The never ending debate?

disagreeEver since we could argue it seems as if people have been debating the merits of working for the common good or working for individual success and survival. Thomas Hobbes, the philosopher, wrote in 1651 that we needed government to enforce behaviors that support the common good. The economist Adam Smith argued in 1776 that we must establish a free economic market to ensure that the common good wins. Otherwise the power of individual success will win.

The Selfish GeneI first got involved in this debate as a behavioral biology student in 1976 when Richard Dawkins published one of my favorite books, The Selfish Gene. At the time it was described as “the most thrilling stretches of explanatory writing ever penned. It’s breathtaking. Dawkins continued the scientific debate that is occurring today: is it better to act for the common good or is it better to act for the good of the individual?

While this debate has fueled many wonderful conversations and arguments on college campuses, during long car trips, or at the local bar it highlights a dilemma that all leaders face. Do I focus on the success of my team and our services or do I focus on the success of the larger organization, even if it hurts my team or my success?

What if there isn’t a “right” answer and instead it is actually a polarity that you can leverage? In her 2014 post, Leveraging polarities,  Anita introduced the concept of polarity thinking as a tool for leaders to use when facing these types of ongoing dilemmas. A recent article from the Polarity Partnership Group highlights the need to recognize the benefits of supporting the common good AND supporting your team while also acknowledging and acting on the downside of the common good AND the downside of team-focused success.

Over the next month we will be sharing tips and tools you can use to reap the benefits of focusing on the common good in your organization. Yet, in today’s complex environment we must also follow F. Scott Fitzgerald’s advice and “hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” It isn’t a debate between the common good and the good of your team, it is a polarity of the common good and the good of your team.

Todd Thorsgaard

Focusing on the common good

common good“No decisions should ever be made without asking the question, is this for the common good?” – Michael Moore

As leaders, we constantly face competing priorities, projects, and perhaps most difficult to manage, competing interests. This fact was reconfirmed last fall when we surveyed higher education leaders in MnSCU to identify their most pressing leadership challenges. In that survey, leaders mentioned the need to:

  • Balance the good of the whole vs. individual good or good for my unit
  • Develop system solutions vs. individual institution solutions
  • Incent and reward collaborative work and behavior

This month we’ll be exploring these topics and more as we address some of the leadership challenges inherent in focusing on the common good. What challenges have you encountered while balancing the common good with competing interests? What has helped you to focus on the common good?

Anita Rios

Pick yourself up

Fred and Ginger1Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are a classic dancing team. In this clip, they are having difficulty learning to dance together, and they sing about the need to “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.”

We sometimes need to do that with work teams, too. Things can be going fine, and then some disruptive event takes everything off course. It can be internal, such as the time two of my volunteer instructors quit a team because they couldn’t work together. Or it can be external, such as the time a new manager reorganized priorities and canceled a project my team had been working on for a year.

Your leadership approach makes a big difference in helping a team recover after this kind of jolt. Doug Davis has a three-step process for helping get your team back on track.

  1. Reflect – First, allow yourself to think about what happened and to experience the related emotions. Davis recommends that leaders give themselves at least 24 hours to just feel miserable.
  2. Review – The second step is to figure out what you can learn from the setback. Meet with team members individually and provide a safe space for them to share their opinions about what happened and what they would do differently next time. Listen without placing blame, and let them know that the team will be moving on.
  3. Replace – After you’ve learned what you can, it’s time to stop focusing on the setbacks and take positive action. Replace the “can’t” with “can.” Come up with short-term goals and easy wins to re-focus the team’s energy.

fred and ginger3In my case, the volunteers never did come back to that particular project. But I reconfigured some things, and they were both able to contribute in different settings. And while our team regretted the work done on the canceled project, some of the lessons we learned were very helpful in moving forward over the next couple of years. Eventually the “start all over again” became the new normal and everyone was contributing positively again.

What have you done when your team has to start over?

Dee Anne Bonebright


Assessing your team

I’ve been fortunate to lead and be a part of several high-performing, cohesive teams during my career…teams that get a lot done and enjoy working with each other in the process. Being part of a high-performing, cohesive team can be productive, fulfilling, and fun. The best part of working with a great team is that the work you do together is better than anything you could ever accomplish alone.

But what if your team is less than productive and seems to get stuck in conflict? In his best-selling book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni, identifies five dysfunctions that prevent teams from achieving their best:

  1. Absence of Trustdysf
  2. Fear of Conflict
  3. Lack of Commitment
  4. Avoidance of Accountability
  5. Inattention to Results

Do you recognize any of these dysfunctions from any teams you’ve worked on in the past? I sure do. At certain times in my career, I’ve experienced each one of them and it can be frustrating, isolating, and downright awful.

So how can you address these dysfunctions and build a team that:

  1. Trusts one another?
  2. Engages in unfiltered conflict around ideas?
  3. Commits to decisions and plans of action?
  4. Holds one another accountable for delivering on those plans?
  5. Focuses on the achievement of collective results?

You might start by using a team assessment to help you evaluate your team. In his book, Lencioni provides a very straightforward 15-question diagnostic tool you can use to assess your team and its susceptibility to the five dysfunctions. It’s important to have each team member participate in the assessment and answer the questions from their perspective, so that you get a full picture of how your team is functioning. With the results, you can then build strategies to begin addressing any dysfunctions. Lencioni has also created a field guide companion piece to his book that outlines specific strategies and tools for overcoming each of the five dysfunctions.

