Permalink to Limited resources? Design abundance yourself

Limited resources? Design abundance yourself

Say, in the early 2000’s, you wanted to create a summary of all human knowledge in the form of an online encyclopedia. How would you do such a thing, especially when, in the English-speaking world, the most authoritative encyclopedia was the Encyclopedia Britannica?

Perhaps, if you were like many people, you would find another pastime and do something else. If you were Jimmy Swales and Larry Sanger, the founders of Wikipedia, you would take advantage of emerging open-source technology and increasing storage and computing power and marry this with the enthusiasm and insights of amateur contributors around the world, and create an online encyclopedia, Wikipedia.

You would work around obvious constraints you faced (limited budget and access to world class experts, to name just two). In doing so, you would open up the reality of a resource that has “…18 billion page views and nearly 500 million unique visitors a month…” (The New York Times, February 2014).

Do you see opportunity around you? Do you view the world as an endless set of possibilities to be explored, assessed and acted upon? Do you search for how to invert an apparent limitation, stand it on its head and then repurpose it as a positive endeavour?

Or, do you view the world as being limited by an endless set of constraints or ‘issues’? Do you subscribe to the view that by tackling these constraints in an orderly fashion, with the highest impact item dealt with first, that over time your system or process will be significantly improved?

the goal

In 1984 Eli Goldratt wrote The Goal, a ‘business novel’ intended to show the principles of the Theory of Constraints (TOC). Set in a production plant, Goldratt laid out a clear set of principles:

  1. Identify the system’s constraints.
  2. Decide how to exploit the system’s constraints.
  3. Subordinate everything else to the decisions in steps 1 and 2.
  4. Elevate the system’s constraints.
  5. If in the previous steps, a constraint has been broken, go back to step 1, but do not allow inertia to cause a further system constraint.

Goldratt’s book places constraints in the context of the overall goal (in a production environment, ‘make more money’) that is being attempted. Constraints are a natural part of any system and need to be planned for and dealt with.

In A Beautiful Constraint: How to Transform Your Limitations into Advantages and Why It’s Everyone’s Business, Adam Morgan and Mark Borden explore the notion of constraints as a force for positive action. They dare us to use constraints to challenge ourselves and find inspiration.

beautiful constraint

At the heart of their thinking lies the question: ‘Is this the Age of Scarcity or the Age of Abundance?’ Their answer, it seems, is that it depends on how you view constraints.

Where Goldratt takes a scientific view of constraints in a system, Morgan and Borden see constraints as a springboard for business, cultural and social action. They provide many examples to demonstrate their thinking and the book is constructed both as a philosophy of creativity and change and a roadmap for creating this change.

The central concepts of the A Beautiful Constraint are:

  1. The Victim, Neutralizer and Transformer mindsets that determine how we approach a constraint.
  2. Path dependence that prevents us from perceiving opportunities in constraints.
  3. Propelling questions that reframe constraints and force breakthrough thinking.
  4. ‘Can-if’ thinking that opens up the possibility of positive solutions.
  5. Creating abundance through accessing resources we don’t currently have.
  6. Activating emotions to fuel action.

Among the many steps and tools Morgan and Borden offer is the simple yet profound notion of the propelling question. As they define it, “a propelling question is one that has both a bold ambition and a significant constraint linked together”.

In the case of Wikipedia, the propelling question was probably something like: “How do we make all of human knowledge available to anyone, while we have a limited budget in a not-for-profit charity structure?”

The story of Wikipedia is still being written, a little (or a lot) more every day. However, the cornerstones of its success are very unlike those of Britannica.

  • Instead of experts, use enthusiastic amateurs.
  • Instead of a small number of staff editors, use motivated and diligent volunteers.
  • Instead of limited editions of books or CDs, use the Internet on an open license platform.
  • Instead of near perfect accuracy first time, constantly improve entries over time.
  • Instead of charging, make it free.

Constraints are a state of mind, it seems. View them as limiting and you will be limited. View them as the starting point for a very different thinking process and the world can open up in unexpected ways.

Read A Beautiful Constraint and see what you can change.


Permalink to Are you Succeeding? How do you know?

Are you Succeeding? How do you know?

