Are You Surrounding Yourself With The Right People?

Too often in my career I’ve seen managers struggle because they don’t surround themselves with the right people. It’s the goal of this post to stimulate your thinking on this topic. Who are the right people?

I’m sure you’ve heard the advice, “You shouldn’t hire people like yourself.” That sounds like wisdom at a cocktail party, but it’s so oversimplified it’s of no use. Don’t listen to it. You should hire people who are like you in certain ways.

We’re talking about the issue of fit. Direct reports who are the best natural fit for you will definitely be like you in certain ways. One of my clients, a hotel general manager, had an intense drive for continuous improvement. He was never satisfied. If his direct reports didn’t share this drive, they were not a good fit for his style.

Difficulties arise when managers mistakenly look for things that shouldn’t matter. Is the person an enthusiastic sports fan? Are they in my generation? Are they a morning person? Were they in a sorority? In most cases, you should be completely unconcerned whether someone is like you in these respects.

Here are some things to consider when thinking about who’s right for you.

  • What kind of person thrives under your unique leadership style?
  • What weaknesses/deficiencies can you just not tolerate?
  • How will this person fit with your team?
  • Is this someone you’re willing to trust?
  • Would you look forward to working with this person every day?
  • What strengths do they bring that compliment your strengths?

The last item, complimentary strengths, is the area in which you should very intentionally seek people who are not like you. This is how you produce synergy.

If you can answer the questions listed above, you can determine whether someone is the right person to report to you, and you can quit worrying about the degree to which they’re like you or not like you.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

Have You Tried A Positive 360?

I’m not a fan of the typical 360º review process for the following reasons: 1) reviewees often are allowed to choose their reviewers (everyone “games” this), 2) the questions focus on weaknesses, and 3) the follow-up focuses on fixing those weaknesses. The activity generated makes people feel like they’re “doing something”. All in all, however, most 360’s don’t add a great deal of value. It’s like taking bad-tasting medicine that doesn’t actually do you any good.

There is an alternative: the positive 360. Here’s a possible set of questions for reviewers:

  1. When X is really “in the zone” what is she doing?
  2. What are X’s most important contributions to our team/company/organization?
  3. What do you appreciate most about X?
  4. What does X really enjoy doing at work?
  5. What are X’s biggest strengths?
  6. How can we support X better in areas where she’s not so strong?
  7. How can we “job sculpt” X’s responsibilities so she spends most of her time doing what she’s good at and enjoys?
  8. How can we create more “in the zone” experiences for X?

Please note, this set of questions does not ignore areas of weakness. But instead of focusing X’s efforts on changing, we’re focusing everyone’s efforts on supporting her. So for instance, if X is not good at follow-up, we can send X to training on follow-up, but after the training if she’s only just a little bit better, we accept that and focus on how to support her. We avoid giving her assignments and responsibilities that require a lot of follow-up.

If you’re X’s supervisor, you need to struggle to find the answer to questions seven and eight. The more time each of your people spends doing things he or she is good at and enjoys, the more often they experience being “in the zone”, the faster you’ll accelerate your team’s performance and each individual’s growth.

Give the positive 360 a try. I’d love to hear your feedback.

Larry Sternberg

How Do You Foster Great Teamwork?

An acquaintance asked me to post my thoughts on this matter. A Google search, “Secrets to Great Teamwork,” returned 13,500,000 results. That’s a LOT of secrets. Clearly, there is no definitive answer. Each leader nurtures great teamwork in her unique way, according to her values and gifts.

So, instead of writing a “how to” list, I’ll focus on one element that’s crucially important: relationships.

Your relationship with another person is defined by the way you respond to them. If that person interprets your responses as helpful, caring and supportive, he or she will call it a positive relationship. If that person sees your responses as unhelpful, hurtful, or uncaring, he or she will call it a negative relationship.

As a leader you must establish a team culture that fosters positive relationships. Ideally team members will become friends or more. What’s more? They start to talk about the team as family. And it’s not a slogan. They mean it.

So help your people become friends. Help them get to know each other. What’s going on in their lives outside the team? What are their dreams, aspirations, and life challenges? What are their interests? What are their needs? What are their gifts?

To foster friendships, socialize outside of work and invite significant others to join you. Celebrate important events together, for instance, graduations, personal achievements, engagements, etc.. Support each other during illness, death and other challenging life events. Be present for the highs and the lows. Care about each other. Make frequent use of the following phrase, “How can I help?”

Quit asking people to change. We all have aces and spaces. Accept each person as they are. Get your team members to accept each other with all their flaws. Be friends with them anyway. Allow them to be themselves. Focus on what’s right about them. Focus on how they can make their best contribution to the team. Foster a culture where you build each other up instead of tearing some team members down.

