How to identify what makes your team happy, and what doesn’t?

April 24, 2007

Jochen is at it again. This time, he describes a simple, two-part exercise known as the Happiness Reality Check.

Part 1

In the first part, the team identifies the multiple sources of their happiness at work. Jochen’s team’s list included such things as challenging tasks, like-minded colleagues, and an open atmosphere – things that might show up on the lists of many teams – as well as a few items that are more team-specific.

This part of the exercise is valuable for two reasons:

  1. By naming what team members like about the work and work environment, it helps the team to recognize what is working; what is going right! Too often, the “squeaky wheels” (problems) get all the attention while the well-functioning, joyful aspects of daily activities get overshadowed. Naming the good stuff reminds us of what we like.
  2. Naming what makes us happy also provides an opportunity to find ways to spend more time and energy on those “happiness” activities, and to spread the environmental factors that lead to happiness. For most people, greater happiness brings greater productivity and energy, so it makes sense to maximize happiness.

Part 2

The second part of the exercise is to identify those things that make team members unhappy. I was pleasantly surprised to see the team’s list shorter for this aspect than in part 1. It included such items as office noise, repetitive task and interruptions. (The last may be on everyone’s list!)

The critical aspect of Part 2 is for the team to also develop a strategy for minimizing the “unhappiness” factors. For example, to reduce the negative effect of repetitive tasks, the team resolved to better “use technology to automate them as much as possible.”

I have not yet conducted the exercise with any of my teams, but I hope to soon. Take a look at Jochen’s post and give the Happiness Reality Check a whirl. It might just make you happy!


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Six keys to a new team member’s success

April 23, 2007

Work teams often face situations in which new team members join the team. Teams can smooth the transition by providing a thorough orientation for these new members. When they gain knowledge about such things as process, procedures, and available tools, new team members can quickly begin applying their talents and skills to the team’s purpose.

While taking steps to orient new team members seems like common sense, orientation often gets pushed to the back burner, overshadowed by what may seem to be higher priorities. However, because there are always new members, it is never to late to plan for your next new team member orientation!

Here are six keys to a thorough orientation designed to ensure a new team member’s success.

  1. Partnering with a ‘buddy’. Current team members who will work side-by-side with a new member can do a great job with orientation because they have the knowledge to function in the same environment as the new member. A buddy system also reinforces a culture of interdependence among team members.
  2. Understanding the culture. Teams often develop their own culture, which is a combination of the over-arching organizational culture and a more localized aspect based on the people and the purpose of the team. Culture includes: the core values acknowledged by the team; how members conduct the themselves in work-related and personal matters; and the language, vocabulary and communication styles used in the team’s environment.
  3. Navigating the organization. This is critical if the new team member is coming from outside the organization, but it is also good to review with members who may be transferring internally. You want to ensure they are comfortable with the names, faces, titles, roles, and reporting relationships that effect the team.
  4. Utilizing the procedures. To get things accomplished in any organization, teams deal with a number of procedures that have been adopted and adapted over time. New team members were likely pros at utilizing procedures on their last team, but they may become stalled at every turn without structured guidance. Procedures are designed to facilitate work, not hamper it. Don’t let them become traps for new team members.
  5. Accessing the tools. A new team member may be a whiz at the team’s primary software programs, but they have to know how to access the shared drive to be able to collaborate. Tools can include technology, supplies, administrative support, and other resources.
  6. Committing to the mission. The basis of any business team is that the members share a common purpose – to achieve the team’s mission. New team members can be at a disadvantage if they join a team that has a well defined purpose, yet their commitment is necessary to their success and that of the team. In addition to ensuring that they understand the mission, the team may need to reengage in discussion of its purpose so that new members can be heard and become fully committed.

Teams can probably draft the key contents of their new member orientation during a single meeting, then set about refining it as needed. The process of developing the orientation is often instructional itself because differences in understandings or opinion among current team members may arise, or nuances in individual approaches will be revealed.

A thorough orientation is not the only factor in determining the success of a new team member (but it is an important one). For example, I discussed before how the existing team structure influences how quickly new members can begin to significantly contribute to the team. All else equal, teams with an established structure and culture can more easily integrate new members than teams that are only loosely organized, especially when the new members are good fits for the previous structure.

How does your team integrate new members? Have you identified other key components of a thorough orientation?


Credit to Leader’s Edge and Dr. Seymour Adler for inspiration.


Related posts: A metaphor for teamworking
Using short-hand communication within teams


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Teamwork, trust and kept promises

April 17, 2007

NvestNtech founder Peter Kusterer offers a simple, well-told story illustrating that trust is a key component in teamwork.

