Teamwork

Posts

Key tips and English phrases for your next “lessons learned” meeting

Life is about continuously learning. We sometimes learn from our mistakes, and we can also learn from our successes. This was first brought to my attention early on in my career. After the successful completion of a tough project, we had a meeting with our team leader where we were questioned on both what had we done well and how could the project have gone smoother. Today, in the international automotive company where I work as an InCorporate Trainer training business English, Lessons Learned meetings are an integral part of any project.
Go to the eBook

What happens in a “lessons learned” meeting?

Like my team leader a long time ago, the project managers I train are convinced that, after any project, it is important to reflect on what could be learned from the experience. Annette, a manager who regularly uses me for on-the-job training explained that “For us the lessons learned meeting is especially important if the project was deemed to be a success. In this way, best practices are identified and flow into subsequent projects. And feelings of complacency can be avoided. At the same time, it is important to understand what stood in the way of a project being even more successful. It doesn’t really matter how successful a project is, there is always room for improvement.”

She then went on to explain how her project team has time to consider their performance as well as that of the team as a whole, And that in new teams, or established teams with new members, this was typically tough the first few times “I do see pushback from new colleagues for various reasons, despite how obviously important these meetings may be. Some people feel there is no reason to speak about the past since we cannot go back and change things. Other times people may feel that it isn’t good to talk too much about the past but to focus on the future. My goal as the team’s leader is to show that being open about one’s mistakes allows others to learn from them! In German this is not easy but when we all do it in English we see that things are harder ”

Use we to be tough on the mistakes, but not on the individuals

Most of us don’t enjoy talking about our mistakes, and when discussing mistakes it is important to be both accurate and respectful. One way to do this is by asking questions using the collective “we” rather than assigning specific blame. After all, you are a team!

For example:

  • If we hadn’t worked overtime, we wouldn’t have finished within the deadline.
  • We should have received that information earlier.
  • If we had known that from the beginning, we would have done things much differently
  • We wouldn’t have had so many problems if we had communicated better.
  • We could have saved a lot of money if we had identified the problem earlier.

Ask the right questions to ensure future improvement

Another way of discussing mistakes is to use hypotheticals. These sentences help to make things less personal and more abstract. With this style of question, a hypothetical cause and effect in the past is identified and applied to future situations; a “What if…” style of identifying areas for potential improvement.

  • What if we made some adjustments in our future labor projections?
  • What if we ensured more timely delivery for our next project? How could we fulfill such a promise?
  • What if we were informed sooner? How would that have affected the delivery date?
  • What if we could improve our internal communication structure? How are some ways we could do this?
  • What would have been the outcome if we had identified the problem sooner?

Use success as a driver for learning

As mentioned above, we can also learn from our successes. So what questions could we and should we be asking ourselves to ensure our successes continue on to future projects? Here are some useful examples for your next “lessons learned” meeting…

  • Was our success unique to this project, or is it something we could replicate for future projects?
  • What surprises did our team handle well, and how could we build off of that to prepare for other unexpected outcomes in the future?
  • How could we re-formulate our achieved goals to really push the team to perform better?
  • What value did our individual team members bring to the project?
  • How can we increase our level of commitment and urgency?

To summarize

Implementing lessons learned meetings into your projects leads to team members growing in confidence, and an increase in performance and outcomes. Being aware of the impact language can have will help, as can facilitation skills , and building trust and a willingness to allow constructive conflicts in your team. Finally, there’s an excellent lessons learned template on Brad Egeland’s blog. Cornell University has a good overview of approaches and questions to use,  and the University of Pennsylvania offers a lessons-learned checklists to help lead discussions.

If you have any recommendations or would like to tell us about your experiences with lessons learned meetings, please feel free to do so below in the comments section.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

DEEP accountability conversations – How to hold your colleagues accountable

Virtual teams target training

According to Shelly Setzer of the Table Group, peer-to-peer accountability is “probably the toughest behavior to master on a team”. And as cross functional, matrix and virtual teams are becoming the norm, holding each other accountable to team goals and commitments is becoming even more challenging.. As a team member, you aren’t “the boss”, which means you don’t have the levers of reward and coercion and in some cases, your team may just be one among many for your team members. So how exactly do you approach conversations with colleagues who aren’t doing what they said they would do, without the benefit of formal power ? This is where the DEEP model comes in. The DEEP model is designed to help you have a clear approach to tough accountability conversations. It helps you and your team focus on solutions when accountability problems arise. These kinds of conversations are rarely easy, but with DEEP you can approach them with confidence.



Contact us now




Requirements for the DEEP approach

You need clear commitments with the team (not tacit, unconfirmed agreements). Your colleagues need to trust your intentions and believe you have their and the projects interest at heart.  You need to foster a climate of creative conflict so everyone can be heard and see themselves reflected in team decisions. AND most of all, you need the courage to have what is often a tough conversation. Tough conversations are … tough. There are no tricks or techniques that make them less so, but here are 3 fundamentals to consider:

  • Turn up – Be present in the conversation, shut out unhelpful self-talk, keep control of yourself and focus on the conversation and the outcome.
  • Stay there – Show you are committed to the conversation. Don’t cut it short when things get awkward.
  • Speak out – say what you think and feel and take responsibility for your words.

The DEEP model, step by step

Step 1 – Describe the situation – What happened as I see it

This is a review of the commitment and shortfall without judgment.  Stick with “I” statements rather than “you” statements and try to describe the process that led to the commitment. If you can’t bring up the shortfall without becoming too emotional and judging your conversation partner, then ask yourself 2 questions:

  • Is the timing right?
  • Am I the right person to have this accountability conversation?

Step 2 – Explain the consequences – The result of what happened

The consequences of the shortfall you mention here should be concrete and observable. What actually happened because they didn’t meet their commitment is far more important than what could happen. Finding consequences your partner already cares about adds impact.

Step 3 -Explore options – What we can do about it

Generate at least three options when considering what to do. The “at least three” is very important – is helps you to avoid binary thinking and unnecessarily taking a position.  Brainstorming options together is critical.  The together points you both in the same direction, reaffirms the “team” and ensures you are on the same page before assessing your options, Make it a distinct step with a marker e.g. “Ok, together let’s now brainstorm what we can do” – this moves your conversation forward.

Step 4 – Problem solve together – What we will do about it

Decide and commit to new behaviors. It can be important to find ways you too can commit to the correction of the shortfall and the development of your relationship. Accountability for behaviors is tough so why should only one person carry the weight? Finding ways to help each other will not only help you to implement a solution, it will also help you to increase your level of trust.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

We offer a range of leadership and team building seminars, for example:

These posts might be of interest to you:

Managing high performers – the Miles Davis way

What does Miles Davis have to do with managing high performers in business? Good question. Miles Davis is rightfully acclaimed as an icon of jazz, but he didn’t make music alone.  Throughout his career as a bandleader, Miles worked with other iconic figures of jazz to create music that stands even today as among the highest forms of the genre. John Coltrane, Herbbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, “Philly” Joe Jones, Keith Jarrett, Ron Carter, Tony Williams and many others among the giants of jazz graduated from “Miles University”. Miles Davis, time and time again, brought together some of the most talented musicians in their own right to work with him in his musical exploration. How did he do it? This article will explore the lessons of Miles Davis in the art of leading the best to be their best. eBook: The definitive checklist for qualifying training providers



Lesson 1: Be excellent, publicly

Miles Davis was able, on many occasions, to put together bands of some of the most talented musicians of their time throughout his career. Miles’ reputation clearly preceded him. Receiving a call from Miles was seen as having achieved a high level of musicianship. But that wasn’t the only reason so many musicians with promising solo careers agreed to support Miles. They believed they would learn something based on Miles’ excellence as a musician and band leader. Miles greatness was easy to see through his performances, compositions and recordings.