If you help people build close, positive relationships, if you help them cultivate genuine friendships, the teamwork will improve. As you strive together to attain your goals you’ll go through ups and downs together, and these shared experiences will deepen the relationships. If you can do this, the intangible rewards of the journey might well create more sustained a value for the team members than the tangible rewards of accomplishing the goal.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

Who Should Have 51% Of The Vote?

The question in the title of this post can be expressed as follows: Who should make what decisions? We see this question constantly in government. For instance, all disputes about states rights vs. federal rights fall into this category. In business, all questions about empowerment fall into this category. What decisions are people in role x empowered to make? I love this question. To see one of my previous posts about empowerment, click here.

In this post I want to discuss the title question from a different perspective: effective collaboration. In today’s world effective collaboration is essential. Lack of clarity about who gets to decide what has detrimental effects on collaboration. Disputes about this question slow down progress, damage relationships and undermine the group’s ability to achieve excellence. I’m sure you’ve seen this happen.

In many cases a group can find clarity on its own. Sometimes an informal leader emerges organically because group members appreciate this person’s leadership. This leader helps the group reach consensus about decisions, which maintains forward momentum. That’s one possibility.

Also, groups can understand that not all decisions have to be made by the entire group. The group can “deputize” a person to make certain decisions on behalf of the group. The group is saying, “We trust you. We have confidence in you.” For instance, suppose a project requires a Web page. Instead of having every aspect of the Web page approved by the group (consensus approach), the group can deputize one person to make decisions about the look and feel, and another person to be in charge of how the site will function. A third person can be deputized to write copy, and so on. The other group members can critique prototypes and drafts, but at the end of the day the deputized individuals have 51% of the vote in their areas. Forward momentum is maintained.

This deputizing strategy is underutilized, by the way, because it requires people to relinquish control.

There will be situations where individuals in the group are competing for control. They cannot agree about certain decisions, and they are making mutually exclusive claims for 51% of the vote about those decisions. When they cannot resolve these issues internally, progress will stop and relationships will be damaged. In this case, a leader external to the group must step in to do what the group cannot do for itself: decide who gets 51% of the vote about what decisions. Individuals in the group will then be able to focus their energies on achieving the mission rather than fighting about who can decide what.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

Can A Team Have Too Much Talent?

Jane Williams, Editor, Knowledge Arabia, recently wrote an article entitled, “Can A Team Have Too Much Talent?”  That article was based on the following research paper: Swaab, R. I., Schaerer, M., Anicich, E. M., Ronay, R., & Galinsky, A. D. “The too-much-talent effect: Team interdependence determines when more talent is too much versus not enough.”

The abstract of their paper states:

“Five studies examined the relationship between talent and team performance. Two survey studies found that people believe there is a linear and nearly monotonic relationship between talent and performance: participants expected that more talent increases performance and that this relationship would never turn negative. However, building off research on status conflicts, we predicted that talent facilitates performance… but only up to a point, after which the benefits of more talent will decrease and eventually turn negative as intra-team coordination suffers. We also predicted that the level of task interdependence would be a key determinant of when more talent would be detrimental versus beneficial. Three archival studies revealed that the too-much-talent effect only emerged when in tasks where team members were interdependent  (football and basketball) but not independent (baseball). Our basketball analysis established the mediating role of team coordination. When teams need to come together, more talent can tear them apart.” To download a PDF of the study click here.

Most teams in non-sports organizations require high degrees of interdependence, so that’s my focus for this post. As the authors acknowledge, we’re dealing with the age-old dilemma of competition for individual status versus cooperating in service of team success. The authors of the study firmly establish that too much internal competition for dominance and status will undermine team performance. But they don’t address the fact that this behavior is not remotely confined to high talent individuals. I’m sure every reader of this post has witnessed the detrimental effect of mediocre performers striving for status by undermining colleagues and associates. Sadly, this behavior is commonplace.

So I think the most important finding from their research is this: the desire and ability to work with others in service of team success is a key factor in team performance, no matter the level of individual talent. It’s not the intensity of the talent, it’s the desire and ability to value team success over individual status.

I’d like to bring into this conversation a book by Warren Bennis: “Organizing Genius, The Secrets of Creative Collaboration”. In this book Bennis studied seven non-sports groups that achieved extraordinary results. He calls them “Great Groups”. Each of these seven groups was a team comprised of greatly gifted people who managed to cooperate and collaborate rather than to compete for status. So we know it can be done. Here are a few quotations from Bennis:

Leaders of Great Groups are recruiters who have a “keen eye for talent”.
“Recruiting the right genius for the job is the first step in building many great collaborations.”
“Such recruiters look for two things: excellence and the ability to work with others.”

In today’s world, interdependence is not optional. If you want a high performance team, each team member must have more than the ability to perform individual tasks with excellence. The ability to collaborate synergistically should not be in the “nice to have” category. It should be a ticket to admission. As Bennis has established, you can have high talent and a great ability to work with others. Let’s find more people like that.

