Ever had this experience as a virtual member of a face-to-face team meeting? You dial into a conference phone. You can’t hear what people are saying. You can’t see the documents, slides, or whiteboards people are referencing, and there is no easy way for you to get the group’s attention to ask a question or clarify a point.
As a virtual team member, unequal access to information and a feeling of being left out can erode your trust and lower your emotional commitment—two critical factors for overall team success.
Yet when you are a dial-in participant, pushing for inclusion without sounding like a whiner usually isn’t worth the effort. As a result, unless they are called on to participate, many virtual team members give up and simply listen to the meeting while they read and answer their email.
Don’t let this happen to the virtual members of your team. Here are three ways to keep your virtual teammates engaged:
- Go completely virtual. Meetings where everyone is virtual will force better habits such as “around the room” input and sending reports in advance so everyone has access. Make sure each meeting agenda deliberately includes time for everyone to participate in the lively chat necessary for this social team approach.
- Use a buddy system. If you must have some in the room and some out, assign every virtual team member a “buddy” in the room. Set up additional communication modes such as instant messaging or chatting between buddies. This way, the virtual team member can ask questions without disturbing the whole group and each person calling in has an advocate who can send last-minute documents, describe what is happening, or intervene when necessary for clarification.
- Consider creating a cardboard Carl/Caroline. One creative team leader I worked with created large, cardboard-backed photos of each virtual team member. The visibility of a cardboard Carl or Caroline in each meeting provided great humor and increased engagement. “Caroline looks like she has a question.” “Let’s ask Carl what he thinks!” These are fun and natural ways to ensure all team members stay visibly engaged and emotionally committed to the team. Other teams use an empty chair with a name, or a name tent—but there is something about a photo that adds life to the meeting. Be aware, though, that your virtual team member may ask for a cardboard photo of you and the rest of the team—that’s a good thing!
We all have attended deadly team meetings, and most of us probably have neglected a virtual team member, inadvertently, at least once. Keep your virtual team members engaged. Try one or more of these strategies and bring life and energy to your next virtual engagement!
About the author
Carmela Sperlazza Southers is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies. Her posts on increasing organizational, team, and leader effectiveness in the virtual work world appear on the fourth Monday of every month.
It uses questions from a Mensa quiz to illustrate the point that a team’s collective wisdom is always greater than any individual team member’s.
To get started, see how many of these questions you can answer individually. According to Mensa, if you can figure out 23 of these, you qualify for “genius” status.
(I’ve filled in the first one for you—check the bottom of this post for the complete answer key when you are done.)
Now, gather your team together (or send them a link to this page). How many of these phrases can your team correctly identify as a group?
When we conducted this exercise in class, results varied widely. Some people scored high, some people scored low. Some people came up with the more obscure answers, while others missed the easy ones. The point of course was that no matter what, the group as a whole always outscored the individual members—even the really smart ones who got many of the answers all by themselves. In every case the team was smarter than the individual members and had a greater capacity to answer the questions that were put in front of it.
What gets in the way of sharing?
So why don’t teams share information more freely and use this to their advantage? There are a lot of reasons ranging from, “I like to be the smart one,” and “I like to be unique,” to “As long as I have this specialized knowledge, I have some leverage, etc.”
Now ask yourself two more important questions. 1. What can we do as a team to break down individual silos and share information more freely? 2. What individual or organizational barriers are getting in our way?
Teams perform best when they operate as a collective unit instead of as a collection of individuals. But that takes work—it doesn’t happen by itself. As a leader or senior team member, consider what you can do this week to help your team share more freely. It’s good for you, your team, and your customers!
1. 24 hours in a day; 2. 26 letters of the alphabet; 3. 7 days of the week; 4. 12 signs of the Zodiac; 5. 66 books of Bible; 6. 52 cards in a pack (without jokers); 7. 13 stripes in the US flag; 8. 18 holes on a golf course; 9. 39 books of the Old Testament; 10. 5 tines on a fork/5 toes on a foot; 11. 90 degrees in a right angle; 12. 3 blind mice (see how they run); 13. 32 is the temperature in degrees F at which water freezes; 14. 15 players on a rugby team; 15. 3 wheels on a tricycle; 16. 100 Cents in a Rand; 17. 11 players in a football (soccer) team; 18. 12 months in a year; 19. 13 is unlucky for some; 20. 8 tentacles on an octopus; 21. 29 days in Feb. in a leap year; 22. 27 books in the New Testament; 23. 365 days in a year; 24. 13 loaves in a baker’s dozen; 25. 52 weeks in a year; 26. 9 lives of a cat; 27. 60 minutes in an hour; 28. 23 pairs of chromosomes in the human body; 29. 64 squares on a chess board; 30. 9 provinces in South Africa; 31. 6 balls to an over in cricket; 32. 1000 years in a millennium; 33. 15 men on a dead man’s chest
One of the hardest things for brilliant, technically proficient folks to realize is that as they assume more and more leadership responsibility they must depend on the help of others. And each of these “others” is an individual who needs to be seen, heard and understood.
One of the strategies you can use to map out all of the important relationships present in your work environment is to create a relationship map. To get started, take a large piece of paper, find a white board (though you want to be sure to keep this work private) or use mind-mapping software.
Begin by identifying your “prime objective.” What exactly are you trying to accomplish? What is the goal? (You may have several, so do a map for each objective.)
Now, draw a space for each person who might be affected by what you are doing. Include senior leaders, colleagues in your industry, peers in other departments, direct reports, functional reports, and dotted line team leads—anyone who might matter. Don’t worry about going overboard—you can always scale back—but you might be surprised at what you find when you get the big picture perspective.
Ask yourself some key questions
Once you have exhausted all of the possibilities, think about each person in turn and identify the following:
- What are their main goals/objectives? How will it serve them for to you succeed? Fail?
- What do you need from them? How can they help you? Hurt you?
- What is their style? How will you need to communicate with them to influence them? Are they visual, kinesthetic, auditory? Do they like a lot of detail or do they want the executive summary?
- What regard do they have for you? Do they like, respect, trust you?
- How do you feel about them? Do you harbor judgments about this person that they might be picking up on? What assumptions might you be making about them that you haven’t checked out?
Next, create a mini-action plan around each person. What are some of the things you can do to build relationships and better understand the people who are crucial to your success?
Action plans can include spending time together, going to the person to ask for advice, or pick up the phone simply to get their opinion about something. You can also plan to go to lunch, drop by cubicles that are not on your regular path, or include key people in relevant emails.
If there are some past misunderstandings, and you are comfortable with addressing it, you can even consider going to lunch with others to “name it and claim it.”
Your action plan should also pay attention to how people use language. It allows you to understand better what is important to others, what they focus on, how they think, and how they approach things.
Take the time
Thinking things through in this much detail requires a great deal of discipline, but the kind of discoveries you can make by thinking things through with this kind of specificity are rich and useful. Even though no one likes to think of himself or herself as a political animal, I have yet to meet a leader who can afford to be politically naïve about work relationships.
Many have been sabotaged by the move from the left that they never saw coming. Taking the time to map relationships and understand how these may or may not be serving your aims allows you to maximize your potential and the potential of others.
About the author:
This is one in a series of LeaderChat articles on the topic of executive development by Madeleine Homan Blanchard, co-founder of Blanchard Certified, For more of her insights , visit the Blanchard Certified blog or via Twitter @BlanchardCert
As Blanchard explains, “When people get caught up in their ego, it erodes their effectiveness. That’s because the combination of false pride and self-doubt created by an overactive ego gives people a distorted image of their own importance. When that happens, people see themselves as the center of the universe and they begin to put their own agenda, safety, status, and gratification ahead of those affected by their thoughts and actions.”
That’s a deadly combination in today’s business environment where organizations need people to work together collaboratively. If you think that ego might be taking up a seat on your team and holding back everyone’s effectiveness, here are three ways to recalibrate:
- Be a learner: The first way to recalibrate an overactive ego is by becoming a continual learner. Whether you’re a leader or an individual contributor, you need to be open to learn from other people and to listen to them. As Blanchard explains, “If people think they’ve got all the answers and don’t need any help, they’re not likely to be interested in collaborating.” That’s why having an attitude that you don’t have all the answers and you’re open to learning is so important. “None of us is as smart as all of us,” explains Blanchard. “This really means that one plus one is a lot bigger than two.”