How easy is it for high performers to recognize your excellence? There is a tendency among many leaders not to “toot their own horns” about their own performance and accomplishments. While a leader may not need to sing his own praises, it is important that someone does it for him. A leader’s excellence will attract others who want to achieve the same level of competence, while increasing the leader’s  credibility and ability to guide, mentor and teach.

Lesson 2: Don’t hire a trumpet player

Miles’ great combos included players with different styles and tendencies. He hired players who would complement his playing and each other’s. He didn’t need anyone who sounded like him because he had that covered.

In business, it can be difficult to avoid the temptation to hire people who mirror our backgrounds, experiences, styles and tendencies. After all those competencies served us well in our careers. It is important to remember as a leader that our success is a reflection of the past while we are hiring for the future.  The pace of change doesn’t only require different technological skills it also requires new communication and leadership skills from those current leaders needed at earlier stages of their careers. Hiring teams with complementary but different skills and areas of expertise broadens the set of problems they can solve and increases their impact on the organization.

“It’s not about standing still and becoming safe. If anybody wants to keep creating they have to be about change.”
Miles Davis

Lesson 3: Play together and produce excellence

Miles’ bands grew into cohesive units through performances, not rehearsals. Each performance created a wealth of learning opportunities for Miles and his band mates. The urgency of the moment created a focus and intensity that would be very difficult if not impossible to reproduce in a rehearsal. By focusing on playing together and learning from the experience, Miles could correct on the spot, encourage and support his band to take risks, push themselves and reach new heights of excellence.

How often do you perform with your high performers? Finding opportunities to produce excellence together will give you more chances to learn from each other.

Lesson 4: Don’t tell them what to do, tell them what not to do

Related to lesson three, play together and produce excellence, is the style of debriefing and guidance Miles offered to his band mates following their performances.  Miles didn’t put a group together hearing the music he hoped they would produce in his mind, then correcting them to come as close as possible to his vision. Miles believed in an experimental approach to developing new music. When reflecting about what took place in performances, Miles would say what his band mates shouldn’t do but he wouldn’t tell them what to do. He hired them for their expertise on their individual instruments. He wanted them to bring their ideas to the table so they could take ownership of their performances and the product of the group.

The high performers in your organization reached a level of success before becoming members of your team. When managing high performers, take advantage of their creativity and input by channelling, not directing their contributions to the organization.

“If you don’t know what to play, play nothing.”
Miles Davis

Lesson 5: Listen to save the day

Deep listening is the art of hearing not only what is said but also what isn’t said. On stage, Miles had the opportunity to lay out and listen to what his band mates were playing.  There were times when while reaching for new forms of expression, the band lost its way. By listening to what wasn’t there, Miles could enter the fray at the right moment with the phrase that would bring the other players back together again, finding a groove that was satisfying to the musicians and the audience.

Look for your opportunities, especially in conflict, to find what isn’t being said and remind the participants in the argument that they are on the same team. Listen for agreement that the parties may be missing, summarize, and encourage them to listen deeply to each other when emotions run high. “What I am hearing is…” is a great way to interject.

“I’m always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up every morning… Every day I find something creative to do with my life.”
Miles Davis

Lesson 6: Talk about life, not music

With our busy lives it may be tempting to leave work at work and leave life at home.  We can get through our workdays without sharing with others the experiences that shaped us outside of the work environment. Miles believed knowing the personal histories of his band mates was crucial to being able to know them musically. He invested time in learning about the backgrounds of his band mates and he shared his own. This sharing created an environment of trust that helped his musicians to work with each other more closely.

Be willing to be more open when you are managing high performers as it can lead to more effective, trusting relationships. A deeper bond of respect can increase loyalty to you, and commitment to your organization and its goals.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

On leadership: Here are a  few blog posts on the topic.  If you are interested to learn more about our leadership skills seminars, please contact us, or take a look at the very popular seminar “A practical toolbox for managers”.

 

,

Establishing effective email etiquette in your virtual teams

Email is still one of the most common communication channels within virtual teams – and it can cause friction.  Proactively tackling potential problems is key to successfully launching a virtual team – so during our face-to-face and online seminars with virtual team leaders we discuss expectations.  Naturally communication comes into this and time spent constructing a communication plan is always time well spent. As Jochen, a German project manager shared “It sounds so obvious we didn’t think about doing it – and now that we have I can already tell that we solved some real obstacles”.

Building a communication plan when you kick off your virtual team

A communication plan outlines which communication tools you’ll use and how you’ll use them.  For example “we’ll use Webex for our brainstorming and problem solving, we’ll use Hipster for chatting and sharing links, and we’ll use email for …”

Building the plan involves discussing approaches and expectations – and by talking through these expectations you can uncover and deal with different attitudes.  An example we often run into when working with multicultural virtual teams is whereas one team member may expect people to write back a polite “thank you for the mail” another may find this a waste of time – and even annoying!  And because email is still so pervasive we’ve seen that the majority of frustrations come from how people use (or don’t use) email. To get you started with your discussions, we’re sharing below a list of email commitments one of our clients agreed to (with their permission of course).

Email commitments from a software development team working virtually across 3 countries

  1. We’ll check our email at least every 3 hours.
  2. We don’t check emails when we are in meetings.
  3. We’ll use the phone and leave a message if something is truly time critical.
  4. We’ll write email subject lines that immediately explain what the email is about.
  5. We’ll use keywords like Action by XX or FYI in the titles
  6. We assume that if somebody is copied (cc) into an email they don’t need to respond.
  7. We will avoid using the “reply to all” unless everyone absolutely needs the information
  8. We’ll pick up the phone after 3 emails on one topic.
  9. We accept that emails sent from phones occasionally have typos.
  10. We expect that larger emails are well written.
  11. We don’t use CAPITALS and we don’t normally use colours unless something is critically important.
  12. We use bold to help people scan key information
  13. We always give people the benefit of the doubt if something can be understood in two ways.
  14. When we write an email in an emotional state we all agree we will save it – and come back to it the next day. And anyway a phone call is preferred by everyone.
  15. If we’re having interpersonal problems, we don’t use email – we’ll pick up the phone or use Skype for Business.
  16. We will review this list every 4th Skype meeting and remind ourselves that we all want to follow it.

The above list is strong and clear. It was built over the course of a facilitated 30 minute discussion and it works. We’re not advocating that you take it word for word  – but why not use this a as springboard for discussing your own team’s behaviours? Building common understanding up front will help your virtual team communicate smoothly and confidently.

And if you want to read more

Here’s a useful document with tips and language for effective communication across cultures.

Practical questions for analysing and resolving conflict at work

expressng congratulations target training

A study in Europe, the US and Brazil revealed that 67% of employees avoided colleagues due to bad feelings lingering from conflicts and that 27% of employees have witnessed workplace conflicts turning into personal attacks.

Over the years working with project managers on resolving conflicts, I’ve developed simple and practical approach to handling conflicts at work. The dictionary defines conflict as ‘a serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one’. A conflict at work is more than just a difference of opinion with a colleague. There is an emotional component and you feel a tightness in your guts, a knot in your stomach.

The 4 main causes of conflict

“What triggered the conflict?” is the most important place to start. Here are the 4 largest causes of conflicts in the workplace.

  • Goals The cause of the conflict is mainly about goals. Imagine a strategy discussion where one manager wants to focus on client relationships, the other on improving on the website.
  • Resources Here we are talking about resources, often people and budget. Manager “A” wants people for a project team, Manager “B” does not want to release anyone. Or this budget increases, whilst another is cut.
  • Processes It’s not unusual the managers will often disagree on methods and procedures. One manager wants to run the project on Prince2 principles, the other on the principle of whatever works, works.
  • People This is about people and relationships. If you have a good working relationship with the other party, you probably do not have a conflict. If you disrespect or dislike the other party, you will have conflict. And this problem isn’t necessarily resolved – even when agreement on goals, resources and processes is possible.

