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Aside of the outdated paradigm that people work “for you” rather than “with you” the problem is that when you focus on the team reporting to you it inescapably leads to forming your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 should you never delegate?

Delegation and empowerment are great tools in the toolbox of every leader. If you are not sure what is the difference feel free to check out this article: “Don’t manage. Empower!”. However, there is one thing that should never be delegated if you really want to lead others – and that is the leading itself. Every leader should spend big portion of his or her time building the team, coaching, mentoring and developing the team members to become leaders, safeguarding the company culture and sharing a vision.

Build the team

Getting the right people on board is one of the crucial parts of success. If you want the team to perform better than competitors, if you want them to grow and scale the business you need to ensure they want to do that and they are capable of doing it. And not just that, you need to ensure they do it the right way and work as a team. For that you need to hire the right team. As a leader you need to lead the way and enable your team to hire right. You need to be the one who is hands-on involved in recruitment process and in developing your interviewing team so they understand what to look for and who to hire. You should never completely disengage from the process and even when eventually you delegate most of the responsibility to your team you still need to get involved regularly to continue to hone your own interviewing skills as well as ensuring that your hiring strategy doesn’t dilute as it gets delegated to newer and newer waves of your leaders. You can find more thoughts on how to build the right team in these posts: “Everyone is a recruiter” and “Getting the perfect hire”.

Develop the leaders

You hired the right team and that is a good start. But it doesn’t end here. You need to ensure your team understands what you are trying to build, you need to ensure your team has the means to achieve the goals and you need to ensure that the team scales as the company grows. The way to achieve all these things is to be hands-on coach and mentor. It is your responsibility to grow people in the team, it is your responsibility to provide feedback, mentoring and opportunities. As a leader you should never hide behind other people and delegate the responsibility for growing the next generation of leaders.

You should spend big portion of your time with your direct reports and help them get to the next level. Almost everyone has the potential to grow and if you selected someone to leadership position you probably saw in him or her some potential. If they are not growing and not getting to the next level it is your failure more than theirs.

And it is not just about direct reports. Let’s say you have a bright young employee fresh out of university who just joined your team. Yes, you can delegate responsibility for his professional development to one of the team leads but ultimately it is your organization and you are responsible for making sure you have the leadership bench strength when needed. Obviously, you cannot give the same attention to everyone so it is important you identify the next leaders in your team and then dedicate portion of your time to personally work with them and provide the guidance they need. And no, this is not micromanagement or not trusting your team leads, this is simply an additional channel to make the team grow faster.

Safeguard the culture

Culture is not dictated from top down, it is lived from bottom up. However, it can be heavily influenced and steered by the leaders. It is your responsibility as a leader to guide the team and help them to develop a culture that will align with company’s vision and goals. It is not about fancy slogans or presentations, it is about daily execution. You need to live the company values, you need to lead by example and you need to relentlessly look for and correct behavior that is not in line with corporate culture. If the team understands what the expected behavior is, if they are the right people that fit with that culture and if they see the leadership living the company’s values they will automatically adopt the culture, build it and live it.

Share the vision

This is obviously one of the key tasks. If your team doesn’t know where they are going they cannot get there. You as a leader need to have a vision for your team. And that doesn’t necessarily mean great vision for the whole company (unless you are CEO). It can be much more humble if you are running just a small team in a big organization. The vision for your team can be to grow, to get responsibility for more projects, to be able to grow people and build the next generation of leadership for your company, to act as a center of excellence and help other teams with specific knowledge, to provide great customer service, or to build good quality products on time while having fun. The only thing you need to ensure is that the vision you are giving to your team is in line with the global vision of the company. You always need to be able to show to each individual how his tasks align with the team goals and the company vision as that is the only way your team will understand how their work fits into the whole picture and why they are doing what they are doing.

Twitter type summary: “The one thing you should never delegate is providing vision, building, developing, and mentoring your team.”

What are your thoughts? Would you outsource the development of your team? Would there be other things that you would never delegate to others?

Allow your team to fail

As a leader using coaching approach to managing people you need to be comfortable with the concept of failure. We as human beings are not perfect and each of us makes mistakes that may lead to failure. If you follow some of the thoughts presented in “Don’t manage. Empower!” and “Mentoring by telling stories”, when you guide your team by asking questions, giving suggestions and mentoring without giving too much specifics you need to understand that people will fail… and that it is fine.

