Team lead needs support from boss

November 23, 2014

Q I am the newest member of a national sales team. My remote boss has told me how he expects us to conduct business in a completely different manner from how the rest of the team operates.

I am having a hard time implementing the leader’s directives. The team is sabotaging me by not following through on their commitments, dismissing my input and disregarding my initiatives. How do I get them on board?

A You have your leader’s trust and confidence but not your team’s yet. Even when you bring external expertise and experience to the table, you are a virtual unknown whom the team will test.

Being a change agent is a challenging role at the best of times. People want to maintain the status quo until they understand the benefit to them of the culture change. Employees resent hidden agendas. They want to be informed of any change management efforts before the fact, not afterward.

To add to the complexity, you are new and it takes time to establish enough credibility for others to follow you.

Your boss may be the obstacle to your success. If your leader is privately giving you different directions than how the team has been functioning, this lack of transparency can cause the members to resist your suggestions and viewpoints. To them, you appear like a self-appointed authority, which is likely being viewed as self aggrandizing.

Unless your boss formally announces you as the team lead and provides role clarity, you will not have the positional power to make changes he wants nor will you have the influence to hold members accountable for his desired results.

If he is unwilling to give you the responsibility and the role, it remains his job to manage this team, not yours.

Reprinted from The Province, November 23, 2014

Make new employees feel welcome, part of the team

August 10, 2014

Q : We’re in the midst of a huge project and I am hiring some new team members. What’s the quickest way to get them up to speed?

A Research shows that the success of new hires is set as early as the first two weeks. The degree to which you can make them feel welcomed and prepared for their new jobs, the faster they will be able to successfully contribute to the organization. Proper onboarding is different from an administrative orientation – which outlines rules, policies, pay and benefits. Onboarding acclimatizes new hires in four key areas:

Socialization with team members and other employees to learn the attitudes, knowledge, skills, and behaviours required to succeed within an organization. Create immediate inclusion and investment by arranging a social event with members and a oneon- one with the team leader on the first day.

Assimilation to the company’s culture – such as history, vision, mission and values, work style, customs and power structure – helps the employee function effectively. Assigning a peer mentor aids navigating the organization.

Understanding business strategies jargon and acronyms, market position and competition, systems and processes, recent accomplishments and challenges provides clarity and rationale.

Role and responsibilities and how they contribute to the company’s mission. Explicit expectations for performance and productivity prioritizes and focuses. Outlining career paths and development opportunities inspires hope and investment.

Almost one third of new hires last less than one year, costing 50-150 per cent of their annual salary in lost productivity and replacement costs.

Onboarding takes place over 30 to 120 days and on the first anniversary. On Day 1, implement only the basics, provide necessary work equipment, security badge and take them to lunch to connect on a personal level. Following a formal structured onboarding process creates assimilation, accelerates productivity and increases retention.

Originally published in The Province, August 10, 2014. 

Right brain thinkers bring new ideas to team

April 20, 2014

Q I’ve always hired the best and brightest with the top expertise and track record. As a result, my high-performing team keeps producing successful but predictable solutions. What else should I be looking for in new hires to add innovation?

A: Innovators are also often well-trained experts in their field who are also curious nonconformists, open to new experiences.

Look for non-linear thinkers who thrive on complex puzzles.  They apply knowledge creatively and push the limits on conventional thinking by challenging underlying assumptions and the status quo. Their strong right brain function strives for unique solutions.

Innovators are often proactive, enthusiastic early adopters. They love novelty and are gifted at brainstorming, generating ideas and envisioning the possibilities at the front end of a project.  They are often better at spotting problems and opportunities rather than solving them. The more linear thinkers will be better at executing the plan.

Innovators are adaptive, resilient and have an entrepreneurial mindset. They value persistence, collaboration and creative discussion to test the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of their ideas.

Those who are flexible enough to include and incorporate others’ ideas are best for a team. They are committed to generating the best solution rather than their solution.

While innovators produce ingenious solutions, working with them requires additional time for the creative process before achieving deliverables. Innovation requires creativity, the ability to access the usefulness, and then implementing the idea for a successful solution.

This new team dynamic can be disorienting and uncomfortable for the existing members.  During this transition, facilitate the culture shift by supporting members to leverage their own unique strengths, include and optimize their different capabilities, and work cohesively to reach a common purpose.

These characteristics will round out your team.

Originally published in The Province April 13, 2014.

Keep your global team well engaged

August 4, 2013

Q: My new executive role means I’m managing a global team. How do I keep them engaged, on track and working together without having to travel every week?

A: To avoid excessive travel and working 24/7, a team charter is essential for a geographically disperse team. Create a compelling vision and motivating purpose that each member aligns with.

Clearly defined roles and responsibilities, agreement on the team’s goals, and how it will operate as a unit helps members stay on track when you are unavailable.