“First, have a definite, clear practical ideal; a goal, an objective. Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends; wisdom, money, materials, and methods. Third, adjust all your means to that end.” – Aristotle

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

1. Introduction

Remember January 1, 2016? Just like yesterday, right? Well, in December 2015 I wrote a blog post about “Get Ready to Succeed in 2016”. (Here it is – Now it’s April, I thought it might be a good idea to check in and see how the year is unfolding.

I suggested that we try a three-step approach:

  1. Know the score by creating and using a dashboard.
  2. Take stock with your team.
  3. Enroll others in the journey by making the making really clear what success will and why it’s important.

I also suggested the use of 90-day planning as a mechanism to hold the score and the actions that you intended to take between January and April.

In this blog, I suggest some simple questions that help focus on what you’ve accomplished in the last 90 days, some thoughts on your Improvement Journey and a challenge for the next 90 days.

Ready? Let’s go…

2. The Last 90-days

The quotations at the beginning of this post sum up how I feel about my last 90 days. On the one hand, I had all the goals identified and the resources allocated. I felt good about what lay ahead of us:

  • Complete an important client assignment.
  • Produce a marketing video with the help of the Draw Shop:
  • Secure three new pieces of work.
  • Commit to improving the efficiency of how we manage our consulting practice.

Aristotle would have been impressed, I’m sure.

Well, like most things in life, I accomplished part of what I set out to do, did some things I didn’t plan, and undershot on some activities. This is where Michael Jordan’s words ring true – it’s only by trying, over and over again that I can make progress against my plans.

Here are some key questions to think about as you look back over the last three months. I suggest you write down the question and your answers:

  1. What did I plan to do? What worked well? What wasn’t so great? Why?
  2. What did I plan to learn? How did I do? Why?
  3. How did my team do in working together? What worked well? What wasn’t so great? Why?
  4. How did my team do against their objectives? What could we do better?

3. The Improvement Journey

If you’re like me, you probably have noticed a couple of items that need improvement, which raises the idea of the improvement journey. The field of Continuous Improvement revolves around this notion and it fits well in our 90-day check-in process.

The central question of the Improvement Journey: What do I need to improve and how do I do so?

Your 90-day planning debrief should remind you about what you are working on – as you describe your priorities for the next 90 days, plan to use the Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDAC) cycle. This is also sometimes known as the Plan, Implement, Evaluate, Improve cycle and derives from the work of Dr. Edward Deming (


Are you and your team ready to move to the next phase of your work? What have you learned so far? What should you do next? What skills and knowledge will you and the team need?


Implement some early next steps and be open to failing before committing to full implementation. Think of this as a pilot, keep it contained and be prepared to learn from what you have tested.


Reflect together on your pilot efforts. Identify where you can improve and what additional resources, skills and support you will need to be successful over the the next 90 days.


Integrate the learning from your pilot into your 90 day plans and get going.

4. The Next 90-days

Build a plan for the next 90 days that includes a period for the PDCA ‘pilot’. Keep it short and to the point and use it as a communication and engagement tool with your team.

Individual plan

  • What is the short list (less than five) of items you personally plan to work on in the next three months?
  • What measures will you use to determine if you are successful?

Team plan – in dialogue with your team answer these questions:

  • What is the short list (less than five) of items should your team work on in the next three months?
  • What measures will the team use to determine if it is successful?
  • Who will carry out the tasks?
  • How will you all track progress?


Using the discipline of 90-day planning and milestone reporting, you can build up momentum both for yourself and for the team. Like any habit, the more you do it, the more it will become reinforced and the more you can be like both Aristotle and Michael Jordan.


Permalink to Get ready to succeed in 2016

Get ready to succeed in 2016

By Bill Sedgwick

“Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning.” Attributed to Winston Churchill

“I’m not good at future planning. I don’t plan at all. I don’t know what I’m doing tomorrow. I don’t have a day planner and I don’t have a diary. I completely live in the now, not in the past, not in the future.” Heath Ledger

“Luck. That’s where preparation and opportunity meet.” Pierre Trudeau

Sometimes, it seems the world is made up of two sets of people, those who plan and those who claim not to. To some degree, we all wander between the two poles – live in the moment and plan for the future, which makes sense. Over-plan, and you drive out spontaneity; live in the moment, and anything might happen and probably will.