Allow failures

This is very easy to say but may not be that easy to do. At each level of management structure we have certain responsibilities that correlate to our abilities. If if you are an individual contributor and you fail at your task it probably won’t bankrupt the company. If you are the CEO and you fail it may well lead to big problems for the company. At the same time you are better equipped with the necessary knowledge. It is always an equation of risk versus benefit. Just remember that risk means not only direct risk of not achieving the goal but also indirect risk (or opportunity cost) of you not being able to focus your time and energy on other things that may bring even bigger value. This also means that you can allow for failures only in a team that has the right people in the right positions. If you have a team member who lacks the skills necessary for his particular role than allowing for failures can be dangerous as that person won’t be able to realize that there is a failure in the progress.

Recognize them fast

Recognize that something doesn’t work and stop doing it. One of the human’s traits that make it especially difficult to recognize failures fast and stop doing them is our believe that we know what we are doing and if only we put more energy into it we will succeed. This leads to behavior that instead of stopping something that doesn’t work we double our effort and do more of it in hopes of getting different results. Let’s be realistic. If something doesn’t work don’t be afraid to admit it and try to limit your over-optimism and self-confidence. If your current efforts don’t lead to desired outcomes just stop it and try something new.

Learn from them

Even when you admit a mistake and stop doing a particular activity that led to the mistake you still need to figure out the root cause and learn from it. There is no point of stopping doing one thing that doesn’t work only to replace it by something else that tackles the problem in pretty much the same way. If something doesn’t work, stop it and try something completely different. Not just slightly different. Start from completely opposite direction and use completely new approach.

For example, if your recruiter have consistently troubles finding a specific skillset on the job market and you know you will need lots of people with that skillset in the future what do you do? You can get second recruiter (meaning doing more of that what doesn’t work), or you can change the recruiter (getting someone else who will be doing essentially the same mistake) or you can approach it from completely new angle and train your current team in using different techniques, tools and channels. The first two approaches are just postponing the inevitable and are essentially preventing you from failing fast. You will still fail, it will just take you longer.

And forget

You need to create environment where people won’t be afraid to take risks and that means once they fail and learn from it they can be certain that you won’t be reminding them of that particular failure for the rest of their lives. This is especially important in performance management as you need to carefully consider what failures and how you want to punish. If you reflect every failure in the performance review and you cut bonuses for the team they will be more risk averse in the future. They will not act next time.

The one failure you shouldn’t allow

Not acting may be sometimes also a mistake that leads to failure. The problem is that this is very often type of failure that is not immediately recognized and thus you will not learn anything from it. It is the type of failure that may lead to bad performance in couple of months so it is difficult to spot and correct today. Typically, it would be failure to deal with low performing employee, failure to develop your team, failure to lead. Because things are looking fine today you may even get your promotion for job well done, but in reality you are failing miserably. You are failing to act. It is not something your boss will see. In fact, the moment you start to act would be the moment when you make it visible that something is wrong and you may not earn your promotion today, but it will prevent issues in the future. You as a leader need to recognize situations like these and appreciate people who fail fast in failure of not acting.

To sum it up you need to be comfortable with the fact that you or your team will fail from time to time. The important aspect is not to worry about failure, be comfortable with it and use it as a learning opportunity. To use the positive side of a failure you need to ensure one thing. If you are going to fail, then fail fast. Fail fast, learn from it and move on and tackle the problem again from different side armed with the knowledge you just gained.

Twitter type summary: “It is fine to fail. Just make sure you fail fast. The only thing you shouldn’t tolerate is a failure to act.”

How do you see failure? Do you see it as a disaster that cannot be taken back or as a learning opportunity? How do you deal with people who failed?

Let the team win

Had you ever struggled with motivating your team and creating a sense of ownership for a brand new initiative that you came up with? Did you feel like you have to explain everything in a big detail and the team still doesn’t get it and the project doesn’t progress as you wanted? What was happening?

Your ego may be at fault here. You are pushing too hard, you want to show that you have answers to all the questions and dictate to the team what and how they should do.

So how do you spur an action and create a sense of ownership by the team for an idea that you came up with? There are several ways how to approach this problem and it really depends on personalities in your team.

Plant the idea

Imagine this situation. You just spent month thinking about an improvement of some process your team is using. You analyzed lots of data, talked with several people, and drafted a proposal for discussion with your boss. You then talked to him and he didn’t seem to be particularly impressed. But he said he will think about it. Two weeks later there is a meeting your boss has with all his subordinates and he introduces the idea and strongly pushes for implementation. He even invited people from other departments to get the necessary support. Not once on that meeting is mentioned your name. You feel disappointed, maybe a bit angry. But why? Is it more important to you getting the credit or implementing the idea? Your boss just took ownership of the idea, will push it forward and he will have better chance of succeeding than you would have. You should feel proud that something you came up with will be now implemented. These things happen and you should always look at it from the perspective whether things got done and not who takes credit.