As the early morning of a new day unfolded, the quiet procession of trucks, men, and equipment were nearly silent; you could barely make out their silhouettes in the low light of dawn. They were getting ready to take care of a large tree at my neighbor’s home that was beginning to lose its footing.

Credit bacigalupeQuietly in the dark they went about their prep work. Words were exchanged quietly with many actions being taken without speaking to each other.I was struck by the professionalism of this team.

Although it wasn’t clear to me, they seemed to understand what each other needed and how they worked together. It didn’t take long to see that each member had a specific role and duty to carry out.

This is dangerous work and you could see the trust each man placed in the other.

The story caught my attention, in part, because my father used to tell me stories of the tree removal crew he worked on as a young man. Perhaps because of that experience, Dad taught my brothers and me how to look out for the safety of each other when handling tools and equipment during group work such as hay baling or trout line rigging. Even more, we learned to accomplish our tasks in ways that helped add to the efficiency and effectiveness of the other person.

As with the tree crew in Peter’s story or my own youthful experiences, teams in professional organizations require a high level of trust among team members to meet their performance objectives.

How is a high level of trust achieved? Through kept promises!

Here is how Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith explain it in The Wisdom of Teams.

At its core, team accountability is about the sincere promises we make to ourselves and others, promises that underpin two critical aspects of effective teams: commitment and trust. By promising to hold our selves accountable to the team’s goals, we each earn the right to express our own views about all aspects of the team’s effort and to have our views receive a fair and constructive hearing. By following through on such a promise we preserve and extend the trust upon which any team must be built.

Whether the team’s goal is the safe felling of a large tree or the on-time, within-budget production of a project deliverable, success rests upon the team members’ trust of one another; trust to keep promises.

Find Peter’s entire post here.


Related posts:
Rebuilding shattered trust
8 essential elements for trusting teams
Trust is a two-way street
Three steps for building trust in teams and organizations


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Team linking

March 31, 2007

Three for 3/31.

The Practice of Leadership
It’s only in the practice of leadership that we influence our world…

[Regarding Patrick Lencioni’s “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”] The book is a small and easy to read and the model provided is simple to understand making it a powerful tool for helping teams improve. I highly recommend this book to anyone, who leads a team. This book will help you understand what a successful team looks and feels like.

Michael’s Thoughts
Think (research, analyze) Write (articles, blog) Engage (consult, speak)

One of the problems in the way we use email is that it creates unnecessary communication missives that all have apparent equal importance when viewed in an individual’s inbox. If we were in a face-to-face (very traditional team model) environment and I was expecting something from you, I’d amble over to your desk and ask “how’s it going with your document?”. You’d answer, and get back to work. In an email-facilitated environment, I send you a message to request an update. Now let’s think through the difference…

All Things Workplace
Real-life Stories, Tips, and Techniques for creating top notch workplaces, performance, and work life. . . for executives, leaders, employees, and their coaches/consultants.

Whenever one person leaves or one person enters a group, the dynamics change. Why? We learn how to function in our groups based on the roles people play, how they play them, and the balance of power and influence that results.That means that each time the group composition changes, it’s a signal to sit down and talk.


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Is the tail wagging the dog on your team?

March 26, 2007

Grace Andrews raises a number of good issues in the post Managing to the 2%. She points out that teams, managers, and organizations often go too far when addressing problems that apply to only a few employees.

An example might be implementing a daily written status-reporting structure because a single team member communicates poorly about progress on their tasks, despite the fact that everyone else routinely shares all relevant task status information.

Overreacting, by creating new rules, policies, and procedures, is equivalent to letting the (2%) “tail” wag the (98%) “dog.”

So what is the fall out of this behavior? Think about it. When the 98% wake up, smell the coffee, and realize they are being “ruled” to death because of a few who aren’t contributing, the dynamic of the whole team is in jeopardy. Morale suffers; it takes twice as long to maneuver because of the restrictions put in place for the 2%. Employees end up feeling disempowered, and if the focus on managing to the 2% continues, turnover increases.

Organizations that have worked diligently to foster a strong culture of teamwork and collaboration may find their progress unraveling with each new policy. The most effective team members will recognize that new rules would be otherwise unnecessary if not for the 2% and, therefore, resent the unwarranted burden.

Andrews offers a few suggestions:

  • Before adopting any new policy or rule, consider whether it is for the 2% or the 98%.
  • Don’t let the 2% bog down the team; manage them up or out.
  • Practice transparency; when team members know what is going on it is hard for the 2% to gain a foothold.

I offer this additional suggestion:

Engage the entire team in deciding what policies and rules are needed to accomplish the objectives.

In the example of the single employee who communicates poorly about progress on their tasks, the team is unlikely to endorse a burdensome procedure of mostly unnecessary daily reports. A better solution is more likely to emerge from the combined contributions of the team. Team members will be empowered to establish their own rules and standards. The dog will once again wag the tail.

