Category Archives: building teams

Building your team in flight

When you start a new job there are two transitions in play.  As a new leader you have to fly your new plane and you have to rebuild the team of people you inherit. You are going through a major transition – and so are they! They have lost a leader and they need to figure out who you are. You also need to figure out how to work with them. And you don’t have time to land the plane while you both adjust.

Writer Carolyn O’Hara share six tips for new leaders in her article, What New Team Leaders Should Do First.

  1. Get to know each other – In our leadership programs at Minnesota State we highlight the importance of personal relationships and trust for effective leadership. Leaders lead through influence and relationship building, not power and control. You need to know who your people are and they need to know who you are.
  2. Show what you stand for – Communicate and demonstrate your vision and values. Your people are not only listening to you, they are watching you. What you say and how you act clarifies what your priorities are and how you define success. Be intentional and clear with your words and actions.
  3. Explain “how” you want the team to work – Don’t assume your norms are their norms. Work together to clarify expectations and processes. Make sure no one is surprised or confused about how to be successful.
  4. Set or clarify goals – Based on what you learn from your boss, your assessment of the situation and what your team tells you take time to explicitly clarify what the goals are for the team. Goals change but you and your team need a common understanding of your current goals and how you will assess progress.
  5. Communicate, communicate, communicate – While it is always true, as a new leader it is vital to interact with your people. Don’t rely on an open door, set up interactions. Schedule 1-1’s, don’t cancel staff meetings, manage by walking around, actually “job-shadow” your people, send emails, share progress reports and just say hi! You only get to be a new leader for a short time so take advantage of your opportunity to build strong relationships and open communication channels.
  6. Solve a problem, remove a barrier, score an “early win” – Most teams have come to accept “the way things are” but as a new leader you can listen to their frustrations and take action to solve a problem and demonstrate that you are listening and able to make a difference.

Enjoy the video!

Todd Thorsgaard

That makes no sense!!

conflict-management-techniques

“That’s crazy,” “I could never do it that way,” You’re wrong,” “No, listen to me!”

Are you hearing statements like these at work? When new ideas are introduced are you seeing battle lines drawn? How do you lead for the common good when it seems like your people have completely different goals in mind?

Well, not to ignore how hard it is but the place to start is with dialogue. Which means helping people actually listen to each other, even if they disagree with what the other person is saying. Your goal is to help people move from:

  • arguing
  • persuading or telling
  • focusing on differences
  • talking at each other

All of which lead to frustration, lack of trust and either/or thinking.

And move to:

  • listening
  • talking with each other
  • problem-solving
  • looking at options

That requires finding some sort of common or shared interests as a starting point for dialogue. Instead of focusing on the dangers of the other point of view and highlighting the positive of their own point of view, help people work on specific issues by looking deeper and identifying underlying values, goals, and concerns that both sides share.

We encourage the leaders we work with to ask these two straightforward questions to build trust and identify shared interests.

  1. What do we all want?
  2. We do we all fear or want to avoid?

It will take work to keep people from focusing on their initial points of view and look at the bigger picture, but facilitating this conversation will help you and your people find a common good you can all agree on, and that is a great starting point!

Todd Thorsgaard

Incivility and the common good

hands_across_the_divide_sculpture_derry_-_panoramioOne aspect of leading for the common good is the ability to lead across boundaries. We’re all familiar with the problem of silos in academia. Many times even well-meaning activities fail to include everyone who has a stake in an issue or tools to help address it. And there are many other potential divisions that can be formed by race, gender, age, even which candidate someone voted for. Bringing people together across these boundaries is a critical leadership challenge.

I recently came across an article in Forbes that made a connection between boundaries and another hot issue in academia – incivility. The author pointed out, logically enough, that much of the incivility we’re dealing with is based on an unwillingness to work together with people that are on the other side of some perceived boundary.

Somehow I hadn’t connected the idea that by leading people to work together across boundaries, we are also creating an environment where people show respect and civility. Here are some recommendations from the article:

  • Treat employees as problem-solving partners
  • Make sure everyone has a voice
  • Provide ways for people to speak up about concerns and ideas
  • Build teams that bring diverse people together
  • Make sure it’s OK to ask uncomfortable questions
  • Promoting collaboration that is focused on the common good

How have you seen leaders effectively lead across boundaries? Do you agree that it promoted an environment of respect and civility?

Dee Anne Bonebright

Image: Hands Across the Divide, sculpture by Maurice Harron, Co Derry, Ireland

Common good doesn’t mean we all agree

conflictLeading for the common good isn’t peaceful. Agreement isn’t the goal. Paraphrasing writer Walter Lippmann, “when we all think alike, no one thinks very much.” To work together for the common good a leader needs to be prepared for conflict and embrace conflict.

Liane Davey, author of You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and get Stuff Done, reminds us that for teams to be effective and work together they need to experience tension and disagreement, wrestle with it, push back, open up, share, listen and only then move forward. It’s not a quiet process and not what we often think of as good leadership. But think about the best teams you have worked on. Was it acceptable to have a different opinion? To raise a concern? Or to even get a little worked up about the problem you were addressing? I bet it was!

If you are willing to dive into the messiness of collaboration and conflict as a necessary element of moving towards a common good, Davey recently shared three ideas that leaders can use to help their teams embrace “productive conflict.”

