Archive for September, 2009
Sometimes teambuilding just doesn’t work. We’ve all had this experience. What’s interesting is to realize how many different explanations for the failure we might need to look at; how many different theoretical approaches might frame our inquiry. I stumbled on another new one just this week.
Julie Straw’s The 4-Dimensional Manager is a basic primer for managers on using DISC to improve one’s management style. But hidden in the last chapter of the book is a little gem called “managing in 4 styles of organization”, and it talks about how companies can have a DISC style too. It starts with the dominant style of the founder, which helps create organizational culture and is reinforced over and over by the values and the hiring preferences of that founder and his/her leadership team. So as the company grows, it becomes more recognizably:
- High D (dominance): hard-driving, competitive, results-oriented. No touchy feely stuff here.
- High I (influence): Enthusiastic, innovative, focused on people and recognition.
- High S (supportiveness): Stable, harmonious, community-oriented, with low turnover.
- High C (conscientiousness): Focused on research and analysis, with very high standards for quality and accuracy.
Obviously you can’t ask an organization to take a DISC profile. But by asking the question, what behaviours get modeled, rewarded and criticized?–you can figure it out. And this can help explain, ultimately, who fits in and who doesn’t. A high D working on a high I team can certainly gain some understanding of the model and use that to help improve the situation. But ultimately, it may come down to giving people a better tool to assess fit and decide to move on. All the goal-setting, vision-creating, communication-improving and conflict resolution work in the world isn’t going to change the basic problem of asking a square peg to fit in a round hole and be happy about it.
It makes me think about a time before I became a consultant, when I had an in-house job and couldn’t seem to make it work. I know there was an issue of cultural fit at the time, but now when I look back I’m able to clarify that cultural issue a little more clearly. I’m a high I, and both the company and my immediate team were high C. I remember feeling that all that crossing t’s and dotting i’s was wasting people’s time and making us less effective, and being frustrated that decisions moved so slowly. Yet I didn’t understand how truly important it was to just buckle down and do what was expected of me anyway. Eventually I left the company, after only a year. Would I have left the company anyway, even if I had understood the issue from this point of view at the time? Probably. But I would have put myself and my teammates through a lot less pain during the year I was there, and I would also have left with a clearer sense of why I was doing it and what I was looking for in a new job.
Have you had an experience like this? Do you currently have a team on which you or one of your teammates is a “misfit” in DISC terms?
There are two things in life that I find annoying: people who leave dirty dishes in the sink, and discussions about “work-life balance.”
It’s not that I don’t believe in seeking balance. It’s just that I don’t agree that there is something called “life” that doesn’t include “work”. The people who make this hard and fast distinction are usually the same people who criticize me for using a cell phone when I’m hiking, or for bringing a computer on a camping trip; they say that technology has ruined our ability to “get away from it all”. They are also the same people who insist that to truly “relax”, you must leave all things work-related at the office and refuse to think about them.
My life is cut of whole cloth. I can’t, and don’t want, to compartmentalize like that. Here are some of the things I want to say to these people who would criticize:
- In the old days, if I wanted to go hiking but I was expecting an important business call, I had to forgo the hike and stay home. Now I can go and bring my cell phone.
- If my cell phone rings in the woods, it might be that important business call without which I could not have gone out. But it also might be my friend who wants to know what trail I’m on and whether she can join me for the hike.
- If I only think about work while I’m in my office, I will never have the creative ideas that are often sparked by a change in environment. I will always feel that work is something I’m trying to get away from when I leave the office. I will eventually cease to enjoy or be inspired by my work.
- If I can only relax when I’m not thinking about work, then work will always make me uptight. Uptight people don’t have great new ideas.
A case in point: I just came back from a five day camping trip. I took this trip deliberately because things were getting stale in my office; I hadn’t written anything interesting in my blog for over a week, and I couldn’t seem to focus on or enjoy the pile of work-related reading on my desk. I needed some fresh thinking to help me finish a new teambuilding program I’m working on. So I packed up my hiking shoes and my dog and took off for a mountain range I’d never visited before. I read and wrote in the mornings, and hiked in the afternoons. While I was hiking I thought about what I read in the morning and pondered new ideas. This just doesn’t always happen when I’m in my office. Who says I’m not relaxed? Why can’t I enjoy this because I’m thinking about work?