Using a practical format for analysing conflicts

Here’s a simple preparation format for analysing a conflict and preparing for the discussion. In other words, you buy time before addressing the issue and “the other party”.

Consider the following questions:

  1. What’s it all about and how did it happen? (History)
  2. Who is involved and affected, apart from you and the other party? (Stakeholders)
  3. How far has the conflict gone? (Escalation)
  4. What triggered the conflict? (Causes)
  5. Has anything been done to settle the issue? (Potential solutions)
  6. What do you (and the other party) want to achieve? (Goals)
  7. Do you have any ideas for approaching the other party? (Strategy)

Solving conflicts starts with reflecting and analysing…

Solving conflicts is tough and draining for everyone. Managing conflicts is a concrete and valuable skill – and one which you can develop. Analysing a conflict may help you see that it is more a difference of opinion and judgement, not necessarily a conflict. But it can also make you see discussing resources and procedures is a smoke screen and a diversion from the root conflict, your relationship to the other party.

…and it finishes with engaging, listening and resolving

Practical issues are more easily addressed; relationship issues are trickier to talk about. The above analysis questions will always clarify where the conflict is coming from and therefore make it easier to generate solutions. It will often indicate that the root cause is personal, i.e. resentment, envy, or even chemistry. So can you put your emotions on the back burner and seek a common solution that benefits your organisation? Are you prepared to talk frankly with the other party and clear the air?

 

,

Powerful Communication – The Power of the Purpose Pyramid

presenting across cultures

listening skills target trainingThe purpose pyramid is one of the simplest and yet effective communication models for introducing a presentation, opening a meeting or organizing your thoughts that there is. It is so simple, in fact, that no one seems to take credit for it though you will find it in the work of many communications gurus. The four questions in the pyramid aren’t special by themselves, but together they offer a powerful way to connect what you want to do with the goals and needs of your organization, no matter what business you are in or function you perform. Why? + What? + How? + Who? = Alignment. The Purpose Pyramid makes it easy for you to structure your communication – in any situation.

Free Download

pyramid

Why?

Why is where you share or remind your team about the deeper meaning and purpose of the organization. This is the reason that energizes you and your colleagues as well as your customers. What’s your why? Your purpose is best when it brings the energy of your team together and they can all see themselves in it. It should also attract internal and external customers to your work.

A band plays music, by definition – but wouldn’t you rather see a band whose purpose is to give you high energy and a memorable musical experience?

At a more nuts and bolts level, you can also apply the why to day-to-day interactions and situations. An example could be to state the purpose (why) of a meeting on the agenda for everyone to see. If there is a question about being on track, the team can refer to the mutually agreed purpose of the team.

What?

What refers to the tasks you and your team need to get done to contribute to making your purpose a reality. At their best these tasks are things you can track and observe easily so all can know when it is accomplished. For example, to have better meetings is not a clear task. Having everyone contribute to the meeting is a clear task. The SMART principle is a great model to use, just remember they should in some way contribute to achieving your purpose.

An example could be to make task identification a two-step process. Instead of automatically identifying who should complete a task at the same time as identifying the task, outline just the tasks first. Going through the how before identifying who will help team members to know what they are committing to.

How?

How is where you turn to your method, approach or process, How will you get your tasks accomplished? For example, sticking with the “better meetings” example, if my task is to have everyone contribute to a meeting, I could tell the team members I expect them to contribute and hope for the best or I could use a polling technique in the meeting to give each attendee the space to speak uninterrupted.

If a task is complex, the “how” could be a process or procedure that helps to complete the task effectively and efficiently. If you have standard operating procedures in place, this is the time to stress their use.

An example could be to identify the resources and process necessary to complete a task before asking who will do it. Leaders get a chance to offer support to the team and may encourage team members to accept a stretch task because they know how they will be supported.

Who?

Who refers to the individual and collective commitments or expectations that match your team to the tasks at hand. In most meetings the who stage tells how well we’ve done the other stages. If team members recognize and connect with their purpose, the necessity of a task and the process and resources to get it done, it’s a lot easier to agree to do them. With the clarity you’ve built earlier, it is easier for you to ask for what you want while committing to do what is necessary to support your team. A great question at the end of a meeting is “what have we agreed to do?” to check agreements without sounding like a task master.

Browse our blog for more tips and tricks

And/or let me know of any other useful communication tools that always work for you. I look forward to hearing from you!

Tools for teams

touchscreen network target training

Download our eBook

training providerslargeHigh-performing teams do not spring into existence simply by giving a bunch of people a common goal. Putting together a team is easy, but making them perform to the best of their abilities is something else altogether. Having a successful team is not something that will ‘fall into place’ either – no, not even if you really, really want it to… It takes time, dedication and understanding to build an effective team, and probably a few more things besides that. 

With that said, let’s look at some tools for teams…

Meet ARCI

You’ve heard of ARCI, right? There can be a slight affirmative murmur in the training room at this point, or no sound at all. Like so many other tools, ARCI can be implemented in a variety of business scenarios. ARCI can handle large scale scenarios, as well as the smallest process. By taking a structured approach like ARCI to role assignment, you can identify who’ll be doing what and what not on each team task. If done (and followed) correctly, it minimizes the risk of overlaps and confusions. Without further ado, ARCI identifies who is:

  • Accountable – this person is the “owner” of the work. He or she must sign off or approve when the task, objective or decision is complete. This person must make sure that responsibilities are assigned in the ARCI matrix for all related activities. There is only one person accountable.
  • Responsible – these people are the “doers” of the work. They must complete the task or objective or make the decision. Several people can be jointly responsible.
  • Consulted – these are the people who need to give input before the work can be done and signed-off on. These people are “in the loop” and active participants in a task.
  • Informed – these people need updates on progress or decision, but they do not need to be formally consulted, nor do they contribute directly to the task or decision.

Here’s an example.

ROLE AROLE BROLE CROLE D
TASK 1ARCI
TASK 2ARIC
TASK 3CIAR

ARCI is one of a mountain of tools that helps you define your team. But there are others…

What type of learner are you?

Do you colour code and highlight your way through documents, or do you write notations and questions as you read? Do you prefer graphics and visuals to reinforce learning? Or do you prefer to use tunes or rhymes as mnemonic devices to remember information? Do you learn more effectively via self-study, or via group activity?

The answers to these questions matter greatly in a training environment but they are also relevant in successful teams. Long instructional emails or manuals are difficult to digest for an auditory or visual learner. Or, consider the differences between someone who learns by trial and error and someone who learns from detailed how-to examples.

What type of team member are you?

Belbin Team Type Inventory

An interesting place to start learning more how each team member can contribute to the team, is by looking at the Belbin team type inventory. The Belbin identifies nine different team roles. Each role has strengths and weaknesses, and, keeping personal preferences in mind, tasks can be distributed according to the preferred team role rather than by company hierarchy, technical skills, position or experience.

Here’s a short overview of Belbin’s 9 team roles. For a more complete description, including the typical strengths and weaknesses of each role, see here.

Resource investigator

They provide inside knowledge on the opposition and made sure that the team’s idea will carry to the outside world.

Teamworker

Helps the team to gel, using their versatility to identify the work required and complete it on behalf of the team.

Co-ordinator

Needed to focus on the team’s objectives, draw out team members and delegate work appropriately

Plant

Tends to be highly creative and good at solving problems in unconventional ways.

Monitor Evaluator

Provides a logical eye, making impartial judgements where required and weighs up the team’s options in a dispassionate way.

Specialist

Brings in-depth knowledge of a key area to the team.

Shaper

Provides the necessary drive to ensure that the team keep moving and do not lose focus or momentum.

Implementer

Needed to plan a workable strategy and carry it out as efficiently as possible.

Completer Finisher

Most effectively used at the end of tasks to polish and scrutinise the work for errors, subjecting it to the highest standards of quality control.

