this.