Is Your Team A Living Game Of Thrones?

This may sound like a silly question but do you know who your team is? The answer is relatively simple if you are an individual contributor but gets rather tricky when you move to leadership role. I can hear you saying “my team are the people who work for me, who I lead”. Wrong. They are not your team, or at least not the primary one. They are their team. They may report to you but ultimately your team is someone else. Most often you would be part of a management team, or in case of special projects or global initiatives you may be part of some virtual team. Essentially, your team is a group of people where you are “one of the guys/girls”, the team where you act as individual contributor and not as a boss.

What’s wrong with a belief that your team are the people working for you?

Aside of the outdated paradigm that people work “for you” rather than “with you” the problem is that when you focus on the team reporting to you it inescapably leads to forming your focus, priorities and loyalties. You get into a habit of protecting your team from external forces (which is sort of fine as long as you do it in moderation), you spend your time with your subordinates rather than with your peers which leads to lack of alignment between different groups and different departments.

Most importantly this focus very often leads to what you can see in the work of George R.R. Martin A Game Of Thrones. Various fiefdoms warring with each other for power, resources, in the eternal struggle to have more land, bigger castle, and no opposition. In the corporate world this means that instead of various teams to be aligned, working for the same purpose, helping each other, and sharing rewards to move the business forward they don’t talk to each other. Or even worse, they actively sabotage each other’s effort to come up as winners. Ultimately, the business suffers and everyone loses.

What changes when you see your peers in management as your team?

So what happens if you change your paradigm and start looking at your peers from other departments as the primary team? What happens when the group of people who form management actually starts acting like a team? Well, it can have profound effects of the well-being of everyone in the “individual department teams” as well as overall success of the company.

I had the fortune to spend big portion of my management career being part of various “virtual teams”. For example, when building a brand new office in the Philippines I would be the only guy on the ground (employee number one, without any direct reports) but being part of a global company I definitely had a team, being it VPs of IT and HR in US, legal counsel in Singapore, VP of finance in Ireland, or HR manager in Australia. All these people were my team, some of them my peers, some even my superiors, but my purpose when it came to leadership was clear: Ensure that we have the same vision, work towards the same goals, keep each other informed about what individual departments are doing, keep each other honest and focused. In short it was about alignment, clarity and purpose. You can read some additional thoughts on this in The Real Leadership Shows When You Are Not The Boss.

What can you do to form a true management team and not a group of warring kings?

Patrick M. Lencioni in his books The Advantage and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team talks about why teams fail and how to form them. I would argue that even though the dysfunctions he describes are applicable to any team, they are most often visible in management teams where people have the mindset “my team are the people reporting to me, that is my powerbase, and that is where my loyalties are”.

So what Lencioni says the five dysfunctions are and what does it mean if you want to be a part of well-functioning management or virtual team?