- Be courageous in your selection of team members: Seek out people who have skills and energy that are different—and preferably superior— to your own. So often people are afraid to work with teammates who possess superior skills. Resist the urge to be the smartest person in the room.
- Build a shared purpose: Finally, the third key to achieving healthy organizational collaboration and minimizing individual ego is to rally people around a shared vision—something bigger than themselves. When everyone shares a clear sense of purpose, process, and practice, it’s amazing what can be accomplished.
Don’t let egos get in the way of your team’s success. Your ability to overcome these self-serving tendencies will determine to a large degree your ability to work effectively with others toward a common goal.
Would you like to learn more about working together collaboratively and creating teams that work? Here are a couple of additional resources:
Why Teams Fail—and What to Do About It (new article by Dr. Eunice Parisi-Carew in latest edition of Human Resource Executive Online)
Ken Blanchard on the Power of Collaboration (a free, one-hour, on-demand webinar recording featuring Ken Blanchard)
About 60 percent of the time, work teams fail to accomplish their goals, according to Dr. Eunice Parisi-Carew, a Founding Associate at The Ken Blanchard Companies. To make matters worse, the experience will create lingering hard feelings among team members,
In a new article for Human Resource Executive Online, Parisi-Carew identifies the top ten reasons why this occurs. See if any of these common missteps are holding back the teams in your organization.
- Lack of planning. Teams are often formed with little planning or forethought. When people come together on a team, they have questions that must be addressed: Why are we together? What are the goals? What role will each of us play? What is expected of me?
- Lack of support for a team culture. This shows up in various ways, all of which are damaging. For example, management “empowers” the team, but still demands that everything be cleared through senior leadership, or management refuses to decrease other responsibilities for people participating on the team.
- Lack of resources. An inadequate budget, training or time to do the job right.
- Lack of clarity. No agreement on how team members are expected to behave toward one another.
- Lack of mutual accountability. This means holding people accountable to agreements. Not confronting a broken agreement can lead to poor results, lack of commitment and lack of trust.
- Lack of effective or shared leadership. A high-performing team is one in which leadership is shared, and each and every member is responsible for team functioning.
- Lack of focus on creativity and excellence. This lack of focus negatively impacts the quality of team interaction and the quality of the final product.
- Inability to deal with conflict. Poor training or strategies for dealing with conflict—especially conflict that is caused by personal, political, or power issues and agendas.
- Lack of training. This applies not only to the leader but to all members. For example, just knowing that teams go through predictable stages—including conflict—can depersonalize and diffuse some of the natural tensions that are felt in a group.
- Poor use of teams. Not all organizational challenges require a team; some are better handled by individuals. A team is appropriate when multiple skills and perspectives are needed to accomplish the goal.
To ensure success with your next team, Parisi-Carew recommends three key strategies to have in place.
Set a Solid Foundation—Many teams are brought together with no more thought than a general idea of “we need a team to do this.” As a result, these teams get formed sloppily with no clear purpose or goal.
Deal with Differences—Provide training and guidance for effectively dealing with differences. This includes reminding the team that differences are inevitable when passionate people work together. It’s important that teams view friction and disagreement as a healthy stage of team development instead of something to avoid.
Approach Team Leadership from a Servant Leader Mind-set—A team is a living, breathing entity. A team leader needs to see himself or herself as a servant and a guide for the group, not as the hub or ultimate decision maker. You will never have a truly high-performing team unless leadership is shared, so that everyone on the team, and the team as a whole, develops
To read more about Parisi-Carew’s advice for team success, be sure to check out the complete article, Why Teams Fail—and What to Do About It at Human Resource Executive Online.
An effective team brings together people from different backgrounds and different experiences to work together toward a common goal. Yet most teams do not ever achieve their full potential because team members do not take the time to explore and agree on the team’s purpose, values, and destination.
