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Hope is Not a Strategy

I see quite a few posts on social media that express the hope that this will soon be over and that we can return to normal—so do I, of course.

But the problem is that hope is not a strategy for coping with the complex issue that we all face: What to do next?

Most of us in our managerial  and team leader roles are used to navigating in a relatively ordered environment. Things are generally simple or complicated. But even when things are complicated, there are principles, with the causes and effects more or less mapped and understood.

If it gets overwhelmingly complicated, we call in experts, consultants and other good people to help us understand whatever it is that we are struggling with, but we are still navigating in a relatively ordered and predictable environment.

Now, that has all changed.

Collectively, we have taken a step into deeper uncertainty in the direction of chaos—that alone is enough to scare the life out of most of us.

There is no longer order and no...

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Answers to Four Questions Determine the Quality of Team Relationships

When we are faced with a new situation, we automatically run through a quick inner checklist that has four questions:

Why, who, what and how.

The sequence of the four questions is always the same. We need answers to them in that order. It’s hard for us to totally focus on the next one if we are missing answers to the previous questions.

It's not as if we speak these questions out loud, especially not the first two. We sense them—our radar scans for answers.

The classic beginner’s error managers make is that they jump in and show team members how they want something done, totally skipping the first three questions. Then, they scratch their head in frustration as they realize the job is not getting done the way they hoped. “How many times do I have to tell them this?”

Slightly more experienced managers will skip just the first two questions and go straight to what and then on to how. It's a bit better but not by much.

Why We Do What We Do

You see, we all...

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Does Your Team Operate Well in Complex Situations?

“Why all this fuss about relationships?”

“Yes, Mike, I do understand we need to get on with each other, but honestly, work is work, and these are not my friends. Can we move on now, please?”

That attitude works well when the world is simple and orderly. We develop best practices, manuals and SOPs. Who needs relationships? Just work to the script. The instructions are clear.

The problem is the world is probably not as simple as it used to be.

Here is a great model from Ralph Stacey:

As you can see, as long as the world is predictable and we agree on what is going on, things are simple. Simple things can be managed.

But moving out along that path where things get more uncertain and we agree less and less on what is going on, we discover that things get complicated, eventually complex, and ultimately become totally chaotic.

What is the difference between complicated and complex?

Well, a computer is complicated, but it is possible to figure it out. A bowl of...

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Our Sense of Safety is Directly Related to Our Levels of Relationships

A few years ago, Google published their studies on how teams with a high degree of psychological safety outperform teams that have lesser degrees of safety.

This led to many learned articles on what psychological safety entails and how to achieve it. Often, it sounds quite complicated, but not always. I wrote a simple version here.

The research breaks psychological safety down into four key components:

  • Tribe (A sense of belonging)
  • Expectations (Are they clear?)
  • Hierarchy (Can I say what I think?)
  • Autonomy (How much influence do I have on “how” I do my job?)

In simple terms, that means it's important that everyone feels included, that you set clear expectations, and that you try and limit the surprises. There shouldn't be an excessive focus on authority and positions. Finally, the ultimate motivator for your team is if they get to have a say in how they do their work, not what they do—that's a management decision—but how they do it.

But we can actually...

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A Team of Five has 59,048 Possibilities to Under-Perform

For a team to truly perform well, there must be excellent relationships among all team members. We covered that in the previous issue.

On a five-person team, there are 59,048 other possible relationship combinations. Person A gets on with Person B, but not with Persons C, D and E. Person B gets on well with Persons C and E, but not so much with the rest, and so on. With weak connections, the team under-performs.

My key point here is to make you more aware of how important the quality of individual relationships are in delivering a top performance.

I mentioned previously that mechanical systems are per definition stable and organic systems are per definition unstable. By unstable, we mean that the system is in a constant flux—always in transition from one state to another.

One aspect of the instability in a five-person team is the quantity and quality of connections—the relationships—between team members.