Give credit

Let go of your ego. When someone takes ownership of your idea the best thing you can do it to provide him any support he needs. Just be careful not to add “I had the same idea a year ago” as it would just kill the sense of ownership by the team on the spot.

Let me give you an example each of us encounters all the time. A member of your team comes to you. He is smiling, full of enthusiasm and says “I have a great news for you. We just finished the project two days sooner than expected.” And your answer? “Yes, I know.” Such a let down! Why do you need to show off? You just took something away from the person who came with the message and you missed a great opportunity to increase the motivation of the team. The correct answer is “That is great! You guys did an incredible job.” Who cares that you already knew about it?

Play Devil’s advocate

What does it mean? Essentially arguing points against your idea and thus not letting others to use them. It has the advantage that it pushes the team or your opposing person to argue for your idea thus making it their own.

This technique is a bit manipulative and manipulation as a general rule shouldn’t be part of leader’s repertoire. To make it more transparent you may want to make it clear to the team what you are actually doing here. When the discussion gets going you can make a statement like this “Guys I really like the idea but let me play Devil’s advocate here. I see this or that problem with it. How do you want to resolve it?” That way you stimulate the discussion, letting the team to find the solution and take the ownership while not lying to them.

Show vision, not details

Another way is to provide just a high-level vision, a basic outline of the idea but let the team figure out all the details. Even though you may have already pretty good feel about how it should be implemented just keep it to yourself. If you share all the details then you won’t give opportunity to others to take the idea as their own and you won’t be able to create a sense of ownership. The team may still do it but without passion and they will do it just because you are the boss and not because the success of the initiative matters to them.

All in all it is always about giving chance to others to contribute and do things their own way without you pushing “the only correct” solution all the time. And yes, in the grand scheme of things you are responsible for the outcomes of your team’s work so when things go wrong you need to be able to step up and take ownership. In the times of crisis stand by your team and work together to get it resolved and make sure you own the failure and take the consequences. The team needs to understand what was wrong, get the feedback, learn from it, but to the outside world you are the one to take the blame.

Twitter type summary: “Leader is visible to the world in the times of crisis. When there is a credit to be taken he stands in the shadows.”

What is your experience with marshaling a team to support your idea? Do you dwell on who came up with it or do you focus more on the actual execution and results?

How to avoid “single point of failure” situations in your team?

One of the most often overlooked tasks of any leader is to plan his succession and to ensure he has a plan how to ensure his team works even if he loses a key contributor. We are all so submerged in the daily tasks that we often don’t realize that we fail to make the team resilient and disaster-proof. So how do you fix this situation?

Identify single-point-of-failure team members

Who are the key people in your organization? How do you identify them? The most obvious mistake you can make is to start looking at titles or seniority. Very often these things doesn’t matter that much and don’t mean that the person is a key to the success of your team and difficult to replace. I have always asked myself these couple of questions:

  • Does the person hold a unique knowledge? (being it institutional knowledge, technical or just knowing lots of people that are key to your team survival and no one else knows them or has that knowledge)
  • Does the person have a unique skill-set? (he might be The salesman, The leader to whom everyone comes for advice and mentoring or have a way to negotiate with others that gets your team anything you need)
  • Does the person provide a unique function that holds the team together? (he might be The leader even if his title doesn’t say it, or just provide a social role that keeps the team together and makes the work fun)

Find a suitable mitigation strategy

When you identify the key people think about what would happen if they wouldn’t show up in the office tomorrow. Just imagine how your team would look like without that particular person. Ask yourself:

  • What is the unique knowledge, skill or function you would have to replace?
  • What would be the impact on the team, atmosphere, product, customers?
  • What would be the short-term and long-term impact?
  • What would be the impact on daily operations?
  • What would be the impact on the potential growth of the team?

When you have the list look at the rest of the team and find people who are close of taking over that particular knowledge, skill or function. If you cannot find anyone who would be even close you are in trouble and you should seriously consider augmenting your team with an experienced person from outside sooner rather than later.

Execute and regularly follow-up

Assuming you found couple of people who would be able to take on some of the function of the key individual create a development plan for them to get the necessary skill or knowledge. Talk with your key employee and make it a point that he or she as a person who has something unique should make it a mission to share this with others. Let him mentor the people you identified as a potential candidates to learn the skill. As it goes with any developmental plans you need to regularly follow-up on the progress of the knowledge transfer or skill enhancement.

Make it part of your decision making process

Keep the execution plan readily available and look at it every time you make a decision about assigning new responsibilities to someone or making reorganization in your team. Ensure that with each new change you remove some of the single-point-of-failure situations, you give people a chance to learn new skills or get knowledge they need to act as a back-up for your key people. The biggest mistake organizations make is to constantly assign their key people on all critical or new projects thus creating bigger and bigger dependency on them, limiting others to grow and increasing the risk for the business.