Jesse Lyn Stoner, a leading expert on the topic of visioning, and coauthor with Ken Blanchard of Full Steam Ahead!: Unleash the Power of Vision in Your Work and Your Life believes that when team members set these foundational pieces in place, there is less wasted time, less conflicting priorities, and less interpersonal conflict because team members trust they are all moving in the same direction, guided by the same values.
In a recent article for Ignite!, Stoner recommends a three step approach to getting people aligned and working together effectively.
Differences are inevitable when passionate people work together. Eventually, after a team gets through an initial orientation with a new task, members usually come to the realization that working together to accomplish a common goal is tough work.
This occurs in the “dissatisfaction” stage of team development when the team recognizes the discrepancy between what is expected of them and the reality of getting it done.
It is not a pleasant stage.
As a leader it’s important to differentiate between the different types of conflict teams experience and to have a plan for helping the team move forward. Here are four examples of team conflict and some advice on how a leader can intervene properly from Dr. Eunice Parisi-Carew of The Ken Blanchard Companies.
Conflict over positions, strategies or opinions
If two or three strong, but differing, positions are being argued in the group and it is getting nowhere, a leader might stop the group and ask each member to take a turn talking with no interruption or debate. The rest are just to listen and try to understand where they are coming from and why they are posing the solution that they are. It may go something like this.
Leader: “Let’s stop for a minute. I want each of you state what is underneath your argument. What is your desire, your concern, your goal, your fear or your need that leads you to that conclusion?”
In this instance, the leader’s job is to make sure everyone is heard. When the exercise is completed the leader should look for concerns or goals that people have in common. Once all are uncovered, the leader can build on any interests that are shared. In most cases this becomes the new focus and it turns the situation from conflict to problem solving.
Mistrust or uneven communication
If some people on the team are dominating the conversation while others sit silent or appear to have dropped out, a leader might stop the process and ask each person what they need from others to feel effective in the group and how others can help.
Another simple practice is to appoint a process observer whose job it is to focus on how the team is interacting. If the teams gets out of kilter—it might be tempers are rising or communication is not flowing—the process observer is allowed to call time and point out their observations. For example, “In the last five minutes we have interrupted the speaker 10 times,” or, “We keep talking over each other.” Just knowing this fact can alter the team’s interaction. Soon the team will catch itself. It is harder to misbehave once you know what the impact of your behavior is.
If personal styles are very different and causing conflict among team members, a team leader might administer the DISC, MBTI, or another behavioral assessment tool to help people better understand each other and learn to work together. These tools help people understand what the other person needs. They can also provide a common frame of reference for dealing with individual differences.
Power issues and personal agendas
Conflict that involves power issues, or strong personal agendas must sometimes be dealt with also. The reality is that some people just do not fit on a team and a leader needs to be willing to remove them or offer them another role. This doesn’t happen often, but occasionally it is needed. The good news is that once it is dealt with, the team usually takes a leap forward. This should be an option only when other attempts to work with the person have failed.
Conflict can be healthy for a team when it is channeled properly. The challenge for leaders is knowing how and when to intervene.
PS: To learn more about Dr. Parisi-Carew’s approach to successfully resolving conflict on teams be sure to check out her thinking in the article Don’t Leave Collaboration to Chance or in the recording of her recent webinar on Why Teams Fail—Dealing with Friction and Dissension
Most work teams experience conflict, but few team members know how to respond appropriately. Dr. Eunice Parisi-Carew, who recently presented on the topic of Why Teams Fail—Dealing with Friction and Dissension recommends that teams address conflict head-on and look at it as an opportunity to be creative and innovative instead of something to avoid.
As a team leader this means seeing conflict as a natural part of the team development process and using conflict situations as a way to help your team grow. Here are four common scenarios and some tips for getting started.
–If two or three differing positions are being argued in the group without any progress toward agreement , stop the group and ask each member to take a turn talking with no interruption or debate. Have the rest of the group listen and try to understand the differing points of view and look for commonalities.