With a range of cultural, language and time differences, regular communication is vital to keep everyone on the same page and moving forward together.

Clear, concise, direct communication will help minimize misunderstandings. Reiterate key objectives often by email.

Technology can be highly effectively when face to face isn’t possible.

Maintain frequent visual one-on-ones with everyone, allotting time to connect with them personally. Regular group meetings which include some informal team bonding time build regarding readership understanding, camaraderie and unity.

An intranet site where members can share best practices, photos, wins and personal updates keeps them in community between meetings.

Demonstrate fairness, equality and consistency so each individual feels valued as an integral member who brings a unique and vital contribution.

If some have regular access to you in person, pay special attention to those who are more isolated. Those who are more isolated may need more recognition to prevent the perception of others getting preferential treatment while they feel under-appreciated, invisible or unmotivated.

Watch for signs of flagging engagement such as resistance to implementing new ideas, reduced output, short or curt emails, or a reluctance to communicate from your team members.

Make sure every member feels you are accessible any time if needed.

The benefits of a well-managed global team are motivated individuals who thrive on independence, require little supervision resulting in time efficiencies and cost savings.

Originally published in The Province, August 4, 2013.

Confidence needed to be team leader

February 18, 2013

Q: I’ve been hired to lead a team of directors on a project. I have the specific skills for this role, but I’m younger than everyone. They aren’t taking my direction and I need help overcoming my intimidation of them.

A: It is often easier to believe more in your team’s capabilities than in your own. Remind yourself that you earned the seat at the helm. Trust you know what you’re doing.

Your executive presence is a key indicator of how your team responds to you. Authority matters more than age.

Owning your expertise with confidence will instill their trust in you. Your job is to set strategic direction and motivate the team to own the project and its success. Share a strong vision for success assuring the team you know where you are heading.

Lead expedient meetings that are focused and practical. Welcome ideas and suggestions that further the outcomes, but don’t be taken off track. Your experience will be apparent as you inform the team of potential risks and possible benefits of their contributions. Set clear expectations for deliverables with due dates for each member monitoring progress at subsequent meetings.

Be willing to say no when you know it is not the right course of action. Your team may not like it, but they will respect you. Speak with conviction and surety, being mindful to avoid appearing arrogant or controlling. Avoid voting to achieve consensus. It can lead to division or a perception that you are more inclined to please than to take a stand for what is right. Indecision signals self-doubt and undermines your authority. Focusing on your purpose rather than on other’s opinions will help you.

If insecurity still plagues you, seek a mentor or coach to become the leader the organization knows you to be.

Originally published in The Province, Feb. 17, 2013.

Motivate your staff by reviving effective work habits

January 6, 2013

Q: Last week my team returned from the holidays rested but unmotivated and unfocused. What can I do to re-engage them in work?

A: When depleted employees recharge their batteries during an extended time off, inertia can set in, making re-entry challenging. Cut through the holiday hangover by reviving their effective work habits.

Ride the holiday mood by hosting a new year’s social meeting highlighting last year’s wins, crediting the key players and having them share their key learn-ings. Present lighthearted awards for the accomplishments and comical prizes for meeting participation.

Jump-start their creativity by brainstorming a list of what they want to build on from the previous year’s successes. Stimulate a positive environment by inviting them to dream BIG. What do they really want to create as a team this year? If there were no limitations, what would it look like? How will they define success? What new skills and responsibilities do they want to gain?

As the team begins to imagine what could be possible, compile a list of simple ideas and short-term goals on a large whiteboard.

When your team starts to see the magnitude of accomplishments compared to modest effort required, you’ll create momentum without overwhelming them. As the list grows before their eyes they will feel productive, committed and inspired to move to action.

Finally, paint a compelling vision for them to invest in for the year. What does the team want to be known for at the end of the year? What attributes do they want to be recognized for? Innovative, visionary, bold or customer focused? What is each member’s personal stake in the vision?

When members create and take ownership of a vision, it’s easier to keep them on track, hold them accountable and re-spark them throughout the year.

Originally printed in The Province, January 6, 2013.

Clear communication key to managing offshore staff

October 14, 2012

Q: I have just been given an offshore team on three continents and I am worried about how I am going to manage and motivate remotely without micromanaging or working 36/8.

A: Leading virtual teams with geographic and cultural differences, multiple time zones, and lack of face time is complex.

Start strong by hosting a regional meeting in their location. Create ‘social glue’ by having every member create a one-slider with their photo, role, expertise, hobbies and interests so members can connect faces to voices and emails.

Communicate regularly using a variety of methods – email, web meetings, video and teleconferencing.

Be succinct and state the obvious so your point is not missed. Package information in multiple formats using bullet points, visual aids, charts and diagrams to ensure accurate knowledge transfer. Clearly document your expectations, required milestones and objectives, providing templates and checklists for deliverables. Upload all content to a user friendly web system for easy reference 36/8.