Read more about Belbin here.

What is your team’s type?

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Years and years of study and research went into the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). I will not be able to do it justice with this short summary. (Start here, if you want to learn more about MBTI. If you are interested in creating an MBTI profile, keep in mind that the MBTI is a three step process, and should be performed by a certified MBTI practitioner.)

“If people differ systematically in what they perceive and in how they reach conclusions, then it is only reasonable for them to differ correspondingly in their interests, reactions, values, motivations, and skills.”

C. G. Jung

The combined individual profiles of team members can be translated into a team type indicator. Here’s an example of a team with the team identity ESTJ. The first graphic explains the combined strengths of the team members – these are the behaviours that come naturally to them.

MBTIteamprofile

 

And then there’s the flipside. The same team identifies as being INFP. This graphic shows the areas this team needs to be aware of because its team members don’t naturally exhibit them.

MBTIteamprofileflipside

Whereas Belbin’s focus is on the balance of team roles and tasking, the MBTI profile is about raising awareness of each other’s preferences and understanding their preferred way of working and communicating. The emphasis is on preferred. Many factors can influence someone’s behaviour in business. It’s not as simple as placing someone in a box of type, or finding the right balance of different types in your team. There is no right balance of type. Every team can work, if you’re interested in knowing who you’re working with.

A short personal disclaimer

I’m not certified in Belbin or MBTI, but some of my colleagues are. They can tell you much, much more, if the mighty Internet doesn’t give you all the answers. I’m not an expert on any of these tools, but I have found them very useful in the various teams I have worked in.

 

, ,

8 great books for busy managers you may have missed in 2015

puzzle target training

It seems as though 2016 has only just started, but it’s February already! We know you’re really busy, so we thought we’d help out by reviewing 8 of the best management books from 2015 for you. If any of the summaries grab you, why not read the whole book?

1001meetingsphraseslargeThis (Target) eBook

1001 Meetings phrases is a useful toolkit of phrases for the most typical meeting situations you find yourself in…

 

Team Genius: The New Science of High-Performing Organizations (13 Aug 2015)

Rich Karlgaard and Michael S. Malone

Did you know that actually the right team size is usually one fewer that most managers think they need? And that “chemistry” doesn’t equate to team success? Can you spot the right moment when one team needs to be dissolved to create another very different team? And are your teams really leveraging multicultural values as a strength?

Written for today’s managers, Team Genius reviews and explains the latest scientific research into how teams behave and perform and uses simple case studies and examples to bring it to life in a way that any manager can relate to.. It shows that much of the accepted wisdom about teams just doesn’t hold true – and then goes on to outline “new truths” and how to achieve them.

Stronger: Develop the Resilience You Need to Succeed (1 Sept 2015)

George Everly Jr, Douglas Strouse and Dennis McCormack

If you get turned off when you see the author is a “great business school professor”, “world-famous CEO” or “top management thinker” then this might be the book for you. Everly, Jr.is an expert in disaster mental health, and McCommack is a former Army psychologist and was one of the first original Navy Seals.

Drawing heavily on the psychology employed by US Navy Seals plus other examples from all walks of life, this book focuses on how we can each build our resilience and be “stronger” when everything seems to be falling apart. More importantly the book outlines how we need to practice building up our resilience (psychological body armor) before we actually need it. The five key factors the book explores are

  • Active optimism
  • Decisive action
  • Moral compass
  • Relentless tenacity
  • Interpersonal support

Each area is outlined in detail with case studies and research. A quick warning though – being written by 3 psychologists, it’s not an airport quick-read.

Leadership: Essential Writings by Our Greatest Thinkers (9 Oct 2015)

Elizabeth D. Samet (editor)

When you think about it, it’s amazing that this book hasn’t been complied sooner – management and leadership books aren’t a 20th century creation. General fiction, biographies, great literature etc have reflected core management and leadership questions for centuries.

This anthology draws our attention to 102 stunningly diverse extracts from fiction, speeches, anthropology, letters, songs, and even the odd occasional poem! The extracts from Machiavelli, Macbeth, Ghandi, Didion, Ovid, Melville, Mandela, Lao Tzu, Orwell plus many many more all invites us to step back and think about leadership. Excellent reading for just before you take the dog for a long walk.

Bridging the Soft Skills Gap: How to Teach the Missing Basics to Today’s Young Talent (7 Oct 2015)

Bruce Tulgan 

“They just don′t know how to behave professionally.”, “They know how to text but they don′t know how to write a memo.”, “They don′t know how to think, learn, or communicate without checking a device.”

Today′s new young workforce (also known as Millenials or generation Z,) has so much to offer – new technical skills, new ideas, new perspectives, new energy. All great stuff- but Tulgan also argues that research shows that employers across industries feel that too many Milennials have weak soft skills. As a few of the many case studies outline “they only want to do what they want to do” and ”his technical knowledge far surpassed anyone else in the firm … but his communication made him seem so immature”.

Renowned expert on the Millennial workforce Bruce Tulgan offers concrete solutions to help managers and HRD professionals alike teach the missing basics of professionalism, critical thinking, and followership. The book includes 92 step–by–step “lesson plans” designed for managers to use, and these include “take home” exercises, one-on-one discussion frameworks and training room activities.

In a nutshell, I can’t imagine a more complete or practical book than this.

Leading Across New Borders: How to Succeed as the Center Shifts (21 Sept 2015)

Ernest Gundling and Christi Caldwell 

Leading a global organization is no longer just a big businesses challenge.  Even small company owners can be leading a virtual team that includes people from all over the world – and just yesterday we spoke with a HR manager with 60 employees in 11 countries and 23 cities.

This books aims to guide you through this new business environment. It features stories from people in critical roles around the world, advice based on practical experience, and shares new research which outlines the distinctive challenges of leading in a virtual and multicultural environment … and cultural awareness isn’t enough! Happily the book also includes strategies, tools and tips for working across cultures, leading virtual teams, running a matrix team, integrating an acquisition and developing the agility needed to innovate in such an environment. Personally I found it aimed more at larger mature organizations, but still worth a read … and we integrate many of the elements into our Working in Virtual teams training.

Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead (2 April 2015)

Laszlo Bock

Despite receiving 1,5000,000 job applicants every year, Google spends twice as much on recruiting as comparable companies. Why? Because top performers are usually doing very well where they are and not looking to move. So Google works to identify these performers and cultivate their interest. But while Google spends considerably more on recruitment than most companies it also spends considerably less on training, believing top performers need less training.

Laszlo Bock, Head of People Operations, joined Google when it had just 6000 “googlers”, and in this book he shares the different recruiting and talent management practices Google use and have used. Although sometimes bordering on self-congratulation, the book is very much-action oriented with each chapter outlining a clear to do – Become a founder, Don’t trust your gut, Why everyone hates performance management and what we decided to do about it, Pay unfairly.

Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts – Becoming the Person You Want to Be (19 May 2015)

Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter

Have you ever wondered why you become so irritated around a specific colleague? Or questioned why your communication skills fall apart when presenting to a certain team? Goldsmith is an executive coach, and in this book he examines the triggers that can derail us – and how we can become the person we want to be and stay on track.

Perhaps common sense, but our reactions don’t occur in a vacuum. They are usually the result of triggers in our environment—whether this be specific person, situation or environment. .But how do we actually change ourselves? Knowing what to do doesn’t mean we actually do it, right? This book outlines how we can overcome the trigger points in our lives, and actually change to become the person we want to be, Drawing on executive coaching experience the authors use a simple “silver bullet” approach – daily self-monitoring, using active questions which focus on the our effort (and not the outcomes).

Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader (20 Jan 2015)

Herminia Ibarra

Do you wish you actually had the time and the space to be the manager and leader you know how to be? Introducing the idea of “outsights”, Herminia Ibarra, -an expert on professional leadership and development at INSEAD — shows how managers and executives at all levels can make an impact by making small but crucial changes in their jobs, their networks, and themselves. She argues that managers and leaders need to act first then to think – and to use the “outsights” resulting from the experience as a basis for meaningful individual growth and enabling of people and organizations. Joe Kaeser, CEO of Siemens AG. summed it up nicely as “transforming by doing”

The book is full of engaging self-assessments and plenty of practical advice so you can actually build a plan of action. It can be a bit heavy going but stick with it.

,

The elements of effective teams

puzzle target training

In order to be effective your team needs a number of key elements to be present

Free Download

xmasElements such as clarity of purpose, shared awareness of roles and constructive communication. These elements are not difficult to achieve but they do take focus and effort. Take a moment and ask yourself two simple questions – How many teams are you currently part of?  And how effective are these teams?  The first question is easy, but the second?

Working in teams is so common for many of us that we just don’t take the time to reflect on how effectively we are actually performing – and so we miss an opportunity to develop ourselves, our team and our impact on our organization’s goals. Researchers have shown over and over again, that these elements are essential for effective teams. Businesses which recognize their importance and work at maintaining them, are rewarded with teams that consistently perform and achieve their targets. Ignoring them leads to unachieved goals, wasted potential and demotivated staff.

What does an effective team look like?

Here’s a simple tool we use when running workshops with existing teams. Some of these questions are hopefully familiar, but too often we see goal-oriented teams typically neglect the softer aspects explored by questions 8-10. Select one team of which you are currently a member.  Now ask yourself the following questions, rating on a 1 to 5 scale, with 1 being low and 5 being high:

  1. Do we have a clearly defined purpose?
  2. Are our roles and responsibilities well-defined, understood and followed?
  3. Do we have the tools and resources we need to achieve our objectives?
  4. Do we listen to each other?
  5. Do we all actively participate in problem solving?
  6. Do we work constructively through conflict?
  7. Does our team leader approve of our work, providing relevant and specific feedback on whether we are meeting expectations?
  8. Do we work and learn together?
  9. Do we take time out to assess our progress?
  10. Would we work together on another team?

Your score

Effective teams should be expecting to score 40+.  Outstanding teams score 45+.  What did you score? And what are you going to do now? Why not check out Target Training’s seminar on building effective teams?  Click here for more information.

Working with Chinese colleagues and suppliers

innovation target training

Yes is one of the most simple words to understand in the English language. Or is it?

Free Download

VT posterYes is generally perceived as a positive response, and when you’re asking for something in business it’s normally the answer you’re hoping for. My father thought this when he started an importing company in China. On his first few trips to the country he returned having already mentally calculated the profits he was set to make from the customized, high quality parts they had supposedly agreed to put together within weeks for him. The only problem was he didn’t understand the word ‘yes’ like the Chinese did.

Fast forward to now, years later, and he knows that ‘yes’ means something very different in China. When saying ‘yes’, Chinese colleagues only mean that they are listening to you, rather than that your request will be fulfilled or that you have been completely understood. Many problems stemmed from this simple misunderstanding and while now there is a good business relationship between my father and his suppliers, much time was wasted getting to such a point. Artist Yang Liu summed up many of the big differences between Chinese and German cultures in her artwork of the two against one another, from little things like attitudes to standing in a line to how the counterparts view their bosses.

As an inhouse business English trainer in Stuttgart I provide on-the-job support to my client, a department of global purchasers. During the last months , I have come across many participants having to learn the hard way how to get around countless misunderstandings. From our sessions on cultural competence in China, my purchasing participants have shared experiences and identified five common lessons which speed up the process of making a business relationship with a Chinese colleague prosperous.

The group comes first

Chinese colleagues are not interested in individual gains nearly as much as helping the community around them. It’s what the culture is built on and giving individual gains for doing work will not be as effective as creating a positive and motivating team.

The importance of the leader

The boss is highly valued in China, much more so than in Germany. When a problem is getting to a point where it doesn’t seem possible to solve it, get your superior involved a lot earlier than if you were dealing with a colleague from the same culture or at least bring up the possibility in discussions.

They don’t solve problems like you

Whether it’s struggling to say no when they can’t do something, or insisting that everything is ok when it’s not, the Chinese don’t like to directly discuss and deal with a problem or talk about their shortcomings. Learning some ways to politely ask what the problem is, or getting them to take you through their schedule and deciding for yourself if there is a problem, will give better results than simply asking ‘is everything ok?’.

They don’t challenge, they listen

Chinese colleagues will often treat meetings as more of a lecture than a chance to swap ideas and air their grievances, particularly if the boss is present. On a recent trip to China, a translator summed it up well for me in her comparison of our school systems. “For us, we are told what to know and we don’t question it. For you, discussion is encouraged and you are taught to challenge.” Push them to express themselves and know that they’re not entirely comfortable doing it.

They value pleasantries

The Germans are known for seeing small talk as inefficient, but if you want a Chinese colleague to do you a favour you would be a lot better off adding some polite phrasing and extra niceties. It makes them feel as if the workplace is more harmonious and while being direct is more efficient, when they give excuses rather than results such efficiency is out the window.

Phrases for dealing with the Chinese culture

Direct English

English that is better for Chinese dealings
I think you did this wrong. Perhaps next time we could try it like this instead?
You need to do this by Wednesday. If you could do this by next Wednesday, the team can achieve their results.
I will have to get the boss involved if you don’t agree to a solution. Is this a problem that we can solve ourselves or do you think our superiors should give us assistance?
Do you understand? Could you summarise for me what you need to do (to make sure we’re on the same page)?
Are there any problems with this? Please let me know if there are any ways that you can do this more efficiently, because that would really help the team.
Did you get everything finished today? What did you finish today?

Do you want to learn more about the Chinese culture?

If you have any tips or comments on dealing with the Chinese, I’d love to hear them (and so would my participants). Please leave your comments below.

,

Social media: Love it or hate it, it’s here to stay!

bulb target training

It is often said that we live in a world which is becoming more and more transparent. Communication and how it is carried is constantly changing and this brings new opportunities and challenges. People are expected to keep up with these changes, both in their personal as well as in their work lives. The problem comes in when there is a disconnect between what people are expected to be able to do and what they are really able to do. This is the situation some of my participants are facing at the moment. The multinational company where I provide training has, like many other companies, implemented a social media platform which it expects employees to embrace, use and add information to. That sounds reasonable, you might say.

meetings free ebook

The problem is that many of my participants don’t use social media in their personal lives, there is only limited training available and there isn’t always time to learn about the tools and their use. Did I mention that everything also needs to be in English? Together we came up a possible checklist to help new social media users figure out which questions they should ask to help them start learning the basics of using social media at work. I hope you find it useful.

Learn about the tools

Do you know the difference between a wiki, a blog and a forum? Can you give examples about different ways to use each of these? How is your company using them? Where can you find them or how can you access them?

Learn about the related terminology

In addition to the tools themselves, there are many words which users also need to be familiar with. What is an entry, a comment, netiquette? How about a tag, a news feed or a blogosphere?

Learn about what the company expects from you

Which tools are you expected to use? How are you expected to use them (i.e. read only, add comments, write entries, add links, etc.?) How often should you contribute? Should you do this alone or in a group?

Learn about your company’s netiquette or online policy

Are there any security restrictions for specific information? Do you need to limit access to certain individuals, groups or departments? Can everyone add any comment they like or are certain comments deleted (i.e. hurtful or irrelevant comments, etc.)

Learn about existing informational structures

Does your department have a site which has already been set up? Are you expected to contribute to an existing location or create your own? Do certain key users need to be contacted before additional groups, sites or pages are added?

Learn about the current role of previously used systems

Should information be updated in previously used systems or only in the new system? Will the information be migrated to the new system? What are you responsible for maintaining?

Learn about your responsibilities

Is it your job to make sure that the information is always up to date? How should you do this? Is there anyone who can help you? Which steps do you need to know how to do to change information which has already been added to the system?