–If the team is struggling with trusting one another and people are not feeling heard, stop the process and ask each person what they need from others to feel effective in the group.
–If personality styles are causing problems consider using a DISC, MBTI, or other behavioral assessment to help people understand each other better and learn to work together. These assessments can provide insight into your own style but more importantly, they help team members understand what the other person needs.
–Conflict that involves power issues, or strong personal agendas, must be dealt with differently. The reality is some people just do not fit on a team and you need to be willing to remove them–or offer them another role. This should only be an option when other attempts to work with the person have failed.
In all cases, the main thing is to embrace conflict. Dissension is a natural and healthy part of team development. To learn more about Parisi-Carew’s approach to team development, be sure to check out the on-demand recording of her presentation on Why Teams Fail—Dealing with Friction and Dissension.
Collaboration is a hit-or-miss proposition (and mostly a miss) in today’s organizations, according to Dr. Eunice Parisi-Carew, a teams expert with The Ken Blanchard Companies. The result is a huge loss in productivity and potential as “pseudo-teams” struggle with tasks that could have been accomplished more successfully if the team members worked together more effectively.
For leaders looking to improve their ability to bring people together to work collaboratively, Parisi-Carew recommends focusing on three key areas.
1. Lay a strong foundation. You’ve got to know where you’re going. As Parisi-Carew explains, “Many teams are brought together with no more thought than ‘We need a team to do this.’ So teams get formed rather sloppily many times, with only a vague charge. That typically translates into a team that doesn’t have a clear purpose or goal.”
2. Deal with conflict effectively. Avoiding differences of opinion will usually blow a team apart, or turn it into an apathetic group. When there is a difference of opinion, the group has to have a plan for how to decide on a course of action for moving forward. The good news is that when this is done right, conflict can lead to higher levels of trust, creativity, and accountability.
3. See yourself as a servant. Being a team leader includes a willingness to see yourself as a servant who guides the development of the team. This means remembering that the team leader’s role is to grow the team to self-sufficiency—not accomplish the task personally.
“That is a huge attitude change and that is why a lot of people struggle. They want to hold onto the power, but as long as they do, you’ll never have a high performing team.
“For example, if someone on the team is misbehaving, rather than allowing the team deal with it, the leader feels compelled to go in, take that person out, and deal with the disruptive behavior. And while that action may be expedient, it deprives the team of the opportunity to work through that experience, benefit from it, and move forward as a group.”
Get Started Today
The most successful companies use teams effectively. Good teaming and collaboration impacts productivity, morale, and creativity. To read more about Parisi-Carew’s thoughts on how to improve collaborative work in your organization read Don’t Leave Collaboration to Chance in the March issue of Ignite! Also check out a free webinar Parisi-Carew is conducting on March 23, Why Teams Fail—Dealing with Friction and Dissension. It’s a complimentary event hosted by Cisco WebEx.
One of the biggest challenges teams face is building trust and managing conflict. While you want differing opinions, it’s important that conflict stay focused on content and not become personal. How do you encourage healthy debate? Here are five team attitudes and perspectives that can help you build trust and keep conflict productive in your work group.
- Team members must develop a learning attitude. Everything that happens in the team is “grist for the mill.” There are no failures–only learning opportunities.
- The team must build a trust-based environment. Trust is built by sharing information, ideas, and skills. Building trust requires that team members cooperate rather than compete, judge, or blame. Trust is also built when team members follow through on their commitments. It is critical that team members communicate openly and honestly and demonstrate respect for others.
- The team must value differences. Team members should encourage and honor differences. Different viewpoints are the heart of creativity.
- People must view the team as a whole. By seeing the team as a living system rather than a collection of individuals, team members begin to think in terms of “we” rather than “you” and “me.”
- Team members must become participant observers. To work well in a team environment, members should develop the skill of participating and, at the same time, observing. This practice, akin to being in a movie at the same time you are watching the movie, can give team members valuable perspective.
How’s your team doing in these areas? Knowing the characteristics and needs of a high performing work group is critical. It gives people a target to shoot for as they progress from a collection of individuals to a smoothly functioning, high performing team.