A survey showed that attrition can reach 50 per cent when offshore members are expected to work odd hours. Be patient with time lags, respect local customs and holidays. Accept that emails will take 12 hours to be addressed.

Appoint a local team lead to manage deliverables, resolve issues and liaise with you. This lead also needs time at your site to have a complete understanding of how the offshore roles fit into the overall business. They are instrumental for motivating the team by keeping members connected to your vision.

Collaborate rather than command. Involve them in brainstorming, solicit their input and consult with them before making decisions.

Bring them together onshore to experience your working environment firsthand.

Recognize their efforts often so they feel seen rather than isolated and forgotten. The team’s output will be directly related to how you interact and manage them.

Originally published in The Province, Oct. 14, 2012.

Team resists new vision

January 19, 2011

Q: After being in the role of CEO for six months, my executive team continues to resist my vision. I recognize a change in leadership requires an adjustment period. But they agreed to the new direction, so I feel angry and betrayed by them. How do I get them to do what I need to move my initiatives forward?

A: The answer probably lies in your question. You clearly own the vision. Your team must, too. Your commanding style of leadership may be alienating them. They could be resisting you, not your vision.

Try a collaborative approach. Shift your attitude from me and mine to us and we, making room for them to share with you. Begin by being genuinely curious about their perspectives, opinions and recommendations. Switch from telling them what you want to asking them what they suggest.

Encourage and incorporate their input wherever possible. If you continually resist their ideas, they will feel disempowered, quickly disengage and will probably start resisting you, too.

Your team needs to feel included, trusted and supported. Give them recognition and credit, point out what they are doing well. They will likely respond more favourably once you value their unique abilities and contribution.

See things from their vantage point. Demonstrate empathy for their role of integrating a new strategy with staff’s current reality.

Perhaps you moved to action before establishing solid alignment on the vision, goals and methods. Clarify the vision, set outcomes, and targets then give them the latitude to run with it.

Solicit their feedback on your leadership. Make the necessary changes in you so they willingly move forward with you at the helm. It is easier to adapt your style than your entire teams’.

Originally published in The Province, January 16, 2011.

New exec tip: take it slow

November 29, 2010

Q: I am the first woman in my organization to be promoted to the executive team. I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself to perform. How can I create a powerful presence so that my perspectives and leadership style will be accepted?

A: First there’s no need to prove yourself. A 19-year study showed that 25 of the top Fortune 500 firms that promoted women into the executive suite were 20-80 per cent more profitable than the medium firms in their industries.

New members provide the team with a valuable point of view that can provide more sound decision-making for a homogeneous team. As part of this team, you are responsible to bring your unique perspective to the table so that it’s heard and considered even though it may not be accepted and adopted.

One of the biggest challenges for any new executive is to step into your new identity so it matches your new role-including viewing corporate issues strategically now instead of tactically. Believing you belong on the team is key since your attitude impacts how you are perceived. If you feel you are fighting to represent an unpopular viewpoint you may come across as defensive. How can you lead so others will follow?

Before rushing to establish your executive presence on the team, assess and manage the relationships. What are the member’s unique drivers, strengths and styles and how are they leveraged on the team? How do members come to agreement on issues? How do they raise and resolve difficult issues?

Collaborate in areas you are already aligned demonstrating your strengths and forging alliances. Credibility and trust take time to develop. Like you, the team needs time to adapt. Enjoy the challenge — you’ve earned it.

Originally published in The Province, November 28, 2010.

If words alone don’t do it….

May 3, 2009

Q: I was dumbfounded when several of my team separately recalled verbatim what they were convinced I had told them. I never said those words. While they got the gist of the message, how do I ensure that I won’t be misunderstood next time?

A:  For a team leader to function effectively, your team must be clear about your directions. Your team may not have recalled your exact words, but it sounds like they were on the mark with your intended message.

Messages are sent to the listener on two levels simultaneously. Information is transmitted through your words. But studies show 65 to 80 per cent of the message is communicated non-verbally. Facial expression, eye contact, body posture, motions, tone of voice and attitude tell the real story.

If you say a deadline is firm, but your voice tone conveys the blasé quality of “whatever,” don’t be surprised when you’re off schedule.

When your spoken message and your attitude are contradictory, the receiver will interpret from your more accurate non-verbal cues — how the listener “experiences” your message not how they “hear” it.

Take a few extra minutes before you speak to be clear about your content and to be aware of your emotional state. Speak slowly and intentionally to monitor your delivery as well as your words. Your goal is for your non-verbal cues to be congruent with your information.

Understanding deepens when it flows two ways. How well are you hearing your team’s messages? Pay attention to their non-verbal cues this week. Who needs your recognition? Who is eager for a new challenge? Whose tank is empty? A successful leader “hears” and accurately responds to their team’s cues.

Originally printed in The Province on May 3, 2009.