There are many team assessments available to leaders today. I’ve found that this particular tool is simple and accessible. What have you used to assess your team?

Anita Rios


Share the wealth

Smiling business people working together at a meetingHigh performing teams sound different than other teams. They are noisier!

The Harvard Business Review in June reminded leaders that providing feedback to your team is truly a shared responsibility. Taking actions to facilitate team-directed and team-provided feedback can help keep your team on track and lead to new levels of performance.

I worked with an oncology practice team that consistently received the highest levels of patient satisfaction across a large care delivery system. When asked what helped them provide such high levels of care they focused on the daily “huddle” they held. Once a day the entire team gathered together and shared feedback with each other on what was working well that day, what unique issues were coming up and what ideas each of them had to improve care. They all spoke; the front-desk receptionist, the rooming nurse, the physician, the manager, the chemotherapy tech, and the radiology tech. Each one was allowed and expected to give feedback to the rest of the team from their own perspective.

Rebecca Knight, the HBR author mentioned above, encourages leaders to follow these principles to build a culture that supports team members providing feedback to each other:

  1. Establish the expectation of group feedback and accountability and define it as a team.
  2. Schedule and hold regular “check-in” meetings – like the huddles
  3. Start with general, easy to answer questions.
  4. Role-model listening to feedback.
  5. Moderate and facilitate to allow everyone to share.
  6. Don’t avoid negative feedback or “issues.”

Helping your team members give and receive feedback from each other leverages the insights each person has and also creates a shared leadership accountability to high levels of performance.

Todd Thorsgaard

Team building activities that work

As organization development consultants, my colleagues and I are often asked to assist leaders with team building. This can mean anything from “please get these two people to start speaking to each other again, in four hours or less” to “we just want to have a fun day away from the office.”

This month’s focus has been on building and sustaining effective teams, and team building is a useful strategy for your leadership toolkit. To be more than just a fun day away, activities need to be based on the needs of the group and tied to team goals – either setting up future success or celebrating past accomplishments.

teambuilding1Team building activities can be elaborate, such as a day at a ropes course. Or they can be more simple, such as a celebratory lunch after meeting a big deadline.

Of course, sometimes team building is mostly about getting away from normal work and having fun together. If you’re leading a project team, it’s important to acknowledge every milestone and celebrate the big achievements. In an ongoing work team it’s equally important to look back on the good work that has been accomplished.

Taking a break can help you get back to the workplace refreshed and with new shared stories to tell. Anita has started a tradition of an annual team outing to have fun and celebrate the past year’s accomplishments. In past years we’ve gone bowling, played bocce ball, and taken a boat ride on the St. Croix. Having fun together really helps build our sense of working as a team. Check out a recent photo here.

Team building doesn’t have to take long. Checking in with good news before starting a meeting, watching a fun video together, or testing out a new training game can be a good break from the normal work. There are many online resources to help you 1) decide why you want to have a team building event, and 2) find activities that will meet your goals and timeframe.

The Free Management Library is a site with numerous resources on a variety of topics, including a section called All About Team Building. It includes an article from KSL Training on building high performance teams which describes steps for building teams:

  1. Develop a diverse team
  2. Generate a team purpose
  3. Develop crucial processes
  4. Build strong relationships
  5. Share leadership and accountability
  6. Establish focused communication
  7. Recognize key milestones and celebrate success
  8. Review and learn

teambuilding2This list of steps can help you identify the purpose for your team building event, which in turn can help you select activities. Once you have goals in mind, sites such as Mind Tools or Businessballs can provide ideas for team building activities.

Team building activities can be a valuable way to enhance communication, build camaraderie, and keep moving toward successful outcomes. What have been some of your most effective team building experiences?

Dee Anne Bonebright




Get it right the first time

The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.”

Many of us have read the above quote or some version of it, yet thanks to the internet I discovered that we really don’t know who first said it! It is often attributed to the psychologist Albert Ellis, while others give credit to Mark Twain and even Shakespeare is believed to have made a similar comment.

What we do know is that using a structured behavioral-based interview gives you the best chance of making the right hiring decision the first time. Big data analytics at Google and multiple published studies confirm that asking candidates to describe what they actually have done and the outcome is the best predictor of success on the job. And bringing the right person onboard is a key part of building and sustaining an effective work team.

The steps to develop behavioral-based interview questions are:

  1. Identify the critical job related competencies required for success on the job.
    1. These include the knowledge, skills, abilities and characteristics necessary to do the job and to be a contributing member of the work team.
  2. Write questions that require the candidate to describe what they have actually done or said in a previous situation that demonstrates the application of each critical competency.
  3. Plan probing and follow-up questions to clarify what you are asking or to verify the answer provided.
    1. Probing and follow-up questions are based on the original question.
    2. Probing and follow-up questions are used to help the candidate understand the question and competency or to help you understand their answer.
  4. Establish a common criteria or rubric to be used in evaluating responses.
    1. The criteria will rate the quality of using the required competency or the actual demonstration of the competency.
    2. The criteria must be observable and applicable across candidates and interviewers.

We have created a set of behavioral-based interview questions that you can use as examples or a resource to develop your own – Behavioral based questions.

It takes work to develop and conduct effective structured behavior-based interviews but increasing your odds to get the right person the first time to join your team is a great payoff.

Todd Thorsgaard