  • Absence of trust – no trust among team members is the primary reason that leads to problems. People are unwilling to be vulnerable before each other because they are unsure about the agenda of the others. “If I show vulnerability someone else will use it and stab me in the back.” This then leads to unwillingness to discuss problems, ask questions, and most often to inability to share information and inability to communicate at all. So what can you do about it? I would suggest considering some thoughts from Coaching Approach To Leading People. Someone needs to be the first to extend the hand of peace. Trust will come when you trusting that others have good intention in mind, when you show vulnerability others might be willing to do the same, when you share information and ask non-threatening questions, and when you give credit to the other people on the team. It may be also a good idea to solicit help of external coach or mediator and spend couple of days as a team together to resolve the conflicts brewing in the background.
  • Fear of conflict – a natural extension of the trust problem. Because you don’t trust others and don’t know how they will react, you seek artificial harmony. At the outside it may look like you are the best pals but in reality there is very little of constructive debate and very often no communication at all. This leads to everyone on the team focusing on his or her own department and because of lack of communication at management level the whole organization is not aligned. What to do about it? Well, once you build the trust then it should be relatively easy to be willing to get into a conflict. Just make sure that before every possibly difficult conversation you have answers to the three basic questions “What do I want for me? What Do I want for the other party? What do I want for our relationship?” For more on fear and difficult conversations check 6 Fears Of Leadership, How To Deal With Communication Issues.
  • Lack of commitment – when people are afraid of conflict it leads to lack of commitment. Why? Instead of arguing when I disagree with something I would rather grudgingly comply and when no one is looking I wouldn’t even don’t act at all. This leads to organization where things are “being agreed on” but in reality because no one really buys-in they are not being executed. And when things are not being executed it creates environment of lots of activity, with lack of results and that ultimately means frustration of the best people. So how do you tackle that issue? It again builds on the previous bullet points. You need to fix the previous points and even try to create, and manage, conflict to clear the air and ensure that agreement actually really means agreement.
  • Avoidance of accountability – without clear commitment and unified vision people won’t feel accountable. And even if they do, they will not hold the rest of the team accountable since it would just create useless conflict and damage relationships within the team. Well, if you fix all the things above then calling people out if they don’t deliver on their promises should be again rather easy and won’t damage relationship between team members. When everyone is truly accountable the ability of the organization to execute and deliver on the vision will go through the roof. I would suggest you also check this article about How To Deal With Broken Promises.
  • Inattention to results – and this brings us to the last dysfunction as defined by Lencioni. Lack of accountability is a breeding ground for people focusing on their personal success, status, ego, or in better cases their departments but definitely not on the good of the virtual or management team. If you see this behavior in your organization it is a great way to realize that you indeed have a problem and that you need to get back to the basics and deal with all the dysfunctions as listed above one by one.

So after reading all this let me ask you? Who do you think your team is? Are you ready to shift your mindset and start paying attention also to the other teams you are part of and not only to the one you are formally in charge of? If yes, I wish you good luck and the energy and the personal courage necessary to deal with the basic dysfunctions of your team.


Who is your team? Do you live in the old paradigm of “my team are the people working for me” rather than “the people I work with”?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

How To Build A Team And Not A Random Group Of People

Building a strong team to get things done is one of the key responsibilities of every manager. And curiously enough, very few are actually doing it. I encourage you to look around, and even consider how you build your teams, and chances are that you focus on hiring bunch of people who will work together as a group, but not a team. Team, in my definition, is a several people who work together for common goal, who have the same core values, rely on each other and complement each other strengths. The last aspect is the most often overlooked.

Imagine you are setting up a brand new office. You have several key functions to hire. You need an HR person, you need an accountant, an office admin, you need a recruiter, you need someone to handle contracts, you need someone to maintain facilities, sit at reception, interact with external world of vendors and suppliers, etc.

How do you build this team? Depends on how your organization works, chances are that each department will want to have a representative they will hire who will be expert at her specific function. This sounds great. Each department brings on board the best expert they can find. You hire excellent accountant, great recruiter, perfect office admin, the best HR person around… and things are constantly broken.

What happened? You didn’t take into account whether these rock stars would work together and more importantly you have no redundancy build in. If your accountant goes on vacations any finance related topics are put on hold, if your recruiter gets sick you stop hiring people. So how you deal with this? By following couple of basic rules in the recruitment process when building the team:

  • Hire for strengths
  • Hire for gaps
  • Hire for cultural fit
  • Hire the right, not the best, person
  • Hire by committee

Hire for strengths

There are different ways how to interview and hire. One approach is to look for weaknesses and consistently weed out anyone who shows weakness in any of the traits and skills required for the job. This sounds reasonable until you realize that you focus on getting a mediocre person who is “sort of ok” in all the aspects but may not have any discernible strength. He will do the job somehow but won’t bring anything that would get the team to the next level.

Another approach is to hire for strengths. Identify couple (not many) of critical skills where you really need a rock star and hire for these and be willing to overlook some of the weaknesses. As long as they are not critical to the success of the team, or as long as the rest of the team can compensate. For example, you may decide that the most important skill you are looking for in a recruiter is ability to dig out the rare talent and obscure technologies your team requires. So that is where you focus and the fact that he may not be able to close the candidate won’t bother you as you will handle it by another person on the team who is a great salesman.