So here we are, with a new year in sight. We will see a rash of advice about resolutions, lists of intentions and advice about sticking to those good intentions.

In this blog post, we’re going to join in.

As leaders, we have a responsibility to our teams to make clear where we’re going and how we’re doing on the journey. Try a simple three step approach as you think about your good intentions for 2016:

  1. Know the score with a dashboard.
  2. Take stock.
  3. Enroll others in the journey.

Know the score

Life’s a game, the sunny optimists say. If they’re right, you better know the score to know if you’re making progress.

Dedicate some time in December to put together a dashboard for yourself and your team. Keep it simple and clean.

The purpose of a dashboard, like the instrument array in an aircraft cockpit, is to keep the critical information we need to be effective in our line of sight, without overwhelming ourselves. To be effective, your dashboard must tell a story and provide a tool for keeping focused.

To tell the story of what you plan for 2016, design your dashboard with three elements: short-term objectives to be accomplished in 90 days; medium term goals for 3-6 months; and longer term objectives for the entire year.

Next, spend some quiet time working on the three elements. Develop the most detail in the short term bucket, the first 90 days. While working on the other two buckets, only put in enough detail to indicate direction and measures of success.

A tool that is very useful for creating a dashboard is a mind map. We use Mind Manager from, but there are many others available. A mind map has flexibility and allows you to move information around easily.


Take stock

You and your team have had a busy year. You’ve probably been very focused on getting the work of the team done – have you spent time thinking about the health of the team?

To prepare your dashboard, sit down with the team and ask them:

  • What have we accomplished this year?
  • What have we learned?
  • How do we feel about what we’ve done?


Use the opportunity to celebrate the successes you’ve had. An interesting article from Psychology Today ( highlights the importance of celebration in a team’s life.

If you want to understand how your team is doing, try out our online team assessment tool:

Enroll others

At the beginning of 2016, make sure you have a clear story to tell your team about what success will look like. Seek to do a kick-ass job of painting the emotional destination and the meaning of the work.

Elmer Wheeler (b. 1904) was a pioneer in the psychology of selling and taught that to engage others it is more effective to appeal to the outcome than the process. It was Wheeler who coined the phrase “Sell the sizzle not the steak.”

At the beginning of the year you have an opportunity to re-ignite the excitement your team has for its work. Remind them about the purpose that they are working towards. Focus on the ‘why’ of what you’re doing. There will be more than enough time to work out all the details of the ‘how’, which is where most of spend most of time.

Success goes to the prepared, so prepare by reflecting, planning and enrolling others.


Permalink to Intentional Teams – Stories from the Field

Intentional Teams – Stories from the Field

Strong leadership is key to team success. It provides focus, discipline and energy. Here are three case studies about leadership in the mining industry.

The Bad Apple

On a major mining project, the engineering contractor was also manager for the project, but the relationship between the engineering company project manager and the owner’s team was in trouble. The project manager felt another contractor who had a history of working with the owner company was trying to take over the engineering contract. This contractor and a key person on the owner’s team had a personal relationship. That person was difficult, and negatively impacting the team.

This put the project manager of the engineering company project in a tough position. The ‘bad apple’ had a close relationship with the President of the mining company, and the manager from the engineering company found it hard to communicate bad news about the problem person.

What to do? Start with the contract and find a solution without the problem person leaving the project. You can switch them to another role, take them out of the organization, or mentor the person while keeping them in the role.

On this project, the person was replaced. The leader of the owner’s team recognized the damage to morale and productivity, and took action.


  • Leaving a problem too long comes back to haunt you.
  • Open, honest communication helps resolve pivotal issues early.
  • Keep personal relationships out of the mix through professional conduct and adherence to the contract.

They’re Clients?

The procurement department of a large mining company imposed strict policies and insisted that local units it served follow them. Long-standing supplier relationships in remote locations where the company operated were ignored or overruled. The global company HQR was in another country, and local units felt procurement was insensitive and inflexible about local relationships. Procurement became a bottleneck by imposing restrictions on work flow.

The procurement director must balance the global organization’s need for profitability with the need for success of local business units. This means balancing two sets of customers. Procurement can’t meet the needs of the global organization and ignore local needs. Nor can it afford to serve local needs to the global organization’s detriment. The procurement director should “think globally, act locally.” That means listening to people in local business units, visiting their offices, and going to the sites.


