Category Archives: Teams

Pilot Change Project Checklist

If you have a large organisation or wish to undertake a number of change projects it is prudent to consider running a pilot change project. A short change event that is aligned to the larger strategic goal but small enough to be an initial excursion into the overall change programme without being fully committed.

This will allow you to:

  • Gather feedback on how change will be accepted within the organisation
  • Assess if the culture will accept and integrate the change
  • Establish credibility with a ‘quick win’
  • Ensure that there is appetite for further change.

When running a pilot change project, it is useful to have a simple but robust plan of what you are going to do, who will do it and how you will sell it to the significant stakeholders.

Here is a checklist of things that you may want to consider.

  1. What is the right mix of people for the change team – What knowledge and skill will you require and who has the sort of tenacious attitude to carry the project to a fast and successful completion.
  2. Who has the credibility, the knowledge and the drive to lead the project? Is this someone in your own organisation or is a consultant a better choice. A member of your team will know the processes, procedures and people within the team which could be an advantage but exposes them if the event fails. A consultant has a fresh view, will have the skills to implement the change and can be the scape goat who takes the blame if things go wrong of the culture resists the change.
  3. What is the aim of the project? What does ‘a good job look like’? Have a clear idea of the success criteria and ensure it is communicated to the team so there is a shared understanding of the outcomes.
  4. What are the achievable stretch goals? Is there more that can be delivered than just the basic project?
  5. What are the achievable deadlines? Is it better to have a successful project delivered a little late or to have a project delivered on time but without the ‘bells and whistles’.
  6. What project methodology will you use? Is an agile approach like DSDM useful or do you need to use something with more governance such as Prince 2?
  7. When you run into uncertainty, what framework will you use to guide team decision making and problem solving? Do you want to formalise the approach to provide rigour and an audit trail or is flexibility more important?
  8. What resources are necessary for success? Allocation of resources is critical both for delivery of the outcomes you desire and to demonstrate that senior management are committed to the change event.
  9. How will you hold people accountable? With accountability comes a degree of commitment and a mechanism to allocate both blame and rewards for performance.
  10. How will you reward success? Team or individually? Based on effort or outcomes? As a result of success alone or of benefit for the organisation as even a failed change programme can be beneficial? Understanding what motivates your team, and the rewards that create that motivation will help you achieve the best from your team.

With this short checklist you can begin to plan the change event. There are, however, a number of things to consider.

Beware planning in too much detail as things will often change and planning too early means you ‘plan twice’. Detailed planning can also become reassuring even if there is no progress but it will not move your towards our outcomes. Activity isn’t progress.

Beware predictable surprises which you can identify with a little forethought.

Changes will often generate second order problems (problems that you hadn’t initially identified but arise because of the influence the change has over the system). Be prepared to deal with these and ensure you have a level of contingency because such problems use up your time, effort and resources.

It is tempting to believe that you are so familiar with your organisation that research isn’t required but this isn’t always the case. Indeed, it is rarely the case and you should understand where you have limited knowledge.

Your change initiative may cross organisational boundaries.You will need a way to access different knowledge silos within those organisational stovepipes.

Finally, the culture of the organisation has developed over years and will be deeply rooted. The change will need to overcome this cultural resistance and offer the same reassurance that the old state did.

To gain best value and quick wins, you may want to consider change as guerrilla warfare. You will need to carefully select your key points of leverage and get maximum value for minimum effort.

Dare to Aspire

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Now Discover Your Strengths

Atlas Collins Street Melbourne Australia

I am a great believer in the identifying and applying of key individual strengths to achieve individual and organisational goals.

If you ask a person to do something that they have no talent for then the result is a poor quality result, consistently poor quality performance and a de-motivated person.

I believe that matching a person’s talents to specific organisational tasks will not only produce a higher quality output in a more efficient manner but also generate a positive feeling in the team members and a more supportive culture.