If you want this exercise to have any meaningful impact you need to repeat it on a regular basis. Probably not every week but once every couple of months especially if the organization grows or shrinks is advisable. When you get to a point that the list of key people gets to zero it means you build enough resilience into the organization that it will survive anything (like someone taking a day off).

Twitter type summary: “Your responsibility as a leader is to identify key people and plan for their unexpected demise. The goal is not to have key people at all.”

Do you have a plan how to ensure your team survives and can execute its mission even if a key contributor leaves?

How can you motivate others? You can’t!

If you are a manager, a team lead or a project manager who is new to the role you are probably asking yourself this simple question: “How can I motivate my team?” I don’t want to disappoint or discourage you, but the answer is also very simple: “You can’t!” Years of building and managing teams showed me that there is no way you can externally motivated someone who is internally not motivated and likes to feel miserable or helpless. Stephen R. Covey once said “Motivation is a fire from within. If someone else tries to light that fire under you, chances are it will burn very briefly.” In my eyes, being motivated is a state of mind. It is a feeling that drives us to accomplish things, to do, to act, to reach something specific. Every coach would tell you that we are all responsible for our own feelings and no one else can change them.

So what can you do? In fact there are quite few things you can do to allow people to be motivated. You will not motivate them, but you will create circumstances that will lead to internal motivation of the team. Daniel H. Pink explains in his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” that motivation in modern economy where you are required to use creative thinking has three components: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Autonomy is a state when you have the freedom to do what you want and how you want it to be done. Mastery is a mindset that keeps you learning and getting better at what you do. Purpose sets context for the previous two and keeps you engaged and fulfilled by doing something larger than you. These are all intrinsic motivators that must be found by each individual himself. The one thing you can do is to provide environment where it is possible.

Understand your team

  • What are the values of each individual on your team?
  • What are the things that matter to them?
  • What personal goals do they have?
  • What makes them tick?
  • What are they passionate about?
  • What makes them come to the office every day?
  • What makes them laugh?
  • What makes them cry?

Provide motivating environment

  • Provide meaningful job – everyone should work on something that makes sense. In no circumstances should a member of your team do something just for the sake of keeping him busy
  • Provide challenges – everyone should have a work that is always one step above what he can comfortably achieve, that way he learns and grows
  • Provide responsibilities – trust your team and give them responsibilities, autonomy, let them decide on how to get things done – empower
  • Provide constructive feedback – that is the way we learn. Make sure you create environment where people want to receive and provide feedback and know how to do it
  • Provide information and clear goals – keep the team informed about the big picture and how their work contributes to the common goal

Use motivating approach

  • Guide – guide your team through difficult times. They must know that when things go wrong you are there to help and stand beside them and help overcome the obstacle.
  • Inspire – you should bring energy and inspiration. When people see you and talk to you they should leave energized and with feeling they learned something.
  • Show trust – this is critical. Forget the “trust must be earned” paradigm. You need to trust your team and show that trust. Only then will the team reciprocate and trust you.
  • Listen – really listen, not just to the words but to the meaning behind them. Make sure you not just listen but you show that you are listening and then take actions.
  • Be a role model – lead by example might be a cliché, but a good one. People won’t be motivated in environment where the leader doesn’t walk his talk
  • Use positive vocabulary – phrases like “Maybe”, “It’s difficult”, “It won’t work”, “I guess” don’t inspire much confidence and thwart enthusiasm and drive. Use responses like “Excellent”, “Let’s do it”, “We make it work”.
  • Use humor – nothing works better to eliminate stress than use of humor. A simple humorous statement can defuse an argument, relieve stress and get you closer to your team. Just make sure you are not seen as a clown.
  • Recognize routine jobs & reward outstanding work – I’m sure you reward big achievements, but what about the small ones? Every big milestone consists of couple of simple tasks that deserves some sort of recognition too. You should reward people for outstanding achievements and not to forget all the other team members who did well on the routine jobs and helped the success in less visible ways.

Everyone is different and your ability to keep the team together and keep them motivated is really important for the success of the project or the company. The fact that the road to motivated team members is not a direct one and there is now simple rule how to achieve it is what makes your job interesting. Especially when you are new to the role of a leader take a solace in the fact that we all do mistakes and it will take you couple of year or decades of experimenting until you are able to say that you’ve seen everything and know how to motivate most types of people… and even then you will be wrong.

Twitter type summary: “You cannot force people to be motivated, but you can create environment where they get a chance to motivate themselves.”

What are your thoughts? Are you motivated? Is your team motivated? How did you achieve it? And if you didn’t achieve it, why not?