  • Know what others in the flow of work require, and when.
  • Build strategic relationships with everyone involved.
  • Do everything possible to reduce bottlenecks.

One Team, Two Identities

On a large mining project the project team was split between the engineering/project management group, and the owner’s group that was part of the project team. There were separate email lists, presentations were ‘branded’ with the company logo, and team members were located with members of their own company. There were two groups, each with similar objectives, and some duplicated roles and functions. But no notion of One Team. The leader of the team on the owner’s side did something about it.

The team held quarterly milestone meetings focused on finding and resolving issues that held back the team. One member became responsible for collective action plans with authority to convene meetings, follow up with work package leads, and ensure that work packages were being led effectively.

The project director organized team members in functional groups, not by their ‘home’ organization, to encourage communication and interdependence. The project ‘rebranded’ itself with hats and jackets displaying the project name. This discouraged team members from wearing garments with the name of their own organization. Bonuses and compensation were harmonized so everyone on the project had common guidelines for compensation. And project team members started building a true sense of being a single team.


  • Leadership is a contact sport requiring more than words.
  • Changing team culture comes from planned activities that are treated as mini projects with their own resources.

Good leadership is flexible. There are times to lead from the front and pull everyone along, and times to lead from behind and push them forward. It’s about nurturing and being decisive where necessary, and building future leaders.

Permalink to How to Build an Intentional Team from the Start

How to Build an Intentional Team from the Start

There is a process for building an Intentional Team from the start. A former client – let’s call him Rob – joined a mining company as its new global Head of Human Resources. He had worked with us before and had some experience about our Intentional Teams framework. Now with the mining company he wanted to overhaul the HR organization to position the workforce for growth. He wanted to build an Intentional Team in HR and use it to provide the foundation for the company becoming one of the best 100 employers in Canada.

Rob spent six months gathering data to see what his team’s place was in the bigger scheme of things. He interviewed top people in all key functions of the company. He asked these questions:

  • What did they think success looked like for the business?
  • What did the company most need from HR?
  • What was the HR department currently doing that hindered the business?
  • What was it doing that advanced the business and what should it do that it wasn’t doing before?
  • Was there anything HR could do less of, eliminate, or transform?

He had his HR executive group in place, but had to make them an Intentional Team. There is a big difference between a group and a team. Talented performers in a group may be individuals who work in silos with little thought about how they impact other silos. But an Intentional Team sets its own strategy, manages how it works together, and creates the context in which everyone does their work. Everyone sees their work in the overall context of the team.

We came in and did an Intentional Team Assessment using an online survey. For each question the assessment looked at where they are now – at the beginning of the process – and where they wanted to be in one year.

Rob’s group lacked a strategic plan for HR, so they created one. They also made a Team Plan which they would work on together. And a third of the members of this group were new to the company. Rob had positively-intentioned people who, for the most part, bought into the concept of having the team. But some were cynical. You often find that those who have been with the same organization a long time and embody the ‘been-there-done-that’ mentality’ must be won over. A good leader like Rob could do that and trust plays a big part.

He wanted to make HR a strategic partner to the business, but this required a mindset change in the Executive group and among HR practitioners. Too many HR activities were transactional, meaning that the business relied on HR to get the new hire in the door or handle the promotion. But HR wasn’t used for strategic consulting where people are concerned. In many cases, the business leaders didn’t even consider that the HR leaders could provide that kind of partnership. So Rob was determined to change the relationship between HR and the business.

We helped him create the Intentional Team that would provide a well-rounded HR presence that was responsive to the needs of the business. An Intentional Team has four key quadrants or characteristics:

  1. Compelling direction with buy-in from the top of the organization.
  2. Flexible leaders who understand the value of the Intentional Team and work hard to support the growth of team members.
  3. A performance mindset that involves a planning mindset, collaboration and good communications.
  4. A one-team culture with high trust where its members live and display the behaviours represented by the key values of the team.

A trustworthy leader like Rob builds that trust whenever the team meets. He keeps his own commitments and models the kind of behaviour he wants the rest of the team to follow. While doing so, he chips away at the cynicism of those who may resist new ways of doing things.

A good leader must have the right people on board, and together they must develop the right strategic plan for the team. Rob made sure his new Intentional Team met every 90 days to review progress and throughout the process he knew his role. To reduce needless resistance.

