welcome to team

Leadership tips for taking over a new team

Stepping into another leaders shoes is never that easy, the team you inherit is not your own and the relationships that have been established, for good or for bad, do not include you. As a new leader you have a short window of opportunity to create a ‘fresh start feeling’ in the team and to help you make the most of this opportunity here are a few tips that will help you maximise this opportunity.

Tip # 1 – Help your team get to know you….

You may be anxious to make a good first impression and your team will be curious about you, so I suggest the first time you meet your new team you should focus on sating this curiosity and relieving any anxiety.  Resist the temptation of diving straight into the detail of the task and challenges that lie ahead and start with the relationships as they are the fuel that will propel the team forward.

GE developed a new leader assimilation process back in the early 70’s and I have used a simplified version of their process as it works and enables the team to quickly build effective working relationships with any new team leader. The steps in the process are pretty straight forward:

  1. Without the leader present ask the team a simple set of questions and give them time for personal reflection:
    • What don’t we know but would like to know about our new team leader?
    • What do we believe are the key challenges we are facing as a team in the near future?
    • What do we want most from our new team leader?
    • What does our new team leader need to know about this team?
    • What commitments are we willing to make to ensure our team succeeds and what commitments do we need from our new team leader?
  2. Collect the answers to these reflective questions on flipcharts around the room.
  3. Give the team a short break and bring the new leader into the room and let them look through the flip chart headlines.
  4. Bring the team back in and let the new leader talk to each flipchart and ask questions to improve their understanding of what the team have shared and asked.
  5. Finish the session with the development and commitment to a set of team principles that will govern how the team will work together in the future.

Tip # 2 – Get to know your team

You will want to get to know your team members to better understand what makes them tick and how to get the best from them going forward. Whatever challenges your team is facing they will appreciate some personal time with you in order to build a personal relationship and you should use this to ask them to share their hopes, aspiration and concerns. These conversations are best done in a one to one setting.

In a team situation I have used several exercises to do this over the years ranging from very informal team exercises such as the ‘Masks’ exercise, where each team member gets a flipchart and 5′ to bring to life the various masks they wear in life. For example I am a father, partner, brother, business owner, consultant, facilitator, leadership trainer, author, coach, speaker, dance teacher, badminton player, Newcastle United supporter, etc. Everyone gets 5′ to develop their flipchart and 5′ to bring it to life. It is amazing what you can learn about your colleagues with such a simple exercise!

There are of course more formal team profiling tools available that can give insights into team balance, preferences and give insights into how to play to your strengths as a team and how to compensate for any imbalance and or weaknesses. If you want any further information on the tools I use please contact me and I will be happy to discuss these with you.

Tip #3 – Learn from the past….

As a new leader you have permission to ask naïve questions about the past and to unearth the underlying assumptions, concerns and aspirations the team have regarding the way they are approaching the challenges they face. Develop a short list of thought provoking reflective questions to ask of your team about how they feel about the way the team has worked in the past, some questions to get you started include:

  • Where would you like this team to focus more and why do you think this will make a difference?
  • What is the greatest gap between our aspiration as a team and our current reality? Is this a ‘knowing’ or a ‘doing gap’ and why has it not been closed already? Has this gap always been present and if not what triggered it?
  • Do you feel you can voice concerns in this team and do you believe your voice is heard?
  • If you could change one thing about the way this team works what would you change and why?

Tip #4 – Get on with it….

Your honeymoon period will be shorter than you think so once you have spent some time on the above get focussed on delivering some quick wins and developing a plan of action. I find most teams are naturally task focussed so a shift to achievement focus may be needed. Here you can lift the team members heads out of the detail and develop together a set of ‘Milestones’ (goals with dates) that will govern success in the near and medium term. As a leader you should be ready to helicopter above the detail so you can see clearly the route ahead and be prepared to land only where you can add value and resist the temptation to get lost in the weeds.

If this is a challenge you face then please contact us and we can talk about how we can help you can succeed.

Image of two young businessmen interacting at meeting in office

5 Critical Leadership Conversations

There is a critical but largely ignored aspect of leadership success, the conversations that leaders have that are designed to engage, enthuse, direct and motivate their work colleagues to deliver sustainable improved results. The quality of conversation in an organisation is an accurate barometer to the quality of the thinking taking place and therefore largely determines the quality of the work that gets done.

There are 5 radical action conversations’ that leaders should have that hold the key to sustainable success.

Let’s start by defining some terms. By ‘radical’ we mean conversations that go to the root, core, essence and heart or whatever it is you are talking about. Far too many conversations in organisations are too vague, superficial and simply skim over the topic leaving assumptions unsaid, actions unclear and confusion abounds. Such conversations consume valuable face time and create work but add little value and usually have to be repeated several times as the participants scramble around for clarity. By ‘action’ here we mean conversations that drive accountability and convert intentions into decisive follow through. “What specifically are we going to do as a result of the conversation we have just had?” Is a great summary question, not often used at the end of a conversation, however if used it will yield some interesting insights into the quality of the interaction. And finally by ‘conversations’ we mean the entire cascade of dialogue and human interaction that results from a particular topic being discussed throughout the entire organisation.

The first conversation leaders need to consider is The Strategic Conversation’ and is the toughest one to have. The aim of this conversation is to create a compelling future vision for the organisation, function or department, one that talks to the head and to the heart of everyone in the organisation and helps create clarity of direction and most importantly a much needed sense of priority. To lead this conversation requires real authenticity and a degree of courage, as well as the capacity to imagine a bright future. It is a necessary conversation for leaders to have if your organisation is to become future-proof and not get stuck in the operational realities of day-to-day work.