Two people can have three types of relationships—good,...

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All Your Problems Are Interpersonal Relationship Problems

"Tell me, what do people actually ask you to coach them about,” she asked. I was having a lovely conversation with an old friend who I had not seen in a while and we were catching up on how our lives had developed. I tried to give her a few examples of what I thought were very different issues of what I’m working with.

Later that week, I was reading something by Austrian psychologist Alfred Adler and came across this:

All problems are interpersonal relationship problems.

Then, it hit me—reflecting on what I had discussed with my friend and also thinking through other examples. They may call it different things, but by far, most of the coaching challenges that I work on are about relationships.

Relationships with colleagues, bosses, across departments or even customers—even relationship with themselves—

—the common denominator in all of this has to do with how to work better with others.

Why do so many people struggle with this and why is it so...

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Leaders Found Less Than Proficient at Leading Others—

Would it be fair to say that an important part of leadership has got to be the ability to lead others?

Yet, in a survey published by Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), only 45% of leaders are rated proficient at this by their boss.

Wait a minute, are you saying that more than half of the European leaders out there aren't considered by their boss to be good at leading other people?

Yes. Exactly.

If that's not shocking, then it's at least seriously thought-provoking.

But the sad fact is that it correlates well with the Gallup surveys that say that more than 60% of our workforce are not particularly engaged in their job while 23% are actively disengaged. To a large extent, engagement is a function of leadership.

These are depressing stats. To me, it just confirms that there's a serious challenge out there to improve our leadership capacity.

CCL recommends three ways to improve that situation:

  • Challenging assignments that offer opportunities to practice new skills in the...
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A Team Leader's Key Instrument: Conversations, Not Small Talk

Before you plunge into this, take a moment, and think about leaders that you have admired in your life. This could be a teacher, scout leader, sports coach or boss. Go on. Do it now.

When you think of a leader in your life that you've admired, does a specific conversation come to mind?

I think most people can remember at least one—maybe even several—conversations that they have had with a great boss. A conversation that somehow shifted something in their thinking, understanding or behavior.

Great conversations have a powerful impact.

But great conversations are also time-consuming. For exactly that reason, they're also often the most neglected part of your leadership toolkit. Most people don’t seem to find the time.

That's a shame because when you neglect your conversations, you miss out on one of the most effective leadership instruments at your disposal.

Now, conversations are not just conversations; they come in many forms. Some are...

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Powerful or Powerless: What Do You Prefer?

In the previous blog post, you looked at the importance of building relations as a basic skill for first-time managers (FTMs).

Essentially, you're the instrument. How you decide to show up from situation to situation will determine how your relationships with other people are formed.

If you're the instrument, you will need to be aware of three things: your actions, behaviors, and conversations. At the end of the day, how you decide to mix and match these three will determine how successful you end up being in your roles as an FTM—or in any future management position for that matter.

In this blog post, you'll explore the first of these three key tools.

What you decide to do—or not to do—defines you in your managerial role.

Leaders who come across as trustworthy and powerful in the best sense of the words are the people whom you know you can trust to act on something when it's brought to their attention. In my view, they are powerful leaders.

There are...

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How Your Relations Affect Your Results

In this blog post, I would like to focus on the importance of relations.

The last blog post briefly touched on this when you worked through the high-performance team model.

The second step in that process—the who part—is all about relations.

Daniel H. Kim, the systems thinker, has illustrated this in an elegant way.

You then have a fundamental choice here which can go one of two ways: You can generate an upward spiral where we are continuously developing our relations and, as a result, performing better, or you can take the downward spiral where it all just gets worse.

It's a choice—a choice that's going to determine whether the team's going to be successful or not.

Ultimately, it’s going to determine whether you're successful in your role as a team leader.

For the first-time manager (FTM), this sometimes comes as a surprise. You may think, "I have a gazillion other things to do. Do I also have to think about that? I just want to get...

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