Teamwork Starts with Trust

Building teamwork is a relatively untapped activity because it’s hard to measure. There are other worries to attend to in the early stages of a startup that may seem more important – funding, customer satisfaction, marketing, technology etc. But without establishing a good sense of teamwork early on, you are putting your company on defense.

According to Patrick Lencioni the author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, “Teamwork remains the one sustainable competitive advantage.”  Lencioni describes “trust” as the bedrock of teamwork upon which commitment, accountability, constructive conflict and attention to results rests. If you haven’t read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (2002) already, I highly recommend it. It is timeless advice for companies on a race against time and competitors.   

At your next team meeting try out an exercise called the Personal Histories Exercise  for building trust. Whenever I offer this exercise at my workshops, the results are quite revealing and sustaining. For a team to work together successfully, a certain level of openness and vulnerability is needed. From hearing about each other’s childhood challenges and epiphanies, a team can better understand each other’s ways of thinking, communicating and getting things done. It’s also interesting to hear why each team member was drawn to entrepreneurship in the first place! It is a great way to create a better team connection and build trust. Give it a try!

Communication is a COREageous element of any successful team. Let me know how I can enhance your team’s communication. Contact me at [email protected]     

Building Trust with Transparency

Transparency is one of the best ways to build trust with your team. Here’s how:

Explain the company’s strategic initiatives, short/long term goals, deadlines and the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). Do not assume your team understands your reasoning behind these objectives or that they understand how their roles specifically support these initiatives.

Share relevant financials along with explanations. Just because the company is bringing in money, doesn’t mean it’s time for pay increases!  The more your employees know about the company’s financial goals, plans, priorities, challenges and opportunities the more buy-in you’ll get from them.

In your leadership meetings encourage a ten minute How I Did It segment. An employee is invited to share a triumph – how their killer solution to a vexing problem saved the company time, money and/or valuable customers. Triumphant employees earn modest rewards like a gift card or an afternoon off.

If an employee intends to depart or is laid off, make their exit a friendly one. It’s never a good idea to burn bridges or leave on sour terms. Bad news travels faster than good news. Explain honestly to the group the general reason for the person’s departure w/o revealing personal details. If the departure was caused by some undercurrent issue, take action to address the issue immediately.

Encourage questions, concerns, fears, and new ideas at Monday morning coffee meetings and Friday team lunches. Give updates on projects. Come up with jolting questions that spark conversation and new ideas like: If you were the competition, how would you put us out of business?  Encourage the participation of the less chatty employees by welcoming their ideas in writing. Encourage them to contribute relevant articles, new books, podcasts etc.

Everyone makes mistakes, and some errors are more costly than others.  Encourage early reporting of errors. Help your employee to move as soon as possible from guilt and shame mode to solution mode. As a leader, admit the mistakes you make and what you’ll do to correct them.

Founders and other members of the leadership team can offer open door office hours for more private conversations.

Make clear to your customers what your team is up to and what directions you are moving to improve the customer experience. Create opportunities and venues for gathering customer feedback. Continually ask them how you or your product or service would make them happier customers. Show eagerness to hear about what they don’t like.

Finally, when staff come to you with an idea, a complaint, a problem or a solution, let them know they have been heard! It is a very common employee complaint. (See my October Mindful Communication Minute Newsletter on this topic coming out soon)

Entrepreneurship and Servant Leadership Don’t Jibe

I’m coaching a founder (I’ll refer to her as Pam) who is on the fence. Pam hired an able team of designers and artists to create “thinking games” for children. But, she is toying with the idea of managing her business by blending in and serving her team versus leading them in the traditional sense. Pam wants to provide “Servant Leadership,” a popular 21st century management model. In this model the founder assigns roles and tasks to subordinates, and then offers support, such as researching, stocking supplies and running their errands. Mmm…sounds like she wants her subordinates to run the show? Pam is seeking coaching because investors are getting antsy. Abiding by the servant model, she’s having a hard time motivating her team to move forward and meet crucial deadlines. Her startup is in stuck mode and here’s why:

When a founder is taken up with ground level activities, the role of the leader is diminished. A founder needs to have some level of detachment from his subordinates to pursue opportunities for the business, brainstorm ideas and make the tough decisions. This bit of healthy distance from employees allows the founder to articulate the vision and provide direction to employees.

When employees see their founder catering to their needs in an extreme manner, they are less likely to view him or her as an authoritative figure. If problems arise and the servant manager needs to switch to a more authoritative leadership role, entitled employees have a hard time meeting the new expectations independently.

Servant leadership de-motivates employees. It’s is like a parent bailing out his child by constantly stepping into to fix things or to do the homework for the child. When employees think their founder will unconditionally and non-judgmentally resolve issues that arise, it’s easy to take it easy and let quality and performance slip.

A happy ending: After several months of a frustrating, but well-meaning stint of Servant Leadership, I encouraged Pam to take a vote and see how her team wanted her to lead. Not surprising, they voted to have Pam resume her role as leader. They voted to exchange the freedom and nurturing for increased productivity and direction that would give them a sense of fulfillment at the end of a week. Most of them missed the “good stress” associated meeting a deadline and taking responsibility. Her team declared that returning to “real leadership” was better for them and for the future of the company.