I would like the people who talk about work-life balance to start talking about what works for them, and stop dictating what is supposed to work for everyone else. Just like I wish the people who leave dirty dishes in the sink would start washing them. But don’t get me started on that.
I read an interesting article recently by Gervase R. Bushe, called Managers Want Tribes Not Teams: an Invitation to Rethink Teambuilding. Bushe says that people identify with groups that support the positive social value an individual wants to claim for him or herself, and that to a large extent, this depends on having role complementarity between individuals in the group. If I see myself as being the source of creativity, there must be someone else in the group who is intrigued by me. If you are the sensible one, I must be the one seeking sensible advice. If I am the wise old ”been there done that” person, you must be the “bowing to experience” person. And so what often exists on teams described as having personality clashes is really a group of people who don’t like and don’t identify with the roles they have been forced into. If you spend all your time time teaching them better communication and conflict resolution techniques, you’re missing the larger point.
This might be the best argument for the value of diversity I’ve ever heard. We talk about how diversity can give a team a competitive edge, but this explains why a team might actually fail without it. Put a group of like-minded people together, with everyone trying to play the same role, and you have a dysfunctional team on which no one is happy.
I often open a teambuilding session by asking the participants to think back to the best team they’ve ever been on, and then describe to each other what made it great. So I tried this exercise myself, just to digest this idea of role complementarity a little further.
Back in the earlier days of my career, I was part of a four-person team that oversaw HR support for a large hotel company. I often think of it as the most rewarding team experience I’ve ever had. There was a senior executive, Woody, and three directors each overseeing a different division of the hotel portfolio: myself, Bob and Jeff. Our roles were truly interdependent, since we each had certain functional specialities that the other two would depend on, so I would say we met the true definition of a team. And we often defined ourselves by our role complementaries. Woody was the “been there done that” guy; he’d been in HR three times longer than the rest of us, and we always sought his experience. Bob was known as the laid-back resort operations guy, and we would go to him when we wanted to know how a hotel general manager was going to react to a new program or policy. Jeff was the creative guy, and we were in awe of his out-of-the-box ideas. And I was the “fun in the workplace” person, always trying to come up with the latest and greatest training program to turn dull, routine jobs into something more engaging.
I don’t have to think very hard about whether these “complementary co-constructions of reality”, as Bushe would call them, were real at the time or something I’ve re-ordered in my mind since. On the wall of my office, I have a framed photo of the four of us. Woody is dressed as a priest, looking heavenward, and the three of us are clustered at his feet; Bob in a hammock wearing a Hawaiian shirt and drinking a beer; Jeff dressed as a mad scientist and pointing a “UFO finder” at the sky; and me sitting in front of a toy box surrounded by toys.
It’s also interesting to think back on some of the teambuilding sessions I’ve done in which the problem was initially labeled as a personality conflict. One in particular comes to mind–I held a series of sessions with a hotel staff on which the veteran chief engineer and the brand new front desk manager couldn’t get along. We worked on their ”crucial conversations” skills and saw some improvement. But perhaps the root of the problem was that the chief engineer expected the front desk manager to seek his historical perspective, and the front desk manager expected the chief engineer to be open to his “new eyes” perspective, and neither felt good about the roles that were expected of them.
The next time I hear the words “personality conflict,” I’ll start with some different questions. How does each person see their role on the team? And what do they need from a teammate to validate that role?
When I first became a “corporate dropout” and went out on my own in 2001, friends were alternately envious and incredulous. They wondered how I could give up a regular paycheck, and they came up with a lot of reasons why they couldn’t do the same, despite wanting to. I got accustomed to saying things like, “Well of course, you’ve got kids, I understand why you can’t do this. Some day you’ll be able to.”
I’ve had some rough years since then, but I’ve never regretted it. I make my own schedule, take time off whenever I want, and have the privilege of working with many different companies in vastly different industries and learning from every one of them.