The 3 challenges then are to:

  • Identify the strengths of every person within the organisation
  • Identify and allocate the tasks best suited to individual strengths
  • Addressing any tasks that remain to be allocated

This approach is clearly idealised but as with approaches like Lean and Six Sigma, the aim is for continual migration towards that idealised state.

Identifying Your Strengths

Strengths are generally accepted as the point at which you have a mix of

  • Knowledge
  • Skill
  • Ability / Talent

This may be a natural strength, or a strength that you have developed because of practice and a passionate interest in that skill.

Gallup, the research and consultancy organisation has undertaken research into strengths, what they are and hwo to apply them.

This has led to a number of books and an online assessment that help individuals identify their strengths.

Tom Rath’s Strengths Finder series is highly recommended.

Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton’s  Now Discover Your Strengths () is also a great primer for investigating individual strengths.

Each has a code at the end of the book that allows the reader to take a quick online assessment of their strengths.

It is worth understanding your strengths so that you can recognise opportunities that will allow you to thrive and produce high performance output.

Dare to Aspire

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Are You Burning Out?

Stress has gained a reputation as being a bad thing. ‘I’m really stressed out’ or ‘Don’t get stressed’ are common phrases around the workplace. While it is often the case that people do feel under stress, it is normally too much stress (as with too much of anything!) that causes us problems. Stress is actually an important element of our daily life, without which we would not find the motivation to undertake the basic life saving activities.

If you consider the stress curve shown here, you can see that your performance is directly related to the amount of stress you are under: As the amount of stress increases, you reach a point know as the interest threshold. Anything below this level of influence does really affect you on a concious level. At the interest threshold, you are physiologically aware of something and respond appropriately. If you become hungry to the point at which you notice the feeling, then you have reached the interest threshold and will generally respond by finding some food. If you wait to eat, your interest will be drawn to food at every opportunity. Listen to anyone on a diet and you will hear then focusing on food more and more as their ‘hunger stress’ increases.

It is the same with most elements of personal performance. As the stress increases, you awareness and performance increases until you are performing at a peak level. In his book Flow:The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi suggests that the point of peak performance is when the individual experiences complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. This is supported by the peak of the graph where the stress is at such a point that you are focusing only on the information necessary for the task in hand, totally engrossed in the moment.

As the stress increases, you become overstressed and your performance degrades. After a prolonged period of stress, or even a short period of extreme stress, you reach a point of burnout.

There are several causes of excessive stress. Some of these are presented here but this is by no means an exhaustive list:

  • Overwork

  • Lack of control

  • Lack of support

  • Lack of rewards

  • Insufficient rest time

  • Criticism

  • Insufficient positive feedback

  • Change

  • Uncertainty about the future

  • Lack of personal achievement

Excessive stress can affect you in 4 ways:

  • Emotionally – creating tension and irritability

  • Physically – induces stomach pain, ulcers or headaches

  • Mentally – by impairing logic and thinking skill

  • Behaviourally – making you change the way to act

It is important that as individuals and and as managers that we learn to recognise the warning signs of stress in ourselves and our team.

There 4 stages of over stress and burnout:

  • Stage 1 – Excessive enthusiasm for the task and a reluctance to take holidays and time off. This can lead to self doubt and fear of being unable to cope or to being unable to refuse new work. The work itself becomes a distraction for the stress and this often has am impact on output quality and a person’s family/personal life.

  • Stage 2 – Short bouts of irritation and tiredness. Complaints about the team’s input and quality of work. Increased working hours as a further coping mechanism and inability to measure time or time manage.

  • Stage 3 – Increased discontent and anger, apathy and a lack of emotional commitment. Exhaustion, reduced commitment to work and life in general.

  • Stage 4 – Withdrawal, illness feelings of failure and depression. Reluctance to communicate and increased isolation sometimes dropping into alcohol and drug abuse.

The key is to identify when you or a team member is beginning to suffer the early stages of burnout and act. Reduce or remove the workload, change their environment or encourage them to take a holiday.

Dare to Aspire

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Learning styles

Learning is fundamental to self-improvement and for moving from your performance to your potential.