Resources that can help you

We’d like to hear from you. Which challenges do you face when using social media for internal communication? How did you overcome initial challenges? Which tips do you have for other users? Feel free to share your ideas below.

Learning to listen: lessons from baseball, TED talks and an alien life form

listen target training

How well do you listen?

Sound matters. In work. In life. Sometimes we forget that. I heard a story recently that was told by a former Major League Baseball player. He talked about a manager he once played for. During practice, the manager would put players in the outfield with their backs to home plate. A batter would stand at home plate and have someone pitch the baseball to him. Baseball bats are made of wood and are roughly 30-34 inches long. The cork-filled, leather-covered ball is thrown anywhere from 80-100 miles per hour. The batter would swing the bat and hit the ball. Now here is the important part:

Free downloadalf

 

Because the player in the outfield had their backs to home plate they had to train their ear to know what part of the field the ball was travelling to, based on the sound created when the baseball made contact with the bat. If you’ve ever seen a baseball game (or cricket) you know you can hear when a ball is hit solidly. But you can’t determine where it is going to travel. This manager wanted his players to hear the contact, and make a split-second decision to race to the position they believed the ball was going, without even seeing it. With practice, players knew exactly where the hit ball was going.

They had to learn to listen.

Are we “losing our listening”?

TED, the great, freely accessible online source for learning, has what I think are two of the best talks around on how to achieve excellent communication. Both are by Julian Treasure, author of an excellent book on the impact sound has on our working lives called ‘Sound Business,’ and both are well-worth watching. In one, he talks about speaking well and in the other, the one I suggest below, he talks to us about listening.

Of his five tips on how to listen better, the final one – an acronym, of course – RASA, the Sanskrit word for ‘juice’ or essence’ is exactly that when it comes to business communication: listening is important, it’s the essence of effective business communication. RASA stands for:

Receive

That is, actually pay attention to what they’re saying.

Appreciate

By making natural small noises or utterances like, “ah” or “hmm” or “okay.” You may have also heard it referred to as active listening.

Summarise

Very crucial to all sorts of business communication, from presentations to negotiations and everything in between. Here it’s critical you are authentic and summarise what you heard – NOT what you wanted to hear.

Ask

And finally, ask questions. Find out more. Learn as much as you can about a situation, a trend, a project, a risk, or an opportunity.

ALF

Learning to listen starts with recognizing all the barriers we create for ourselves. This is where ALF comes in, and no, we’re not talking about the sitcom character that chased cats. ALF means Always Listen First. Julian Treasure warns us at the beginning of his TED talk that ‘we are losing our listening.’

Don’t lose yours. Listen like a Major League player. And Always Listen First.

,

Email phrases for praising (virtual team) performance

sending emails

Research shows that when we work in virtual teams managers tend to praise far less. In an earlier life, I worked as an analyst for an international corporation in Boston. A large part of my job was generating weekly reports and sending them off to various people. I never received a response, so I never knew if what I was I was doing was adding any actual value. This lack of feedback, whether positive or negative, was sometimes demoralizing.

It is vitally important to praise a job well done

Everybody likes to know that they are doing a good job and are on the right track in their tasks and projects. Working in virtual teams can feel isolating – and it’s motivating to know that your work is being noticed.

Praise does several things:

  • It improves the morale of both the team and the team member
  • It motivates people/teams and increases productivity
  • It’s an opportunity to give positive feedback
  • It builds commitment

New Call-to-action

Email phrases for praising performance

Here are 17 phrases you could use the next time you want to praise one of your team members (or all of them) in writing:

  1. The work you did on the project was outstanding.
  2. You are an asset to both our team and our organization
  3. Your performance this past year has been exceptional.
  4. The quality of your work is routinely excellent.
  5. Your professional attitude is much appreciated.
  6. I have been very pleased with your efforts.
  7. Your extra effort and dedication have made this project a success.
  8. I must commend you for your dedication to our team.
  9. You have made a great contribution to the project.
  10. Your consistent professionalism has ensured the success of this project.
  11. You have been an invaluable addition to our team.
  12. Thank you very much for taking the initiative to find a solution to the problem.
  13. You can take pride in the work you have put into this project.
  14. The success of this project is a direct result of your efforts.
  15. Your enthusiasm and passion are exemplary.
  16. Your disciplined approach to problem solving led directly to this project’s success.
  17. You earned my respect with your inspiring performance on the project.

Mix and match and be specific with your praise

It is easy to mix and match the phrases in order to personalize how you want to praise each of your team members. For example, if you take #3 and #6, you can change it to: “I have been very pleased with your performance this year.” Or, you can use two or more and combine them into one sentence: “I have been very pleased with your efforts, you have made a great contribution to the project.”

Who doesn’t like praise?

Everyone enjoys receiving praise, don’t they? My colleague, Kate Baade, wrote in a recent post that it’s important to point out the positives as and when they happen. Don’t wait until the once a year performance appraisal interview to give praise. Kate, I fully agree.

 

The 3–6–9 of great leadership (according to TED …and me)

bulb target training

As a kid, my parents told me I watched too much TV. They would not be pleased to know that hasn’t changed very much, but at least nowadays I try to watch things that might actually inspire me. That’s where TED [www.ted.com] comes in. TED talks can be a great source of inspiration. They can be short, or long. They can be energetic or dry. And they are full of information on nearly any topic.

The “3-6-9 of great leadership”

As an intercultural trainer, business English teacher, project manager and former actor, I think a lot about what motivates people, especially at work. Three short TED talks that I have watched over and over really get to the heart of what makes a great leader. I call them the “3-6-9 of great leadership.” These three talks summarise in (more or less) 3 minutes, 6 minutes and 9 minutes what I think is the essence of great leadership. For now, I’m not going into why these and other well-structured talks and presentations work as well as they do. Let’s just take in their messages.

Derek Sivers

How to start a movement

The first TED talk, by entrepreneur Derek Sivers, explains to us in three minutes “How to Start a Movement.” Using a light-hearted video of a group of rather spontaneous dancers, he demonstrates how to lead and how to create a situation in which people want to follow. He also surprises us by highlighting who the real leader is. It’s not who you might think.

Drew Dudley

Everyday leadership

If you work in a team or an office, how often do your simple, unremarkable actions influence others? In the second talk, leadership educator Drew Dudley asks us in six minutes whether people can be leaders even if they don’t have that title. In this quick-paced, very personal story, he shows us how we can often be leaders without even knowing it.

Roselinde Torres

What it takes to be a great leader

In the final talk, the longest of the three at just over nine minutes, leadership expert Roselinde Torres details qualities of a great leader. She has spent 25 years researching leadership and her fascinating talk boils it down to the need to ask three simple questions:

  • Where are you looking to anticipate the next change to your business model or your life?
  • What is the diversity measure of your personal and professional stakeholder network?
  • Are you courageous enough to abandon a practice that has made you successful in the past?

Spoiler alert!

All three talks repeat one particular theme: While some principles of leadership may remain, true leaders are characterised by doing something different. But not just for the sake of being different. They have a goal.

  • Derek Sivers’s ‘leader’ is the first person who has the courage to follow the person you think is the leader. As the first ‘follower’ he gives others the permission to join in.
  • Drew Dudley’s ‘leader’ appears to go about his daily business fearlessly and effortlessly. In the process, he unknowingly inspires someone to go about her work as fearlessly as she can.
  • Roselinde Torres reminds that great leaders take action; they do not walk with their heads down, trying not to be noticed. They dare to be different.

Is leadership for managers only, then? Definitely not. These three talks remind us that learning to be an effective leader can help you chair a meeting, or create a presentation that people remember. Among many other things.

… so what are your thoughts?

,

What makes an effective communicator in Project Management?

process target training

Would you risk 56%?