Hire for gaps

With the approach described above you will hire a great talented person who may have some weaknesses. That means you need to compensate by someone else. Your next hire needs to fill the skill gap caused by overlooking weaknesses of other people on the team. And not only you need to hire for gaps, you need to ensure you build in some redundancy and resistance into do team. In our case with hiring a stellar recruiter, or rather a sourcer and data wizard who knows the job market inside and out, we know that another person on the team needs to be strong at giving out offer and selling the position to the candidate so he joins the team. This might be the manager, but could easily be the HR person or whoever else on the team with the right personality and drive.

And not just this, each person should have a primary strength and a secondary utilization. What happens if your recruiter goes on vacations? You need to keep the ball rolling. You may not have another super star but there needs to be someone competent enough on the team to pick up the ball and keep running. What about having it a part of the office admin job to keep up to date with the job market and be able to step in every now and then to help? If you cover this way every single function and skill in your group you are in a great shape and you build pretty robust team.

Hire for cultural fit

Of course, with this approach you are not hiring silos. You are hiring people who by definition will have to rely on each other a lot. And that means the right “chemistry”, the same core values and view of the world needs to be there. Each individual needs to understand what her strengths and weaknesses are and be comfortable reaching out to the rest of the team for help when needed.

It is easier to say this than to do it. In fact, for many jobs you will keep refusing really great and qualified people only because they don’t fit the team. It is very difficult to do as the pressure of the business is to hire as soon as possible but it is worth the wait. The cost of hiring wrong cultural fit is huge. Even a single person who won’t fit the team will spoil the atmosphere, change the dynamics in a negative way and ultimately lead to suboptimal performance.

Hire the right, not the best, person

There is a strong tendency to fall in love with people similar to us, there is a strong desire to hire the best of the best, and there is a big danger of the Halo effect (to make decisions based on first impression). Just imagine you are building a small start-up and looking for a team lead. Two people show on the interview. One is a very hands-on guy who spent couple of years at another start-up and let a team of three people and a more senior guy who came from a bigger company where he led hundreds of people.

Who do you hire? I’m not providing the answer here, since it really depends on what you need. However, it is important to make a conscious decision on what type of person you want to hire. Who do you need today? Who will you need in a year time? Do you need to hire for your today’s need? Or are you at stage that you just started a hyper growth and you need to scale, thus to hire someone for tomorrow who will scale? That is what I mean by hiring the right person for your particular circumstances and not the best person on the market who may not fit your actual needs regardless how good she is.

Hire by committee

The most important aspect of this to work is not to make any decision unilaterally. You are a manager so you are probably tempted to make the final decision whether to hire or not to hire but I would urge you not to succumb to this temptation. In fact, I would even ask you to do the complete opposite and let the team decide whether they want to hire the candidate or not. Two rules to follow here.

First, anyone should have a right to veto. If someone on the team is strongly against the candidate it means automatically no hire, regardless whether you or the rest of the team liked the person.

And second, there should be at least one person on the team who is really enthusiastic about the candidate. If everyone says “eh, he is sort of ok,” it means yet again no hire decision since clearly the candidate doesn’t bring anything to get the team to the next level. Another way how to judge whether someone will bring something new to the team is to ask the current team members if they can name one skill or characteristics in which the candidate is better than they are. Assuming you don’t have defunct team who is able to do a good retrospective, they should be able to name a few.


How do you ensure you build a cohesive team that works well together? How do you grow your people? Do you focus on their weaknesses trying or rather substitute a weakness in one person by strength provided by someone else?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

What Can Leaders Learn From Abraham Maslow?

We live in a world where unemployment rates are at its highest (thinking of Europe) and number of people are having troubles finding work. And then there are those of us who have a good job and wake up every morning to yet another day in the office. One would say that we should be happy but very often I hear people complaining that there is a thing or two they don’t like and some of the statistics I read make me wonder about what we expect from a job. For example this survey by Jobvite discovered that 69% of American employees are actively seeking or are open to new job opportunities. Why is that? And if you are a leader how do you fight the desire of your team to look elsewhere? To understand it we need to answer one basic question: Why do we work?