In the end his senior management was so pleased they asked the team to accelerate its strategic plan. The team received huge support from upstairs and every member of the team was committed to delivering results together. And they did.

Permalink to Why Compelling Direction is Key to a Project Team

Why Compelling Direction is Key to a Project Team

Smart leaders know that a clear, compelling picture of what success looks like is crucial for engaging and motivating their team. And really smart ones have a fully developed story with ‘chapters’ to be used for different audiences.

Nasa’s compelling direction

The Mars Pathfinder, which delivered a huge amount of information about the red planet, was successful for NASA because team leaders had a story to tell and stuck to it. What was it? To show NASA’s commitment to exploring planets through a relatively low-cost project with the slogan of ‘faster, better, cheaper’. It’s all about having a compelling direction which means a project with a story to tell.

Like a story

Consider a book. Books have chapters – a road map for where the book is going. A good book doesn’t stray from its story from one chapter to the next. It’s the same with big projects. A good leader stays on theme and focuses on that compelling direction through the project.

The chapters are the building blocks of the story and each one is important, but all must operate as one entity. Likewise, a smart project leader continues to use the story to engage, focus and refocus, if necessary, the team and all the stakeholders.

All the chapters make up the story as the entity becomes an integrated whole with no individual piece more important than another. The leader may emphasize certain elements or chapters, depending on the audience, and ensure that all stakeholders remain aligned during the journey, but never lose sight of the compelling direction. And neither should the team.

Some of the individual chapters might be:

  • The ‘Why’ of the project – the business case.
  • The Scope of the project which comes after the business case is established. This is when you ask questions like: Based on all our assumptions about cost and execution, is it feasible?
  • Readiness – prepare for execution. This requires constant updating and communication to ensure alignment between all the groups, and may include your purpose as a team, the team’s values, and how it works together, resolves conflict, communicates, and organizes.
  • Who is on the Team. This might involve an organization chart with concentric circles.

It’s one thing to have the chapters of the story, but the story must still be compelling, so the leader should simplify the message, fight or manage complexity, and initiate critical metrics.

Finally, how should this ‘book’ be used? The leader uses the story to clarify and to work on deliverables, roles, schedules, highlighting best practices, resetting expectations, communicating value, coaching team members, and bringing on board new team members and new partner organizations. Ideal times to re-tell the story are at 90-day milestone meetings to check in on team performance, communication with the workforce, and in-team meetings.

Now the book is done. The ‘reader’ is happy and your project is successful.

To learn how to use Compelling Direction in your work, contact us. Stay in touch by subscribing to our monthly newsletter.


Permalink to How to Keep Your Team Aligned on the Road to Success

How to Keep Your Team Aligned on the Road to Success

To keep your car on the road, you need to ensure that the wheels are aligned. If you’ve ever driven a car with misaligned wheels, you’ll know it’s a weird, not to say, dangerous condition.

The car seems to have a mind of its own, tracking to one side or other; steering is vague and your confidence is shaken. Will I make it round this corner? Will I get where I’m going?

Alignment of all team members

Large projects can often have the feeling of being on the verge of chaos. There are so many variables that teams are managing that keeping them all in the right order can be a challenge. Our work with teams on large capital projects shows that there is often a predictable pattern as we work with a team.

First, there is firefighting, where many urgent issues need attention.

Next we observe a shift to the leaders and team becoming a little more reflective and open to talking about how the team is doing.

Finally, the team recognises that if it invests time and effort in team productivity, the payback can be dramatic.

We suggest team leaders think carefully about alignment when they embark on team development.

Is your large project team aligned?

3 questions for leaders of teams to ask themselves:

  1. What stage is your team in? Are you in the firefighting stage? If so, you’re likely thinking about ‘banging heads together’ (an expression a client used not long ago). There are probably many challenges that your team could be working on – clarity of the execution plan; support of sponsors; getting work done on site; relationships between owner and contractor; making sure you have the right people on the project; and on it goes…
  2. Are you clear about what development the team needs to be aligned? Do you have a vision for the kind of team you want to lead? One of our clients speak passionately about the need for his team to be intentional because he has been on a team that successfully completed a challenging, dangerous piece of work. He has a model in mind of what his current team needs to be to be successful. Do you?
  3. Are you committed to spending the time and money on developing the team? Developing a project team (or any other team for that matter) takes sustained effort. An aligned team is created over time, by developing habits and behaviours that will ensure the team stays on the road and is successful. As with any effort, this takes commitment and investment.