The Project Management Institute’s 2013 report Pulse of the Profession revealed that US$135 million is at risk for every US$1 billion spent on a project. Of that, a shocking 56 percent of is at risk due to ineffective communications. 56% of $135 million = $75 million dollars!

As a project manager, how can you ‘make effective communication happen’?

Free Download

emails target training

Let’s look at some simple things you can do to focus your team:

Talk the Talk

You know how important it is to know what’s happening in your organization. Now, stress to your project team how valuable it is too. In project meetings, make sure your message is understood. Check in with your team, especially if it appears there may be confusion. They may not solve all your communication issues but they do convey how valuable good communication is to you:

  • Is everyone clear on this?
  • I want to make sure there is no misunderstanding.
  • What is not clear?

Admittedly, all three of the tips are too often reduced to clichés. But there is truth in them. Back in my theatre days, I, and many other actors I knew, often worried about playing stereotypes and clichés. A very good acting teacher used to tell me, “Embrace the cliché. It’s there for a reason. Find the truth in it!”

Walk the Walk

Keep language as uncomplicated as possible. Be polite but be clear.

A German manager, who worked internationally and used English in Live Meetings, once told me, “the challenge is that we are sometimes not strong enough in English to understand these problems, or sometimes we don’t realize that there ARE problems.” And therein lies the risk. Not only might you miss the complexity of problem, you might miss that a problem even exists.

Recognize that not everyone is at the same level when working in a foreign language. Different project management methodologies use some different terminology. You might be come from a PMP background but your colleagues might mostly understand the language of PRINCE2. Or your organization might use its own language to discuss projects. While using different terminology may be necessary (more in the 3rd point below), try to keep ‘jargon’ to a minimum.

Get Everyone on the Same Page

Although different project management methodologies boast unique language, it’s a good idea to be able to adapt in such a way that you are able to communicate with all stakeholders.

Have a standardized communications plan. 

The Pulse reports that high performers are almost three times more likely than low-performing organizations to use standardized practices through the organization. As a result, they achieve better project outcomes. Making sure your language is standardized defines outcomes, invites trust, manages conflict, invites commitment, and embraces accountability.

Embrace the cliché!

Any good project manager will tell you that project outcomes are never guaranteed. No project manager can control everything. But keep these tips in mind and you will be ensuring that one of the most important aspects of project work which is under your control – communication – helps make your project, you and your team be as successful as it can be.

 

,

First aid tips and tricks for sickly teleconferences

Virtual teams target training

I’m going to give you a few quick and easy tips and tricks to make your teleconferences better. Why am I going to do this? You know why. Many teleconferences are horribly ineffective and waste a lot of valuable time. I have sat through hundreds of telecons, and have trained hundreds of other people who have sat through hundreds of teleconferences.

Three complaints I have heard time and time again are:





DOWNLOAD A COPY 16 steps to better teleconferences



  1. There’s a weird atmosphere on the call because there is too much silence.

  2. I can’t understand certain people when they talk.

  3. Our teleconferences are “always” a waste of time.

So, if you can give me a few minutes by reading on, I will try to give you some quick and easy ways to overcome these issues.

Silence is deadly…and uncomfortable

Silence can kill…a teleconference that is. If you are on a call, show some life and participate. Here are a few things you can try on your next call:

  • Give verbal feedback throughout the call. Simple sounds and phrases can really help the flow and atmosphere of a call. “Uh huh”, “I agree” and “Nice work Tom” are a few examples that can be used.
  • When you go through the agenda before the call, try to have at least one thing to contribute for each point. This way, you will be prepared to break the silence and look smart at the same time!
  • Don’t be afraid to express your opinion or give someone positive feedback. Not only does this help fill silence, but it can also build rapport (agreement) or generate some healthy discussion (disagreement).

What did he say?

It can be very difficult to understand some people on the telephone, and especially in teleconferences. This can be due to language issues, accents, the volume of a person’s voice, their phone habits, etc. The next time you don’t fully get something someone says on a call, try these:

  • Make sure you actually say something to them about it. Many times we don’t understand someone but don’t say anything because it is easier. Politely ask them to repeat themselves. Most of the time people don’t realize they are hard to understand.
  • Confirm understanding when you are not sure. Use phrases like “If I understand you correctly, you are saying…” and “Just to make sure I understand correctly, did you say…” This can be a more diplomatic way of telling someone they are hard to understand, and is especially helpful if you have asked them to repeat themselves a lot on a call.
  • Contact someone personally after the call. If you are having trouble understanding someone on a consistent basis, try calling them or emailing them after a call to politely bring this to their attention. You have to be careful how you do this, but many people will appreciate knowing that they should change the way they speak so people can better understand them.

These calls are a waste of my time

Most teleconferences run too looooooong. Here are a few things to do to save everyone some time:

  • Get feedback from the participants. First, assess if this is a common opinion by asking for feedback from the participants. Ask everyone what they think is causing the calls to run too long. Then, using the feedback, try to get rid of those ‘time wasters’.
  • Make some calls optional if possible. Give people a chance to opt out of certain calls. Then they can choose to use their time the way they want. Just make sure to take clear and concise minutes so that anyone who misses a call has the important information discussed.
  • If you usually have 30 minute calls each week, try doing the same thing in 20 minutes. If you usually have 60 minute calls, try doing them in 40 minutes. You will be surprised how much you can accomplish in less time if you focus on doing so. Remember, it is the moderator’s responsibility to keep things within the timeframe. With that said, some of the most successful teams I’ve worked with have had a designated “time watcher” that can help remind the moderator when time is running out.

These suggestions can turn your sickly teleconferences into the most productive time of the week!

Ok, just joking; but at least you can make them a bit better. If you are interested in more ways to make your teleconference better, download our ‘Sweet sixteen – quick and easy steps to better teleconferences’.

,

Book Review: 5 great books to boost your virtual teams’ performance

Virtual teams target training

As we’ve heard from many of our participants in our virtual team seminars , the challenges of virtual teams are similar to the challenges of face-to-face teams but magnified. Additionally, new challenges arise, such as the impact of a lack of contact on the social glue that holds teams together, and matching the right technology to the right task. The sources we’ve looked at below continue to help us to focus on practical solutions to the real-world problems and opportunities virtual teams present. We hope they will help you to succeed in a virtual environment as well.

VTchecklists

Free eBook download

Virtual Team Success

By Darleen Derosa & Richard Lepsinger

This research-based book is a compilation of practical approaches to virtual teaming. The book contains a number of helpful checklists and best practices that can serve as a guide for virtual team leaders and participants. The behavioral focus of Virtual Team Success will help you to get out ahead of any problems before they happen with no-nonsense advice based on real-world success. If you need to justify the investment of time, energy and resources needed to improve your virtual teams, this book will help you do so. The processes for solving common problems in virtual teams is a highlight.

Mastering Virtual Teams: Strategies Tools and Techniques that Succeed

By Deborah Duarte & Nancy Snyder

The authors of Mastering Virtual Teams have applied best practices, tools and techniques from team theory and information and knowledge management to the challenges of virtual teams. They’ve organized the information in three, easy to follow areas: Understanding, Creating and Mastering Virtual Teams. Their vast practical experience as professors, consultants and business leaders inform the “how to” approach of the book. The book provides a toolkit for participants, leaders and managers of virtual teams. Practical tools, exercises, insights and real-life examples help you to master the dynamics of virtual team participation with guidelines, strategies and best practices for cross cultural and cross functional work. For example, instead of simply stating “build trust”, the authors give us three general guidelines for building trust in a virtual environment. Not surprisingly, these factors work in collocated teams as well. They’ve included a CD Rom with the third edition as an easy way to print the checklists and helpful documents from the book.