Last week, a dear friend of mine took the same plunge. He did it after months of agonizing indecision. Every Sunday night Jeff would call me and tell me he was going to give notice on Monday morning; every Monday afternoon I would call him and find out that he’d gotten cold feet. Unlike me, Jeff has a spouse and a hefty mortgage, making the risk a little more significant. But last week he finally did it.
I’m proud of him because he did it at a great time and for a great reason. He started a new company called Anchor Planning Group, a consulting firm dedicated to improving the financial health of middle and lower income employees across the country. As a senior human resources executive for many years, he knew that financial worries have a tremendous impact not only on an employee’s own piece of mind, but also on a company’s bottom line. And in this economy, there can be no better place to make an impact as a consultant.
Anchor’s primary offering is a workshop called “How Money Works”, which he offers to all the employeees of a client company at no cost to either the employer or the employees. Of course, Anchor also sells various financial products, including insurance and retirement plans. But the workshop is truly designed to be an educational tool rather than a sales pitch, and it is linked with a free financial needs analysis for each employee who requests one.
Research suggests that a company can benefit from a financially educated workforce in a number of ways: reduced absenteeism, lower turnover rates, reduced health care and workers comp costs, increased 401k contributions, reduced employee theft and workplace violence, and decreased costs related to wage garnishments and other payroll-related actions. It may also increase an employee’s allegiance to the organization.
To learn more about Anchor Planning Group, you can contact Jeffrey at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 669-0954. And if you’re one of those people thinking about taking that plunge some day, we can only say…go for it!
Last Friday, a man named Kevin was hiking Quandary Peak with his fiance. Just as he approached the summit of the 14,000 foot Colorado peak, he collapsed and died from a heart attack.
It took mountain rescue about eight hours to recover his body. To carry a man who weighs over 200 pounds from an elevation of 14,000 feet is a long, ardous task. But what struck me most about the day was the faces of the hikers coming down from the summit as my teammates and I made our way up with a wheeled litter-carrier. Quandary is a popular peak, and we probably passed fifty people. Every single one of them looked traumatized, and I realized they had all been involved with the death in some way. And every single one of them stopped to say thank you to us; I’ve never seen that happen before.
It wasn’t until a few days later that I realized the full extent of how many people had helped up there that day. The efforts and achievements of my team always astound me, but this time it was the efforts of the general public that stood out.
It started with several hikers who were near Kevin and his fiance when he died. One of them made a 911 call; others started CPR. A hiker with a walkie talkie alerted his friends higher up on the mountain, and one of them ran back up to the summit because he’d overheard another group’s conversation and knew there was a doctor up there. The doctor ran down the mountain and took control of the CPR. Other hikers ran to render assistance. Many of them stayed with Kevin’s fiance after he was pronounced dead, and the doctor even hiked all the way down with her.
As I pieced everything together later, I realized there had been an incredible display of teamwork from a large group of people who had never even met before. Patrick Lencioni, in Silos, Politics and Turf Wars, tells a story about a hospital where team dysfunction reigns in every department except the emergency room. The book’s protagonist, a consultant named Jude, talks to an administrator and asks her why. She responds that at every hospital she’s ever worked in, the ER team functioned smoothly and effectively. “No one with a heart and a brain would even think of bitching about departmental stuff while someone is lying here bleeding right in front of them. Emergencies tend to do that to people,” she says.
What happened on Quandary that day took Lencioni’s theory a step further. Not only do emergencies bring teams together to function more effectively, but they can bring complete strangers together to function like a team. The question is, how do you harness this power in your organization? You can’t create an emergency every day.
But you can create a sense of urgency and clarity about your team’s mission. Do your teammates all have the same sense of what they exist to accomplish? Do they feel that it’s vitally important–perhaps even a matter of life and death for the organization? That’s what true teamwork takes.
Ultimately, the teamwork on Quandary Peak didn’t save Kevin’s life. Paramedics conjectured that he probably died instantly. But if it had been possible to save him that day, the team that was up there might well have achieved it. And a lot of people went home that night thinking about what’s most important in life; I saw it in their faces as they passed me and said thank you to my team. The experience of working together to save a man’s life had affected them deeply, and they would never forget it.