Thanks to Chantel Taylor for suggesting this topic.

And thanks for reading. As always, I value your thoughts on this topic.

Larry Sternberg

Who Should Adjust to Whom?

This post is about a common situation. You find yourself with one or more new direct reports because: A) they’re new hires or incoming transferees, or B) you’re the new supervisor of an existing team. So who should adjust to whom? As usual, I don’t think I have the definitive answer, but it’s a question worthy of our attention.

Many leaders believe subordinates should do all (or almost all) of the adjusting. That approach, it seems to me, creates a relationship fundamentally based on power. How important will the new subordinate feel? How likely is it that he or she will perceive the supervisor as someone who cares about them? When leaders base their influence on power rather than legitimacy they create limitations on their own effectiveness. Employee loyalty is diminished, and retention is undermined. That’s not a great way to begin a relationship.

I believe that not only the supervisor, but all team members should be open to making adjustments when transferees or new hires join the team in any capacity. Therefore, it’s important during the selection process to be bluntly honest about the company culture and the team culture. And if you’re a candidate for supervisor you should do your best to clarify your biases, values and management style.  The more one shares this type of information during the selection process, the easier it is to understand how a candidate fits with the existing team. The better the fit, the more likely that everyone will be willing and able to adjust in ways that contribute to positive, synergistic working relationships.

But we’re all human. For each of us, there are some adjustments we’re simply not willing or able to make. So some of these new relationships won’t work. For instance, employees whose previous supervisor encouraged them to be self-directed might well have a difficult time adjusting to a new, control-oriented supervisor. Some will find it more difficult than others.

Intent is the most important element in these situations. Are you proactive in learning about your direct reports and open to them learning about you? Are you sincerely trying to make adjustments to improve your working relationships? If so, people will know it and appreciate it. And in those instances where things don’t work out, they’ll know you sincerely tried to make the relationship work. I assure you, this will make a huge difference in how people see you as a leader.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

What’s the Key to Full Engagement?

“Engagement” has been a hot buzzword for quite a while now. Everyone is looking for the key, the secret, the silver bullet. In my view, engagement is an outcome of doing a lot things right. There is no silver bullet. But there are things you can do to increase the engagement of your team members.

Select the right people

  • Nothing is more important. When thinking about a candidate, ask these questions:
  • Does she have the right strengths to perform with excellence in this role?
  • Is she a natural fit for my leadership style?
  • Is she a natural fit for my team culture?
  • Is she passionate about this kind of work?
  • Is our mission important to her?
  • Do you think you’d enjoy spending a lot of time with her?

If you answer, “No” to any of these questions, keep looking.

Put them in the right seat on the bus

  • Understand each team member’s unique strengths.
  • Assign responsibilities that align with their strengths AND their passions.
  • Maximize the time they spend doing things they’re good at and enjoy.
  • Ensure that team members understand and appreciate each others’ unique strengths and how each person makes the team better.

Demonstrate passionate commitment to your mission, vision and values

  • Passion and engagement are closely related.
  • Passion is contagious.
  • Passion generates positive energy.

Promote a positive environment

  • Celebrate successes, large and small.
  • Express appreciation for others.
  • Make sure people are having fun.

Serve your team members’ individual needs

  • Understand each person’s unique set of needs and preferences.
  • Demonstrate a sense of urgency in meeting those needs.
  • Understand what kind of recognition is most meaningful to each person.

Ensure that each person is learning and growing

  • Strive to mentor each person.
  • Remember that growth often comes from new responsibilities.

Inspire people with challenging goals and expectations

  • Remember the Pygmalion Effect. People will strive to live up to your expectations.
  • Goals should require people to stretch and grow.
  • Only challenging goals create pride in the achievement and build self-esteem.

Hold people accountable to fulfill their responsibilities

  • This definitely drives a person’s focus and their level of engagement.
  • Accountability demonstrates that their work is important, and that therefore they are significant. Customers and associates need their contributions.
  • Other employees don’t want team members who don’t carry their weight.

Empower people to make decisions

  • If you’re holding people accountable, you must empower them to decide how they’re going to accomplish their goals
  • Empowerment increases self-efficacy, and leads directly to growth

Cultivate close, positive relationships

  • Think about how engaged and enthusiastic a person is when contemplating spending time with friends. Nobody has to pay them to do that.
  • Cultivate true friendships with your people. Foster friendships among team members.
  • Demonstrate that you care deeply about each and every person on your team.
  • Be both trustworthy and also trusting of others.

There’s nothing new here. I get that. There are no secrets to engagement. There’s no lack of understanding about how to do this. It’s about execution.

Steven Covey uses the metaphor of farming in his best seller, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” You don’t get a harvest unless you do the hard work of farming every single day. If you want the rich harvest of engagement, you have to do your farming.

Thanks for reading. As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg