Sunday, November 23, 2008

Conference on Leadership Development and Teambuilding Oct 20, 2008

This Skillpath Conference was taught as two separate tracks by two trainers, one of whom was exceptionally good and one who was, well, not so much… Consequently, I spent more time with Brad Withers in Track One: Taking Charge of Your Job as a Leader. Track Two: Inspiring Teams to Achieve Goals seemed far less organized, less inspiring. Still, I was not disappointed with the sessions that I did attend. During the opening session, we were exhorted to find 4 things in each session which we would start, stop, continue and change in the way we were doing things now. And, while I cannot say I found those 4 things in all 4 sessions I attended, I can say that there were a couple of sessions that did succeed in their stated goal.

The first session I attended was called “Light a fire of excellence in your team” and it is indicative of the worth I found that I took very few notes for this session. It had such heady pronouncements for us as
“Detecting when members are ready for new challenges”
If performance levels have declined
If employees are completely competent….
If employees would like opportunities for advancement
If upper management forces new challenges on you.
Probably not the most scintillating information to come down the pike, eh?
Oh, and to seek and get your team’s participation in shaping a new vision is key for the team. Do tell.

In general, this man wanted us to get to know our team members personal goals, so that we could link their performance to those goals. While that may be a good idea, not all of your team members will want to share that information. He also wanted the team to develop common values, foster an environment of ownership and for the team leader to provide a stabilizing influence during change and transition, though he failed to suggest how. The only portion of this session I found valuable was in the workbook, and not really alluded to during the session itself. The workbook discusses the importance of a well though out communication strategy in getting your team from point A to point B. It offers several strategies and reminds people that disagreement can, and will, occur. This trainer also did session three, which was called: Positive Feedback….the Fuel to High Performance.In this session we talked about 360 degree feedback and then proceeded to coaching and mentoring as the tool by which you use positive feedback. The rest of this hour was role playing giving constructive criticism with these instructions:

Define the problem in behavioral terms
Relate the impact of the behavior to the team, your feelings and/or the work itself
Ask why, then listen for the “real problem”
Work out a win/win change
Focus on the positive elements of the relationship. All good points, and worth reiterating. But not really earthshakingly new information.

So, now to the trainer I thought was exceptional. The first session of his which I attended was called “30 tips for becoming and inspired leader”. Sounds pretty dorky, huh? He began the session with a scenario called the ants and the chocolate river. You have 10 marshmallows, which you can stand on to cross, but if you take your weight off them they will float downstream. The group needed to find a way to get all the ants across, using only the marshmallows. I blush to admit that not only did we accomplish the task, we did it in very good time as well. If you want to know how, just ask. Instead of reading the list of 30 attributes in the workbook, Brad also described another exercise in which a participant is asked to move a rope into position by pushing rather than pulling. It should come as no surprise that it is far easier to pull than to push a rope. Give it a try, if you doubt it.

The 6 keys (or cornerstones) to being an inspired leader that follow are a summation of the 30 points used in the workbook:

1. Effective Communication (interesting point #1-The greater the separation between the formal and the informal communication in your establishment, the more resistance you are likely to encounter. As a manager, you are not likely to hear much of the informal communication that goes on. That does not excuse having ‘the meeting before the meeting’ and making summary decisions without the aid of the team. If you need to make a summary decision, do so…but own it.)
2. Crystal Clear Purpose (interesting point #2- Make sure you and your team know the goals vision and values that drive the team toward results. )
3. Crystal Clear Process (interesting point #3- What gets measured gets done. You need to measure, qualify and cost your process so everyone knows where they stand. Map it out, and make sure you are measuring results, not activity.)
4. Crystal Clear Role (interesting point #4- Remember that the job is not the role, so if your problem solvers are not your decision makers you may have a disconnect in communication and process. Interesting point #5---and one it would do us all good to remember, is that behavior and attitudes are the top 10% of the iceberg. The other 90% is beliefs. Do you know what the beliefs of your team members are?)
5. Accepted Leadership (interesting point #6- Understand that there does need to be leader and that leader should be you. If you cannot assume that role, be sure you know who the leader is, and assume the role of power behind the throne, if necessary.)
6. Solid Relationships (interesting point #7- Respect, trust and acceptance can only be attained through mutual accountability.)
The workbook has the full thirty points, if anyone would like to run them down. It will be in the FYI basket for the next 6 weeks.

Session Four of the Leadership Conference sounded almost solipsistic. It was called “Building a Team That’s a Reflection of You” (italics theirs not mine).

The above line grid shows the progress of the average team.
Interestingly, if you have a team with above average ability by no willingness, you end up with a confused crowd. If you have a team with above average willingness but no ability, you end up with warring factions. Both “stars” and “slackers” end up high on the ability side, with little or no willingness to cooperate. And if you have a group with neither the willingness nor ability to cooperate, all you have is an unruly mob.

So how do you influence this grid to go from #1 to #4 with as little of the outlying distractions as possible? If you have an unruly mob, warring factions or even a confused crowd on your hands it may be time to do some serious clarifying of roles and goals. If you have warring factions on your hands, it’s time to make sure that the goals of the team are crystal clear and that there is sufficient accountability for action in the group. And if none of that works, you may have to change the players. After all, if the goal is worth pursuing, it is probably worth taking the time to find a team that will whole heartedly work toward the goal (whatever it might be).

Brad made a few last points that bear repeating:

What does the high performing individual (or team) do differently?
For one thing, they don’t always follow the rules, in fact they are notorious for bending them. For another, they obtain the tools they need to do the job one way or another. They also take shortcuts. According to the literature, high performers only do about 5 to 7 things differently from your average employee. So, when you are coaching the high performer, it would be worth your while to find out what they are doing and why they choose the roads they do.

When you find yourself or those you are supervising going around and around in a behavior loop, you should look for these 4 coaching or learning moments. These are times when you are most likely to affect a change in behavior:

1. Conflict—if something is causing severe dissonance, it can be a powerful agent for change.
2. Resonance—if something creates one of those delightful AHA! moments, where you and he(she) suddenly see something for the first time.
3. Surprise—when something happens that neither of you expected.
4. Mismatch—when things don’t match up, people often feel the need to try and create a match, even if it means a change in their own behavior.

So how do you affect change in behavior?
During another game we played as a group,these five points were illustrated:

Tell them--sometimes that is appropriate, and adequate.
Force them-- If you need to “force” change, it would be best to remember that the more force is necessary the less buy-in you will generally achieve.
Ask them—but be prepared for resistance and possible changes of plan
Invite them—if you wish them to be involved.
Empower them—in the best of all possible worlds, get the members to “run the game”.


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