To survive

70 years ago Abraham Maslow (American psychologist) came up with a famous Maslow’s pyramid of human needs. It was an attempt to list the basic human needs and how they evolve as one gets the lower level satisfied. Even though it rather simplifies his theories and many, including Geert Hofstede, pointed out that it can vary across cultures and there is no need to satisfy lower level to get to the next one, it is a good guideline for answering our question. The very basic reason for people to seek a job is to be able to survive (the first two levels of Maslow’s pyramid related to psychological and safety needs). We all need to eat, we all need a place to rest, and we all want to be able to provide for our families. And that means money.

What does this mean for you as a leader? You need to ensure that you pay your team fairly. That doesn’t necessarily mean paying the top salary. It just means that you should pay more or less what their value for the company is. That is rather impossible to measure so a good substitute is to pay people what their value on the job market is. If you pay significantly less, they will feel like you don’t treat them fairly and you are trying to rob them. If you overpay them there is a danger that you will create a culture of entitlement, where your employees will feel they are above everyone else and will start acting like divas. Chances are they will stick with you only because of money and not because they love the work. It will negatively impact their dedication and performance and sooner or later someone desperate comes and will be willing to overpay them even more and they will jump the ship.

To belong and be appreciated

Once we satisfy our basic needs we start looking for more. Everyone wants to be appreciated (the next two levels of Maslow’s pyramid related to belonging and esteem). We may earn good income but if the environment is toxic, and there is no culture of being appreciated by others, we will still feel down.

You as a leader can deal with this easily. Always be on the floor with your team. Always provide feedback and encouragement. Recognize everyone for the work they are doing, praise, smile, and give credit where credit is due.

Hand in hand with this goes our desire to be treated like adults. Most of us crave opportunity to show we can do the job, we want to be taken seriously and we want to be able to contribute to the best of our abilities. Too many companies today still treat their employees like small children. Too many managers are afraid to give more responsibility to the team members, to trust them, to empower them. As a result employees feel powerless and not appreciated for what they can do.

To be useful

Even the most introverted of us live in some community and care about others. Once you have your needs covered you start thinking about others. You want to feel useful, you want to help others who are less fortunate and by doing it you will feel good about yourself.

What does it mean for a leader who wants to retain its people? It is all about team. Make sure that people care about the rest of the team and they genuinely try to help. Team work is not a competition about who gets promoted first. It is about people doing what they love, and having the mindset to build something together. You should always encourage open communication, team work, sharing credit between team members, and appreciate and reward success of the team.

To achieve

This may go with the top of Maslow’s pyramid where he talks about self-actualization. It may differ between cultures but the common underlying principle is “purpose”. Once we get to the top of the pyramid we need to have higher purpose in our life. Call it self-actualization, self-fulfillment or just going beyond your limits. It means we want to be more than we are. We want to step out of the confines of our current limited bodies and achieve something bigger than life.

This one is the most tricky but also the one that can glue the employee to the company for a really long time if you are successful. You need to provide a vision that the employee can identify with. This is the reason why it is so important to have company’s vision and mission. And it needs to be something that resonates with people on this highest level: purpose in life. If the vision of your company is to earn ten millions dollars this year it will not work. If the vision is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” (Google), “to be our customers’ favorite place and way to eat” (McDonald’s), or “to connect people with their world, everywhere they live and work, and do it better than anyone else” (AT&T) it is something people can identify with and live for. By doing this you are giving them a deep sense of purpose. This is why so many people work in non-profit and humanitarian organizations. The pay may not be great but the sense of purpose is what makes the work so satisfactory.

So what does all this mean for you as a leader? Never focus just on one particular need. If you want to build strong organization that will be able to attract and retain the best people you need to address all the levels of the Maslow’s pyramid regardless if you believe in it or not.


Why do you work? What would the headhunter offer you to jump the ship? What would have to change in your workplace so you would stay?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.