  1. Define, discuss and understand the different roles and agendas of each person on the team. Take the time to ensure that everyone understands that each person has an  agenda based on their role and that each agenda is different. Not better or worse but different. And that it is normal for the different agendas to lead to conflict that is not personal but necessary to reach the best solution in the end. Make it OK to disagree based on their unique roles and responsibilities.
  2. Pay attention to style differences between team members. Use a tool or a facilitated discussion to clarify the different approaches team members use to learn, take in information, communicate, make decisions, or do tasks. Ensure that each style is described in a positive way and highlight the value that each style brings to the team. Finally, highlight how it is natural for conflict to arise due to style differences and that you expect people to leverage their styles to facilitate collaboration, even if it gets uncomfortable.
  3. Set ground rules on acceptable dissension. Have an open conversation and identify what behaviors lead to conflict that improves how the team functions and what behaviors actually destroy trust and teamwork. Describe what is acceptable and what is not acceptable and the process the team will use to hold each other accountable.

As nice as peace and calm can be, leadership is a lot messier and noisier – and that’s OK!

Todd Thorsgaard

Let someone else decide?

youdecideOne of the best decisions a leader can make is to decide to let others make decisions and to create a decision-maker culture. That is what Dennis Bakke recommends in his book, The Decision Maker: Unlock the Potential of Everyone in Your Organization, One Decision at a Time.

As a leader, you are ultimately accountable for how decisions turn out. That can cause many people to hold tightly to their decision-making authority. Instead Bakke reminds us that sharing decision-making responsibility actually can lead to better decisions, more employee engagement, develops employees expertise and supports professional development. To help leaders identify the best person, or group, to make different decisions Bakke describes a formal “decision-maker process.” Use the following four elements to guide your selection:

  1. Proximity – how close to the situation is the person and can they also see the big picture?
  2. Perspective – can the person bring a different point of view or utilize multiple points of view?
  3. Experience – does the person have enough experience in the situation to be able to actually make a decision?
  4. Wisdom – will you and others trust their decision?

From my experience, when a leader asks me to make a decision it can feel overwhelming and I may feel like I need to prove my worth by making the decision all on my own! If your people react in the same way sharing decision-making can actually backfire. To help address this issue Bakke encourages leaders to coach their people on how to seek out and take advice when making a decision. He also defines good advice as coming from people who have:

  • Experience – they know or understand the situation.
  • Different positions in the organization – they can provide multiple and diverse perspectives.
  • Responsibility – they have an actual connection to the situation and the decision or outcome.
  • Ownership – they will back up their advice and the ultimate decision.

It can be scary to relinquish decision-making responsibility but it is a risk worth taking!

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Tough collaboration!

barbed_wireIt is pretty easy to collaborate with close colleagues, it gets much trickier when we need to collaborate across boundaries. It can even get downright painful!

Today, I am excited to share an example of collaboration across boundaries to ensure future success. The Minnesota State system of colleges and universities announced at today’s Board of Trustee meeting that we will guarantee admission to students who students who complete the Minnesota Transfer Curriculum and earn a minimum 2.0 GPA* in an Associate of Arts (AA) degree from any Minnesota State college to every one of our seven Minnesota State universities with junior year status.

This required collaboration across multiple boundaries, including; community and technical colleges, state universities, administrators, faculty, labor organizations, local admissions offices, system office leaders and just a whole bunch of individuals with strong opinions.

As Dan Sanker highlights in his book, Collaborate! The Art of We, collaboration like this is required for success in the complex and competitive world we face in higher education (and all fields.)

I was not a part of the work to develop the admissions guarantee collaboration but I imagine it contained most of the elements that Sanker describes as essential for successful collaboration:

  • Ongoing communication – even when it gets tough
  • Willing participation – not up front agreement but a willingness to explore
  • Brainstorming – open to alternative ideas
  • Teamwork – all must participate
  • A common purpose – the crucial starting point that requires clarification and alignment
  • Trust – requires both time and demonstrated behavior
  • A plan – turn ideas to action
  • A diverse group – provides the unique perspectives to develop innovative ideas and action
  • Mutual respect – foundation for work
  • A written agreement – creates a shared understanding
  • Effective leadership – not just a single title but actions to keep the group focused and help when the process goes off-track

Each of us are responsible for creating the conditions that will support collaborative efforts on our teams and across work groups on our campuses. Sanker’s list can help our teams avoid getting stuck on the barbed wire fences that pop up at work.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Who would have predicted that!

dewey-winsOk, I admit it. This post is a day late. I stayed up until 3:00 a.m. on Tuesday night watching the presidential electoral college vote results and the commentators trying to explain how all the predictions were wrong. Then on Wednesday, more analysis and exploration of what happened. I promise, this will not be a political post, but the election of president-elect Trump highlights how hard it is to predict the future! And we have a long history of getting predictions wrong.

So, how do leaders build organizational capacity to meet future challenges when it is so hard to see what will happen in the future?

Gary Hamel encourages leaders in his book What Matters Now (2012) to go back to the basics and focus on values to prepare for an uncertain future. He lists the following as “pivotal, overarching concerns” for leaders:

  1. Values – act as a steward and take actions that demonstrate concern for your people and organization.
  2. Innovation – provide opportunities for all your people to contribute their ideas to meet your customers’ needs.
  3. Adaptability – “future-proof” your company by relentlessly pushing for internal change to match external changes. Hamel stresses the need to “seek out the most discomforting facts you can find and share them with everyone in your organization.”
  4. Passion – clearly demonstrate that your people are affecting the outside world with their work. Highlight the importance of each and every person’s day-to-day work.
  5. Ideology – examine, discuss and challenge the status quo. Make it safe for people to express their opinions and concerns.

We may mess up predicting the future but Hamel implores leaders to speak up for “the good, the just and the beautiful” to better prepare for the uncertainty ahead.

The following link provides a detailed summary of What Matters Now.

https://www.getabstract.com/en/summary/leadership-and-management/what-matters-now/17412?dfs=wxmmqkfksovueayhlzbvluhtiwngbj&rf=DLZPJVUFWN&utm_campaign=share&utm_souce=getAbstract&utm_medium=email&u=MNSCU

Todd Thorsgaard