Success is found through the repeated application of the right effort at the right time. Alignment means that team members are working effortlessly towards the goal of project success.

Click here to learn more about the work we do with large project team alignment and what results you can expect from your team.


Permalink to Getting Your Large Project Planning Team Ready to Hand Over to Operations

Getting Your Large Project Planning Team Ready to Hand Over to Operations

Move the work forward

One of our clients was the Assistant Project Director on the Nickel Rim South Project, which is now a major Glencore mine in Sudbury, Ontario. He told us that the key to a large project like this is being able to move work forward, and he’s right. When he spoke about ‘reaching back and passing forward,’ we thought of a good analogy. A relay race.

Think of the Olympics 4 x 400-metre relay race, and how important it is to cleanly hand off the baton to the next runner. That is often the difference between winning and losing. The difference on a project, is what constitutes ‘winning’? Is it crossing the winning line (that is, completing the project) or is it a clean hand-off to the next team? We think it’s the latter.

Forward thinking

Teams that work intentionally are always thinking forward and asking the right questions. Who is waiting for the work I’m doing right now? Who am I waiting for? What are we working on together? Have we planned for a smooth progression so we can hand off the work?

All projects come to an end, whether they are smaller software development efforts or the building of mine. In this case, the ‘finish line’ isn’t really the finish at all, but the beginning of the next phase of their project, operations.

On a mining project, many technical aspects are involved in transitioning from project execution to operations, from document control to legal agreements.

For the project team, the hand-over to operations has the same goal as any other hand-over – make the next phase a success. Hand over the baton as cleanly as possible. Set up the next team members as completely as possible.

5 Ways to hand over a project

  1. From one team to another
    Up to this point the project has been the responsibility of the project team, but now they have to enable another team to take what they created and make it work as a viable operation. How should we engage the new team? Clean communications become essential in this hand over period. Integrating the new management team of the operations into the project team is crucial. That team will have to live with the output of the project team.
  2. Keeping the momentum
    Closing out a large project is a gradual process as work is completed. While there is a formal hand-over point when responsibility for the site transfers, many members of the project team will have moved on to new projects by the time that happens. Still, the team leader must keep the team motivated and focused as the work winds down and the hand-offs take place.
  3. Planning to hand over
    As with every other aspect of a large project, planning is critical. Keeping the team focused on the end line is critical. Most likely, this becomes a joint exercise with the new operations team.
  4. Stakeholder communication
    Keeping stakeholders informed is crucial. The project-execution plan contains hundreds of individual work items that must be tracked and completed. Communication within the team, and with all stakeholders, has to be flawless.
  5. Lessons learned
    It is important to summarize in a document the lessons learned, both for the owner’s organization so it can improve its project-execution ability, and for the operation that will inherit the site since many activities will continue into the operations phase. For example, some aspects of the site may require more engineering while some pieces of work may not be completed at the time of the hand-over.

Handover success

It’s easy to think of an ‘end line’ for a project and to believe the race has been run. If this is the mindset of the project team, they have missed a crucial opportunity, to enable the new operations team to start their (much longer) leg of the relay. It’s the responsibility of the project team to do everything they can to set the operations team up for success, even as the project team winds its effort down.

For these and other tips for your team success, sign up for our monthly newsletter.

Permalink to Are Your Stronger Team Members Overwhelming Weaker Ones?

Are Your Stronger Team Members Overwhelming Weaker Ones?

Dominating team members

We’ve all been in teams, where some people dominate other members of the team. Are those in the latter group intimidated? Maybe. But it’s a waste of valuable resources when members of a team don’t speak their mind and contribute. The whole team suffers. However, a team that is ‘intentional’ can get around that.

Intentionality requires clarity of purpose about the team, and this isn’t about warfare; it’s about teamwork. To start with, you must think before, during and after the problems set in.