Honey and Mumford (1986) suggested that most people have a style of learning that is most effective for their character and personality.

The 4 learning styles that Honey and Mumford identified are:

Activist:

Open minded people who involve themselves fully in a new experience. Highly sociable and keen for new experience, activists are relatively strong problem solvers, good at brainstorming and finding working solutions. They are weaker at implementation, process and sustained effort.

Reflector:

Thoughtful and cautious people who prefer to consider options and all of the implications before coming to a considered decision. Generally preferring a role as observer rather than become active in discussions.

Theorist:

Logical and process focused people who approach problems in a step-by-step fashion and prefer looking for coherent patterns or behaviours that can be mapped to accepted theory. These learners prefer to analyse situations and establish assumptions, principles and models. They are happier in a disciplined environment but uncomfortable with uncertainty, subjective opinion and radical thinking.

Pragmatist:

These people thrive on new ideas and look for the benefit and a practical application of new ideas. Problems are seen as a challenge but these learners become easily frustrated with endless discussion and inaction.

There are sites on the Internet that will help you identify your predominant learning style. Peter Honey’s own site is just one example.

http://www.peterhoney.com/content/tools-learningstyles.html

SO why is this relevant?

Firstly, by identifying which learning style or styles you prefer, you can adopt an approach to learning that benefits from your strengths.

For example, my own style is that of Activist / Pragmatist. This means I am very happy to try new processes, ideas and techniques but will happily throw some of those away, favouring something that is effective and brings benefit.

Secondly, if you are responsible for staff, by identifying the preferred learning style of people in your team, you can present information in a fashion that is more easily absorbed. If you try to force a Reflector into activities favouring an Activist style, you will get resistance, conflict and very little commitment.

Finally, if you have a significant dominance in one learning style, you may want to consider developing a weaker area. This will allow you to increase the opportunities that you can learn from and allow you to more easily relate and communicate with those who have differing dominant learning styles. This will increase your behavioural flexibility.

One of the key presuppositions from NLP is:

In interactions among people, the person with most flexibility and variation of behaviour can control the outcome of the interaction.

So strive for that flexibility.

Dare to Aspire

Reference: Honey, P. and Mumford A. (1986). A Manual of Learning Styles, Peter Honey, Maidenhead

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7 Tips for Crisis Management


It doesn’t matter what kind of leader or manager you are, there comes a time when you face a crisis and all that you knew about managing your team falls by the wayside. The structure you relied upon to communicate and pass out instructions to your team is no longer effective and people are looking to for guidance.

A crisis isn’t something that you should be intimidated by. It may be nasty, frightening, dangerous even, but your management and leadership skills will carry you though the event, if your remain calm and confident. Remember, if you do nothing, then things are likely to get worse on their own, so doing something thoughtful and constructive will be beneficial and what more can be expected of you. If you could plan for a crisis, it wouldn’t be a crisis, merely a contingency.

Hopefully it will never happen but if you do face a crisis, it is well worth having thought about the things you will need to do before the event. Here are 7 tips that will help you over the first few hurdles.

1. Don’t PANIC! Just like the hitch-hikers guide states! Panicking will not let you think clearly enough to make rational decisions. Just realise that you only need to take a few quick steps to get people working towards a solution and then take a moment to think.

2. Find out what is really happening. Get some team members to gather information so that you have a better understanding of the situation

3. Quickly triage the important things that need to be address and delay dealing with the non essential things to you have time. The priorities are:

  • Safety, yours and the teams
  • Will the problem get worse if you do not act?
  • What are the first 3 things you need to achieve to get moving in the right direction
  • Who can help you?
  • What should your team be doing? An active team worries less!
  • Who do you need to inform?

4.  Identify the resources that you have.

5. Draw up some preliminary plans and get the team moving. Things will change, that is the nature of a crisis, but activity will gain you momentum, again steady the team and give you more information on the crisis.

6. Monitor the situation and modify your plan to meet the changing environment.

7. ACT! Spend no more time in planning than you need. As General Patton said ‘A good plan today is better than the perfect plan tomorrow!’