Need help leading in a way that maximizes cooperation and teamwork without becoming a servant to your team?  Contact me at [email protected]   

Managing Drama in Your Startup

According to a new book, No Ego by business consultant Cy Wakeman, the average worker spends 2.5 hours per day distracted by drama! We’ve all experienced varying degrees of workplace drama in other jobs – personal losses, power struggles, insubordination, office gossip and petty arguments.  Until you start a business of your own, you may not be aware of how significantly drama can hurt your bottom line. How to manage workplace drama is not typically noted in the founder’s play book. If no drama has spiked in your startup thus far, good for you, but unless you’re working with robots, it’s inevitable.

The usual sources of drama in a startup can be traced to hires without proper job descriptions, under-performing or disgruntled employees, changes in procedures, slow periods and accelerated periods where the company has to scale up quickly. Another source of drama is the life of the employee. Just as employees bring the work stress home with them, employees bring their home traumas to work. Let me address some solutions the “trauma to drama” variety.

Most CEOs want to create an open, caring work environment where people look forward to coming to work. The workplace  may be the only safe and inspiriting environment in some people’s lives.  I support mindful listening as a way to understand an employee who is experiencing personal problems outside of work. Listening wholeheartedly to an employee can help you gauge the intensity and duration of the situation so as to come up with solutions that will prevent company losses. It is the responsibility of the employee, not the employer, to ultimately solve his/her personal problems. It must be made clear that work is not a counseling center or a rehab. His or her fellow employees are not being paid to be social workers. Allowances such as a more flexible schedule, an extended lunch hour or such accommodations are appropriate. A business may have to find some temporary coverage, and if possible, the employee may need to train the temp. Your HR department may assist in finding counselors or support groups. But, I suggest that a business set in advance, reasonable limits to these assists. Meet with your staff and talk about what to do if such drama erupts.

More to come on workplace drama in future blogs.

Are you the frequent victim or the instigator of drama at your workplace? Being one or the other could cost you your job or your career. If that’s you, let’s discuss! [email protected]      

If Your Creativity Needs a Kick, Seek Unusual Sources

You may have your new product or service up and running, or you’re in the process of getting your new business off the ground. It’s frustrating to lack new ways to be competitive and for solving day-to-day problems.  We typically rely on our experience, knowledge, self-help books and the wisdom of industry leaders for solutions, but sometimes we have to get out of our closed circle of reference and seek “a refresh” from unexpected sources.

As a coach, it’s up to me to offer fresh eyes and new perspectives for my clients to explore. When I feel even close to getting bored with my usual strategies and tactics, I’m curiously drawn to books like The Men Who Changed the Course of American History, Tripping Over the Truth, Stories From Shakespeare, The Alchemist, or collections of mystery stories. Movies like Midnight in Paris or The Darkest Hour remind me, in contrasting ways, that it’s okay to listen to my gut, change my mind and inspire others to do the same. Any books or movies that have to do with discovery or attempts to solve difficult problems of all sorts should be on your list. Perhaps these books and movies won’t give you any direct answers or solutions, but they will add enlightening bits and pieces to what you already know and re-kindle your creative spark.

Need some fresh eyes to help solve a problem in your company? Get COREageous and contact me at [email protected]        

Pick Up the Pace on Sunday

This morning, as I rode my bike towards the last of three “nasty” hills (in COREageous-speak that translates into “wonderfully steep”), it reminded me of how important it is to build some momentum ahead of a challenge. If I wait to pick up the pace at the base of the hill, the climb is less forgiving. (Actually, “miserable” and “energy-sucking” are better descriptors.) It’s much smarter to get some speed going a quarter mile before the incline.

I use this experience to incite a mental shift from the weekend to the workweek. On Sundays, while most people hang around and dread Monday, with a Sunday ritual you can get ahead of the pack and cruise full speed ahead into the workweek. If you let the Sunday-Monday doldrums attack you, it will take Herculean effort to pump up your mood and meet your milestones for the week. I also share this Sunday ritual lecture with my college clients, the future entrepreneurs.

Even if you’re not a fitness nut, work with me here: Get up early Sunday while the house is quiet, hydrate and do some stretches. Read the news, check your phone, have a strong cup of coffee or tea. Enjoy a healthy breakfast with your family or a friend. Gather your gear, think about your route and air up the tires. Think about what you want to accomplish today. You’re warming up easy on the flats. Look over your plan. See the hill way in the distance? It’s comin’ fast. Listen to a motivational podcast or read an article from your industry. Gradually pick up the pace, 100 yards to go before the incline. With your intellectual energy piqued, your focus strong and your phone turned off – get to work. You’ve got this! Charge up that hill!

Pick up the pace on Sunday. It’ll be easy to keep that positive energy and determination going all week, without even breaking a sweat!

I’m eager to hear how the Sunday ritual is working for you! Please write me at [email protected]

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