SurveysThe second most important conversation to have is ‘The Customer Conversation’. Existing customers can be a real source of insight into how your organisation is performing and will give you valuable knowledge about why they buy, what they want, and how they feel about your products and services. The explosion of web-based customer surveys have their place but come nowhere close to the insights that can be garnered from an open conversation with customers. Leaders need to be in close personal contact with customers and should amplify the comments they make – both good and bad – throughout the organisation as it reminds everyone that the work they do is really all about serving the people who ultimately create the reason to exist.

‘The Execution Conversation’ is critical for leaders to create a clear line of sight between their strategic intent and the reality of operational performance. Keeping people focused on the strategic destination and linking the work that they do to the outcomes that are being delivered keeps everyone alive to the chance of improvement. Once direction is set and success clarified then everyone needs to know how the work they do is important and where they fit into the ‘big picture’.  This is the key role of the execution conversation and when done well can align scarce improvement resource and focus it into areas that really matter.

Potentially the most ‘fluffy’ of the 5 key conversations leaders can have is ‘The Cultural Conversation’. To give it some substance for the pragmatists, this is all about the way we do things around here when no one else is looking. In my consultancy smilet faceexperience I often ask what frustrates people the most about working in their environment and this usually yields a litany of relatively trivial rituals and practises that sap energy and distract people from doing the work they want to do. Most of these can be changed but never seem to get addressed and leaders can easily remove such obstacles and ‘frustration factors’ in people’s lives. This is a source of quick wins and can pay huge dividends in terms of motivation and access to discretionary effort, so is really worth doing. Once these frustrations are removed then talking seriously about what kind of place  we want to work in and how can we make it so, can be a hugely enabling discussion for people to participate in and can yield disproportionate results in terms of productivity improvements.

Sharp pencilThe final conversation is the most common ‘The Effectiveness Conversation’ where leaders spotlight current performance and examine the gap between this and the desired results. This conversation comes in many forms and the most productive form focuses on the future not the past. It is a tautology to say that your organisation is perfectly tuned to give you the results you are getting at the moment, so if you want better results then something has to change. The effectiveness conversation is designed to discover what and how? It should be approached with a large degree of humility and curiosity, as if what you had to change is so obvious then it is pretty likely someone will already have changed it. Leaders should enter these conversations with a series of very open questions and keep any judgement to an absolute minimum. A real challenge when the gap between existing performance and desired results gets too big and impatience abounds…

Take stock of the conversations you are having at work and focus on those that deliver real value to you and your organisation. The quality of the conversations you are having are a mark of the quality of the relationships you have and in my experience no performance challenge can transcend the quality of relationships that exist between the people aiming to deliver any challenge.

Radical Action Conversations cut to the very core of the adaptive challenge all organisations face. Done well, they amplify potential, enable leaders to tap organisational assets and in short they are the difference that makes the difference. If you are looking for better quality results, you need better quality actions. Such actions are derived from better quality ideas and opportunities which in turn are delivered by better quality conversations.

Helping leaders conduct these Radical Action Conversations is our sweet spot. If you want to learn more then please get in touch and we can have a conversation about how we can help.

the pressures of work

The Search for Value – an intelligent response to the pressures of work

The Pressures of Work

No pressure no diamonds – is a great quote from Thomas Carlyle that epitomises a winning response towards the pressures of work…and life. I recall being told quite early in my career that a diamond was simply a dead piece of wood put under immense pressure. This insight changed my perspective towards pressure. Suddenly pressure was a potential force for good rather than a negative emotion caused by the overload of life.The Search for Value 1

Clearly, pressure is a relative term. When circumstances change for the worse some people can only see and feel negative energy. Others see the opportunity it provides. Put simply some people wilt whilst others thrive on the pressures of work. In this short piece I will explore the pressure created by an organisation being asked once again to do more with less. This is a reality for many organisations in the last few years and, I fear, for many months to come.

The initial reaction always seems to be to reach first for the ‘cost’ lever. “Sharpen the pencils at both ends”, “slash all ‘unnecessary’ expenditure”, “baton down the hatches” are the clarion calls that ring throughout the land. This sends a shiver through most people as they consider, usually not for the first time, what can be cut and what can be stopped? This ‘cut the costs’ call to arms is almost universally received with gloom, worry and despair. The more cynical managers will say ‘here we go again’ and will watch like hawks as the scarcity mind-set begins to paralyse the organisation. They fatalistically observe the consequences as under investment and short term cost cutting begin to break out.

The Search for Value

I contend a better response to ‘cut all costs’ is to start a ‘search for value’. Read more

Trojan Horse

Leadership – a Trojan horse in transforming a business?

We all know the story about the Trojan horse? Basically the Greeks had been laying siege to Troy for 10 years. The Greeks needed to bring the siege to an end, built a large wooden horse and hid troops inside it, and left it outside Troy when they pretended to sail away. The Trojans then pulled the horse inside Troy as a trophy. Overnight the Greek troops climbed out of the Trojan Horse and opened the gates, allowing the rest of the Greek forces (who had returned under cover of darkness) to enter Troy and end the stalemate.

Local and central government from Hampshire County Council to the Highland Council, and most private and third-sector organisations in between and globally are going through significant transformations Read more


The importance of partnership?

What is Partnership?

The term “partnership” is commonly used.  In The Change Maker Group’s series of articles looking at some of the implications and practical responses to the substantial political, economic and potentially social change in the UK, I thought I would consider how people and their organisations work together.

It is common for people and organisations to talk about ‘working in partnership’ with one another or with their customers. The partnership tag applies to church groups, schools, or housing associations as much as it does to local government organisations sharing services or companies working together through outsourcing contracts. Some of the major supranational bodies such as the EU, NATO and the United Nations are implicitly partnerships, although with a huge political element.

The common theme though is that the ‘partnership’ relationship implies the cooperation between the parties for mutual benefit, whether individuals or organisations. Read more