In a crisis, people will look to you for leadership. Be bold and confident and get people acting. Your confidence will grow as you see your decisions and actions baring fruit and you team will bask in that confidence to.

Dare to Aspire

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Building Effective Teams

Teamwork is about bringing people with differing knowledge, skills and attitudes together and forging them into a single cohesive unit that is stronger than just a group of individuals. The team creates a level of mutual support and synergy that allows it to achieve a great deal more than the same individuals could alone.

So how best to build effective teams? The best teams need a good mix of the appropriate people, the skills and attitude to thrive and some basic behaviours and techniques to help them excel.

Meredith Belbin had a useful model for selecting the type of people that make an effective team. His 8 role model identified the types of characteristics that needed to be represented in an effective team. These roles are:

Resource Investigator – An enthusiastic, curious and communicative person with a capacity for connecting with people, exploring new ideas and thriving on challenge.

Completer – A conscientious orderly person with a liking for process and a capacity for the persistence it takes to work towards perfection.

Team Worker – A social member able to respond to the people in the team and the changing situations, focusing on the goals and able to promote a team spirit.

Monitor-Evaluator – A sober, unemotional and prudent team member that provides the balanced judgement and hard-headedness.

Plant – A serious minded unorthodox individual in the team that provides the flashes of innovation, the imagination and knowledge for the rest.

Shaper – An outgoing and dynamic team member, strong in personal drive and ready to overcome team inertia, complacency and self deception such as Groupthink.

Co-ordinator – The calm, controlled and self-confident member of the team providing an assessment of all members inputs without prejudice or bias.

Implementer – A well organized element of the team that is conservative and predictable, setting the example of hard work and and self-discipline.

All of us have a degree of each element of Belbin’s model as part of our character and so you should not look to find people that fulfil only one role. Rather we all possess many of these characteristics and some of them are dominate in different situations. There will be however, a dominant set of characteristics that a person has, which can be seen when that person isn’t thinking about how they are behaving, just acting.

Having assembled a team, what else does it need to succeed?

Common goals – The team must be clear about what it is trying to achieve. The phrase I like to use is ‘What does a good job look like?’ This lets everyone gain an insight into the vision or goal and allows them to make decisions independently in order to move the team towards that goal.

Targets – A target gives the team focus. A stretch target is a challenge and there is nothing like a challenge to bring out the best in people.

Leadership – A team needs a person who is respected and influential enough to guide the team towards the common goal. They needs strong communication skills and the ability to listen, consider and act on the information and advice that is available. Often they are good at building relationships, linking people together and reinforcing the cohesion of the team.

Open Communications – With any group, the free expression of ideas is very important in finding innovation and exploring opportunities, but it is likely to lead to conflict. Opinions vary and often oppose and so it is important to allow these views to be expressed without fear of negative judgement or a response that would cause that person to reduce their effort to the common goal. In these opposing views, creativity is often born.

Decision Making Power – Tasks should be such that the team has the capacity and authority to make the decision needed to move toward the goal. An empowered team is effective and efficient and creates a momentum that drive that team forward.

Mutual Trust – Trust is essential. It grows slowly but only takes moments to destroy. It can be useful to agree the ground rules for the team early on and ensure that any conflicts are addressed as quickly as possible.

Role Clarity – Team members need to understand the scope of their responsibility and who else is responsible for the tasks the team is to achieve. When each team member knows their own contribution, there is reduced conflict, increase respect and the ability to identify performance shortfalls quickly.

Problem Solving Focus – A team that is focused on solving problems is prepared to work together to tackle even the largest problems and the biggest challenges and are able to achieve amazing things.

When JFK announced that ‘the US was going to put a man on the moon and return him safely before the end of the 1960s’. The team that was brought together to fulfil that promise, had the diversity to draw upon, a goal that was certainly a stretching target and the commitment to achieve it. So effective was that team and so stretching was the target that we have yet to repeat the goal of going to the moon.

Dare to Aspire

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