Monthly Archives: February 2015

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

Keep your good people

love em“The buck stops here!”
– Harry S. Truman (33rd United States President)

In her bestselling book on employee retention Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em, Beverly Kaye quotes Harry Truman when helping leaders understand their critical role in getting good people to stay on their teams. The buck really does stop with us as leaders to understand employee’s strengths and aspirations and what motivates and even inspires them to work on our team. Turning those insights into action is what really helps keep our good people.

But how can you discover what motivates each person who reports to you?  Well, in a word: ASK!

Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em is peppered with useful questions that will jump start any one-on-one conversation you can have with employees. Here is an example from Kaye’s book:

  • What will keep you here?
  • What might entice you away?
  • What is most energizing about your work?
  • Are we fully utilizing your talents?
  • What is inhibiting your success?
  • What can I do differently to best assist you?

I’ve used many questions like this in my one-on-one meetings with direct reports, and I’ve found that I always learn something to help in my efforts to develop, support, and keep good people. It certainly contributes to building an effective team.

What have you found works well to retain your good people?

Anita Rios

Welcoming a new team member

goodbyeYou have an excellent team and everything is moving smoothly toward your annual goals. Then a team member gets an unexpected promotion and moves to California. After a successful search you are able to hire someone who brings needed skills and energy to the group, but somehow the momentum has been disrupted.

Does this seem familiar?  One challenge for building and sustaining effective teams is that the task is never done. Just when you think everything is hellofine, something changes. When the change involves integrating a new person into an existing team, there are challenges for the new team member and the existing ones.

The biggest challenge is to help the new team member become part of the group. As one author said, “the unwritten rules and expectations of the team are more likely to trip up the newbie than the official stuff.” Years ago a friend of mine was in that position. It was her first day on the job and she didn’t know her way around. When she walked into the break room there were two refrigerators. She put her lunch in one of them and continued with the day. Guess what? She used the WRONG refrigerator! And people were upset about it for a long time afterwards.

Every team has some kind of “wrong refrigerator.” As leaders, we play a role in helping new people figure out the rules. It can be even more helpful to assign a fellow team member to be a “buddy” for the first few weeks. Here are some other suggestions for bringing new members on board.

  • Help the new person feel like part of the team by providing the same sort of resources, tools, and even t-shirts or coffee mugs that the other team members have.
  • Explain the context for the work, including goals, objectives, key initiatives, and the team’s unique contribution to the organization.
  • Help the new member understand group norms and effective strategies for navigating the workplace.
  • Build relationships by helping new team members understand everyone’s strengths and contributions and sharing what they bring to the table.
  • Ensure that the new team member knows key stakeholders, particularly high-level sponsors. If possible schedule one-on-one coffee or lunch meetings.
  • Define specific roles and responsibilities for the new team member, and provide feedback from peers as well as team leaders.

Helping a new team member feel like a welcome and contributing member of the group is everyone’s job. As a leader you can set the stage for the new person’s success. What strategies have worked for you?

–Dee Anne Bonebright





Snow storms, bumper cars and highly effective teams?

jeopardyAnd the answer is?? Planned accidental collisions!

We had a freezing rain and snow “event” yesterday and cars were slipping and sliding into each other by the hundreds. Not a pretty sight but actually a great metaphor for building effective teams. In fact both urban planners and highly successful leaders have been promoting the idea that density and unplanned interactions, or “collisions” can spark creativity and help build an engaged culture at work.

The main idea is that “running” into other people, sharing ideas, asking questions, and listening to what they are working on stimulates our brains and opens us up to more possibilities.

Leaders can make changes in the physical work space and the processes a team uses to facilitate these creative accidental collisions. The department I work in has created an informal work space. Several times while I was using it a colleague has ask me what I was working on and then shared some ideas I had not thought of.

Other ideas you can try to foster “accidental collisions” include:

  • scheduling work and share times where people talk about their projects and others are encouraged to share ideas
  • rotating project team members on a regular basis
  • encouraging people to participate in cross-functional projects
  • inviting representatives from other departments to participate on project teams
  • support participation in professional organizations and interest groups

Creating safe opportunities for people and ideas to collide will help your team succeed over the long run, and they will have more fun!  bumper cars

Todd Thorsgaard

How does your team play together?

team baseball“The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.” – Babe Ruth

While this quote is in reference to baseball, I think it applies well to our workplaces too. Last week was a truly busy and productive week for my team at work. Each of my team members had big projects they were leading and seminars they were delivering. At the same time, three of us were engaged in delivering a large staff development event to nearly 300 people at one of our colleges. Even through the stress of  tight timelines, unexpected set-up and technical challenges, and snowy roads, my team worked together well. Team members who had busier schedules were assisted by others on the team who willingly offering back-up to help complete tasks.

While each of my team members are individual stars in their own right, I have to say that I am glad that we work well together as a team. We are able to accomplish so much more together than we can individually. But, that sense of team cohesion and the trust that goes with it, takes time to develop. It takes shared work where members of the team get to know each other and learn how to contribute their strengths and leverage what their team members do best. It takes a collaborative approach where diverse perspectives are valued and explored. And it takes a willingness to re-prioritize individual plans or work, in order to support the team or a member of the team when needed.

Later last week, after the big staff development event, I was working with a smaller group of leaders at another college. One leader shared that she encouraged team cohesion by including “good news” at the beginning of each of her team meetings. She said that encouraging her staff to share both their personal good news, like having a new grandbaby; or professional good news, like completing a big project, helped her build the connective tissue needed for a team to work well together.

What things have you done as a leader to ensure that (in the words of Babe Ruth), your team plays together?

Anita Rios




You’re a project manager

The other day I was working with a colleague from IT. We were debriefing a meeting and planning for the next one. Normal day-to-day stuff. In the process of our discussion, he said “you’re a project manager so you get what I mean.”

Here’s the thing – I’m not sure anyone ever said that to me before. I have a lot of work identities: training manager, change consultant, organization development specialist, etc., but “project manager” has not been one of them. Since I came to MnSCU, I’ve successfully coordinated several large projects and have been working hard on my project management skills. It was very affirming for my IT colleague to say, in effect, “you have the skillset and experience, and we’re in the same club.”

choirThen last night at choir practice, I noticed that the person next to me had a very large vocal range as we sang our practice scales. I commented on it, and she did a double-take before saying thank you. I’m pretty sure I’d never complimented her on that before.

All of this got me to thinking that one of the best things we can do for team members, as leaders and colleagues, is to affirm their strengths. A very simple statement like:”I appreciate that contribution,” or “that specific skill really helps our team’s productivity” can go a long way toward building a positive environment. Leaders need to pay attention and affirm people when they go above and beyond. But it can also be encouraging to periodically tell people you appreciate what they do well day-to-day.

Dee Anne Bonebright