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Archive for the ‘Strengths’ Category

Collaboration: It’s All in the Conflict Management

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

Recently, I worked with a leadership team within a marketing support group at a consumer goods company.  Among their objectives was the desire to increase collaboration on the team.  As with many teams, theirs is pulled in various directions and is called upon to serve a variety of clients.  To add to their challenges, most of the team is spread out among several floors in their headquarters building, while some team members work virtually.  So, in any given day, the 30 or so team members are in different places, serving different clients, and have different goals.  Sound familiar?  Anyway, the team leaders really believe that collaboration will help improve the quality of the solutions they provide to clients.  For example, Team A serving Client A creates a solution that would help Client B, but Team B doesn’t have any idea this new solution exists.  (This scenario might also sound familier to you.)  It’s not hard to see that collaboration would probably improve results.  And, it might make the team feel more “connected”.  The challenge is not getting people motivated to collaborate, it’s getting people motivated to deal with conflict that might be prohibiting collaboration.

A March 2005 HBR article that I recently came across helped me crystallize my thinking about the challenges of this particular team, and for that matter, most any team seeking to improve collaboration.  Instead of taking action to boost communications, enhance teamwork, and cross-pollinate, try looking for conflicts that make collaboration difficult or impossible.  (I don’t have to point out that I still think there’s value in communications, teamwork and cross-pollination, right?)  As leaders, we need to think about what we can do to smooth the way for our team.  Sometimes, that means “clearing” the way.  And conflict can be a huge obstacle.  So, where to begin?

  1. Be willing to look at conflict as constructive.  As Patrick Lencioni argues in his great teamwork tome The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, conflict is nothing more than a difference of opinion.  Generally speaking, conflict gets a bad rap.  We tend to believe that all conflict is bad, when the way people deal with the conflict is more likely what’s “bad”.  Conflict can highlight alternative perspectives, reveal underlying flaws, and create a catalyst for change.  It can be a good thing and needs to be recognized accordingly.
  2. Accept that there is conflict in your organization.  This is hard for a lot of leaders to do.  Not many people like to admit that there is conflict.  (See item #1 for the reason why.)  But, where there are people and relationships, there is conflict.  So, instead of fighting it or insisting it doesn’t exist, go with the flow (so to speak) and let there be a place for conflict.
  3. Create a “safe zone” for conflict.  Outside of just acknowledging that conflict exists, you need to create a culture where conflict is allowed and where individuals have the tools and time to sort things through.  What does your team see when you are faced with conflict.  Do they see you react, avoid or blame?  Or, do they see you listen, acknowledge different opionions, and seek to find common ground?  Your role modeling is the first step in creating culture.  Beyond that, you’d be well served to develop some ground rules (or “norms” as Lencioni calls them) for how to deal with conflict.
  4. Invite your team to participate.  When you do create conflict ground rules or norms, invite your team to weigh in on how they’d like the environment to look or feel when conflict arises.  They’ll be more likely to practice the norms if they’re a part of developing them.  At the very least, when conflict arises, invite the team (or key stakeholders) into the resolution process.  Managing conflict takes practice, and naturally, can be a little messy.  The more your team participates in it, the better equipped they’lll be to handle it.

I think most individuals want to collaborate with others and understand the value of collaboration toward achieving great results.  But, as human beings, we all tend to let conflict get in the way of our best intentions.  So, help your team out by cultivating an environment where conflict is not a bad thing and giving them the tools to deal with it when it does arise.

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Posted In: Leadership, Organizational Culture, Strengths

The Employee’s Role in Employee Engagement

Friday, June 11th, 2010

Employee Engagement is a topic that’s continues to get air time.  As the Gallup Organization recently reported, ”. . . engagement has proved to be a powerful predictor of many key organizational outcomes, including profitability, productivity, customer engagement, quality, safety, and retention.”  I am fascinated by how significant engagement can be to an organization’s success or failure.  Recently, I read and article from the Gallup Journal that focuses on the cost of disengagement.  Specifically, the article states that “the quality of a workplace can be linked to depression and anxiety among workers, [and]  . . . these illnesses can have a significant impact on job performance and on employees’ personal lives.”  Wow.  Through research that organizations like Gallup have developed, we know a lot more about the benefits of engagement.  And, we’re learning more about the cost of disengagement.  So, the question I’m pondering with all of this is how much responsibility lies with organizations to create “engagement” versus the responsibility of employees to choose to be engaged.

I admit that I’m challenging some of my own belief systems by asking this question.  I have Tweeted a lot about the topic and the role of leaders in focusing on employee engagement as a critical business driver.  Nonetheless, I feel compelled to explore the ownership of one’s own level of engagement.  First of all, I don’t believe the message to employees should be, “Get engaged or get lost.”  Rather, I think the message is, “It’s a team thing.”  In other words, we each have a role here.  Leaders, you must create a compelling and inspiring workplace.  Employees, you must show up and commit.  I choose to focus on the employee in this blog post.  Let’s give leaders a break . . . for the time being.

Okay, team.  It’s time to show up.  Whether or not you have a leader who understands the importance of engaging employees, you have a responsibility to bring your best to work every day.  Sure, it can be challenging.  But, you are definitely not going to get the scoop on the new project, get a shot at that new job, or be able to demonstrate that you’re the person your leader should be considering for that next promotion unless you are present and accounted for.  So, how do you get yourself motivated to walk in each day with an open mind and heart?  On many days, we may feel inspired by an initiative we’re deeply involved with or by a team effort that is allowing us to work “elbow-to-elbow” with someone we enjoy.  That can be enough to bring us skipping into the office.  Too bad some days aren’t like that.  Sometimes, we find ourselves not so wildly fired up over that report that has to be written or managing the “scope-creep” of the project we’ve been leading for 10 months.  Ugh.  How do you get yourself motivated?  Strengths and discipline.

Strengths.  Marcus Buckingham talks strengths with a boatload of research behind him: “Years of research prove that individuals and teams playing to their strengths significantly outperform those who don’t in almost every business metric.”  You’ve got to find out what makes you feel strong and do that as much as possible during your work day.  Strengths are not just things that you’re good at.  Strengths are those activities that make you feel competent and give you the energy to want to do more.  Do you know what your strengths are?  If not, find out.  A great assessment is one that Marcus helped create when he worked with the Gallup Organization.  It’s called the Clifton Strengthsfinder.

Discipline.  Find a system that helps you bring your best to work even when you’re not particularly inspired to do so.  That might come in the form of professional coaching to help you get organized.  Or, it might be a goal-setting process.  One of the best support systems for discipline in my book is the bestselling book by the incomparable Dr. Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  For more than 15 years, this amazing book has helped millions of people bring their best to their daily lives.

Got any other ideas on how employees can own their engagement?  Drop me a line and let me know.

With respect,


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Posted In: Employee Engagement, Motivation, Strengths, Uncategorized