Where in the World is My Team: Making a Success of Your Virtual Global Workplace

By Terrence Brake

Where in the World is My Team: Making a Success of Your Virtual Global Workplace follows the exploits of Will Williams as he makes his way in a virtually enabled workplace and the life of a young professional in London. As a narrative that weaves the best practices of virtual organizations and teams, Where in the World is my Team succeeds in helping the reader to want to go from cover to cover and not use the book merely as a resource document. The book is far more than just an entertaining look at a digital life. The book’s very detailed appendix provides researched support for the virtual structures and tools highlighted in the story. Brake’s 6 C’s of global collaboration provide a logical framework for the needs of effective virtual teams.

Leading Virtual Teams

Harvard Business School Publishing

Leading Virtual Teams  is a quick and easy guide for those who don’t need to be convinced to do what it takes to improve their virtual teams, needing only tips on how to do it. The book covers the basics for those beginning their experiences with leading virtual teams. There are references to related Harvard Business publications, a mention of the Harvard extension course on Managing Virtual Teams, taught virtually, and a brief test as a check-on-learning.

The Big Book of Virtual Team Building Games

By Mary Scannell & Michael Abrams

The Big Book of Virtual Team Building Games fills a present developmental need for many virtual teams with games that encourage building rapport, solving problems and team skills. The games are designed to be played using various virtual team platforms and are cleverly arranged according to Tuckman’s stages of team development–forming, storming, norming, performing—with the additional stage, transforming. Each game is described in detail with the approximate time for completion. Keep in mind that teams with member using a non-native language may take a little longer than predicted.

 

Brainstorming in English

target training

Contributing ideas in English is a common problem for both native and non-native speakers of English. Brainstorming requires you to speak spontaneously and multi-task which can be both stressful and demanding – especially in a foreign language. Participants often have to listen to a lot of people speaking at the same time which can push listening and language skills to the limit. However, brainstorming also gives you a chance to solve problems, listen to new ideas and also develop your team – so don’t avoid them if you’re worried about getting stuck or your English failing you.  The following phrases look at some of the most common language you can use when brainstorming to avoid getting stuck.

Phrases for brainstorming

 Identifying objectives

  • Let’s define today’s objective.
  • Do we agree on the goal of the session?
  • So today we are…..
  • Let’s first describe our aims of the session.

 Making suggestions

  • How about we…?
  • Let’s try…
  • Why don’t we…?
  • Why not try this?

 Recording ideas

  • Let’s put that on the board.
  • Can we note that down?
  • Could we stick that idea to the wall?
  • Let’s post that on the flip chart.

Analyzing contributions

  • Let’s look more closely at…
  • Can we summarize these ideas together?
  • How about evaluating idea 1?
  • Let’s talk about the advantages and disadvantages of …

Using fillers (to give you more space to think)

  • I wonder…..
  • Hmmm, that’s interesting.
  • Let me think for a moment.

 More on meetings

Our blog authors have plenty to share!

We also have a number of seminars that might be of interest to you.

Ground rules for working effectively in groups

belbin target training

Originally published on: 05.06.2014

One of my program participants recently mentioned the workplace value of the skills of moderation and facilitation. This conversation piqued my interest, so I searched the Net for the best books about facilitation and chose one that is considered a classic text on the topic of facilitation: The Skilled Facilitator: A Comprehensive Resource for Consultants, Facilitators, Managers, Trainers, and Coaches by Roger Schwarz. As a trainer who very often works with groups, one of Schwarz’s theories caught my eye: establishing ground rules for groups. Schwarz compiled a list known as The Ground Rules for Effective Groups that help make sure groups are communicating effectively. Below, the nine Ground Rules are listed with a short description (some or all of these rules can be adopted, or the group can create their own, at the first group meeting).

9 Ground rules for effective groups

1. Test assumptions and inferences

Making inferences from available information is a valuable skill, but what if we make these assumptions based on incorrect information or a misunderstanding of what someone else said? 

2. Share all relevant information

If members of the team don’t share all of their information, this can lead to incorrect decisions. Even worse, if it’s discovered later that someone withheld information, it can cause major problems. 

3. Use specific examples and agree on what important terms mean

If important terms are fully defined, team members can be assured that they’re speaking about the same issues in the same way.

4. Explain your reasoning and intent

If you can explain your line of reasoning to your colleagues, they’ll be better able to understand where you’re coming from. In addition, listening carefully to your colleagues’ explanations will help you understand the situation more fully.

5. Focus on interests, not positions

Closely linked to Ground Rule 4, number 5 suggests that we discuss the interests of the people involved and not the position they are taking. Rather than, for example, “He says the budget can’t go up, but I want a new computer,” think, “He needs more money for the advertising costs, but I can’t process the graphics with my old, slow computer.” Then, we’re thinking in terms of what people really need, instead of what we think they might want.

6. Combine advocacy and inquiry

In a nutshell, this ground rules means that when you state an opinion, you ask for comments and questions immediately. 

7. Jointly design next steps and ways to test disagreements

Agreeing on a system for solving disagreements beforehand can save time and make sure disputes don’t bring the meeting to a halt. 

8. Discuss undiscussable issues

Bringing sensitive subjects out into the open needs to be handled very carefully, but can ultimately lead to a group that is moving forward rather than constantly avoiding an uncomfortable conversation.

9. Use a decision-making rule that generates the degree of commitment needed

If these (or other) ground rules are followed, hopefully all members will feel that they have all the information necessary to make an informed choice and that their voices have been heard. If this is the case and a consensus is reached, every member of the team will feel more dedicated to following-up on the decision, as they they have been an active part of the decision-making process.

More on effective groups and facilitation

The short description of the ground rules above doesn’t really do the book justice. If you’re interested in this topic, I’d recommend getting a copy of The Skilled Facilitator for yourself. If you have experience with groups that work well together (or more tips for how to make group interaction more effective), please share them with us in the comments section below.

, ,

Virtual Meeting Dos and Donts

Virtual teams target training

Ensure your virtual meetings are productive

Virtual meetings can be tricky at times. Are they more like a telephone call or a face-to-face meeting? Well, they are a combination of both and should be treated differently. Here are some quick and easy “Dos” and “Donts” for virtual meetings.

Virtual Meeting “Dos”

  • Ensure all stakeholders essential to achieving the meeting’s goals can attend—Otherwise, reschedule it
  • Consider rotating the meeting time to accommodate those participants in different time zones
  • Prepare an agenda that outlines the meeting goals
  • Ensure meeting items/priorities/times align with meeting goals
  • Cancel a regularly scheduled meeting if you feel time could be better spent elsewhere
  • Send a meeting reminder with the agenda, needed materials, and information on the technology to be used at least three days before the meeting
  • Ask team members who are not speaking to put their phones on mute
  • Ensure everyone participates
  • Eliminate distractions—Ask people to turn off all smartphones, and to avoid email and instant messaging during the meeting
  • Side bar and report to make necessary side conversations part of the official function of the meeting
  • Document decisions and next steps

 THE ULTIMATE BOOK OF VIRTUAL TEAMS CHECKLISTSVTchecklists

How effective
is your virtual team?

Virtual Meeting “Donts”

  • Hold a meeting if you can’t clearly answer the question “What is the purpose and expected outcome?”
  • Let meetings become “habit”
  • Attempt to cover more than five specific items per meeting
  • Allow side issues, “experts”, or native speakers to dominate the meeting
  • Hold a meeting even if any stakeholders essential to the meeting objectives cannot participate
  • Assume team members are clear about their roles and the meeting objectives
  • Continuously hold “marathon” meetings without any small-group brainstorming or breaks
  • Tackle critical topics at the start of the meeting
  • Let the meeting get off track by discussing the details of an action item that aren’t relevant to the meetings goals
  • Start late

More tips on virtual teams?

These dos and donts are only a small sample of the tips in our latest Ebook: The ultimate book of Virtual Teams checklists. Make sure you download a copy if you’re interested in maximizing your virtual team’s impact. Enjoy the read and… let us know what works for your virtual team!