As an added bonus, the open deliberation process will help demonstrate how the behavior of the 2% is viewed by their colleagues.

Read Grace Andrew’s full article at FastCompany.com.


Photograph comes from Flickr by SoozieQ. I cropped the picture to show only the beautiful tail.


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Does your team understand it’s mission?

March 23, 2007

By definition, teams are created to achieve a specific purpose – the mission. Ensuring that team members understand the mission, and the importance of their roles in relationship to the mission, is essential.

That could be the end of this post…

Unfortunately, teams don’t always ensure that the mission is fully understood. In fact, circumstances often challenge mission-awareness, such as times when teams are geographically dispersed (virtual teams) or when team membership is fluid (e.g., team members have specialized roles on multiple teams.)

This short story from stickyminds provides a good illustration. [via Raven Young.]

One team that I worked with told me this story about what can happen when a vision is not shared with the team. They were using an agile approach to software development, and had a product owner who, every two weeks, would attend the planning meeting to tell the team what he wanted them to work on for the next two-week iteration.

During one of these meetings, he told the team that he wanted them to delete the customer whenever the customer selected an opt-out option. The team completed this work and demonstrated it for the product owner, who was pleased with the outcome and accepted the feature. Another successful iteration followed, and another. Then the product owner told the team that for this next iteration, he wanted them to take the deleted customer records and prep them for data mining by the R&D staff.

The team said “Whoa! You told us you wanted the customer deleted when they opted out, so that’s what we did—we didn’t archive that information, we permanently deleted it.”

The product owner was dumbfounded. “How could you do that? Don’t you know that one of the goals of this project is to figure out why we’re losing customers?”

Umm, no.

The team members responsible for the work had never learned the true mission of their efforts. Who knows how this came about…

Perhaps, they were still busy with a previous project and not involved in start-up for this one. Perhaps the team leader hoarded information or communicated poorly about the overall objectives.

Regardless the immediate cause, the effect was wasted time and effort, a dissatisfied client who likely lost faith in the team (if not the entire organization,) and the generally feeling that processes were dysfunctional. No one would be surprised if the client pressed the DELETE key!

How does your team ensure a common understanding of its primary mission? Look around. Is there any chance that team members may not be aware of or fully understand the overall objectives? If so, its worth taking the time to discuss and clarify.

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How team members identify their strength activities

March 21, 2007

One of the chief objectives in forming a team is to find people with complimentary strengths, talents, and skills. The mix provides the team with the necessary breadth to cover a wide range of demands, and allows for more flexibility to adjust to the inevitable challenges that arise during projects.

Steven Covey puts it this way, “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.

To achieve this mixture in teams, it is first necessary for individuals to understand their own strengths. Most of us have plenty of thoughts about our own strengths. After all, we all had to answer the same standard interview question, didn’t we? “So [interviewee name], what are you greatest strengths?”

Answers that I have heard (and used) are typically fairly vague, in the vein of: attention to detail, team player, organized, self-motivated, etc.

GOIn his book Go Put Your Strengths to Work, Marcus Buckingham argues that our greatest opportunity for improvement lies in capitalizing on our strengths. To achieve real improvement, however, we need to get beyond vague descriptions of strengths by focusing on the activities that allow us to utilize our strengths.

Strength activities have 4 SIGNs

  1. Success – you are successful when playing to a strength
  2. Instinct – you are drawn to, and look forward to, strength activities
  3. Growth – strength activities feel natural (more on this below)
  4. Needs – strength activities seem to fill certain innate needs

Under the header of GROWTH, Buckingham writes engagingly about how strength activities make us feel.

It feels easy. It feels like you’re not trying very hard. It feels like an activity that for some reason, proved quite simple for you to pick up. You learned it quickly and now, when you are doing it, you don’t struggle to concentrate. Instead you naturally stay focused and time speeds up, and you still stay focused and time speeds up some more. You have to remind yourself to step and look up at the clock, and when you do, whole hours have flown by.

Sounds to me like being “in the zone.”

Identify your strength activities

Buckingham suggests a process of self-observation whereby you write down what you are doing when you catch yourself engaging in activities that have the 4 SIGNs described above. Continue the process for about 2 weeks, recording each activity on a separate card, along with how it makes you feel.

At the end of the time, review all the cards to reveal those with the highest SIGN rankings. These are the daily activities that most play to your strengths. You will want clarify whether the activity has caveats or special circumstances. For example, attending brainstorming meetings may be a strength activity for you, whereas attending other types of meetings may not.

Related Post: Playing to your strengths on teams


By the way, I will post a review of Go Put Your Strengths to Work by Marcus Buckingham at Joyful Jubilant Learning’s A Love Affair with Books on March 30.


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