Formal team guidelines

Beforehand, establish formal guidelines for behaviour for the team. This might entail informing all members not to bring general criticisms to meetings, but examples and concrete suggestions for improvement. The team leader must set up the right conditions, and this can be tricky. For example, people who tend to overwhelm others should be coached on how to conduct themselves. This might also involve skills training for the team on how to communicate effectively.

Feeling attacked

During team interactions, where team members overwhelm others with criticism, the team leader should help those on the receiving end by giving them strategies for dealing with bullying behaviour. This can mean helping them reframe their response in an assertive style of communication. For example, use the word ‘I’, be specific, state the impact of their behaviour, and be clear about what needs to change. In the end, it might come out like this in a one-on-one situation:

“I feel attacked and belittled when you criticize me in front of everyone. It would help me if you and I sat down together before a team meeting so you can give me examples of what is troubling you and we can find a solution that works for both of us.”

Taking some time out

Another effective approach is to take a time-out:

“Thank you for the feedback. I would like to think about what you said. Let’s talk about this on Friday afternoon and I would like to invite Janet to the conversation as she was working on that piece of work as well.”

Everyone counts

After meetings, the team leader can follow up and identify potential trouble spots for the team. The team leader can conduct an assessment for the team (or with the affected individuals) to see if any outstanding issues or hurt feelings remain. The key is to not let things fester and, instead, get the issues out until everything is said. Everyone needs to remember that they must work together as a team.

Learn more. An Intentional Team™ produces amazing results with a clear common purpose. It tracks progress, and has both a supportive culture and a leader who knows what it takes to make the team great. The Building an Intentional Team™ Service requires a self-assessment of the team and a two-day workshop, ideally followed by a year of customized programming that can include 90-day milestone meetings and Intentional Leader coaching. The result is a team that runs smoothly and is self-adjusting so it can focus on producing results.


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Permalink to Four Steps to Preventative Team Maintenance

Four Steps to Preventative Team Maintenance

“What one does is what counts. Not what one had the intention of doing.” ― Pablo Picasso

Preventative Maintenance


Over the past few years we have been developing an approach to team performance we have named Intentional Teams™.  Our research with leaders of great teams showed that they didn’t leave anything to chance. They build their teams purposefully. This approach makes sense to us, but it’s not always the whole story.

Let me demonstrate with a personal example: Many years ago I owned a small sailboat, an old wooden catamaran that I painted bright orange – I was at university and all things bright seemed like a good idea. The boat sat around outside for a year or two before I got round to trying it out.

The experience was instructive. A healthy wind was blowing as I unloaded the boat from its trailer, set up the mast and raised the mainsail. I pushed the boat out into the water, hopped aboard and I was off. However,  there were several factors I had overlooked: the wind had picked up and the waves were about three feet high; the boat had a habit of digging its nose into the waves, not riding over them; and there was a large crack just below the deck on the left hull, which, it turned out, was masterfully hidden by the orange paint.

 My dreams of sailing effortlessly on my ‘new’ boat came to a soggy end. I managed to return to the shore before the left hull filled enough to become a sea anchor. I was embarrassed with my lack of progress and furious that the boat had let me down. On reflection, my thoughts evolved – the boat wasn’t at fault – I was. I had rushed to action and in doing so had put myself in danger. I had failed to check my equipment and had assumed that my ‘repairs’ would suffice on the water. In Picasso’s terms I had intended to sail my boat but I had failed to check its safety and so failed in my intention.


Preventative maintenance

Teams need preventative maintenance as much as boats. Getting ahead of and managing bad news, anticipating problems and making changes before they are needed are some areas that teams can work on. In successful teams we found preventative maintenance was focused on:

  1. Managing sponsor expectations
    Sponsors and senior stakeholders take an active interest in the work of their senior teams, often because these teams are doing work that is critical to the organization. The temptation to micromanage can very enticing. Teams and their leaders have to analyse what senior sponsors will be interested in and find methods to answer questions before they are asked. Being aware of the Board or Executive meeting calendar and agenda and anticipating when the team might have to report can be a useful strategy to get ‘ahead of the message’.
  2. Look forward and anticipate events
    Keeping the team’s peripheral vision clear is critical to not being caught unawares. Regular mini planning sessions can be an important element in anticipating unforeseen events. Great teams build in focused sessions that allow information to flow in from all team members regardless of their seniority or specialty. Ensuring a diversity of information on a regular basis allows teams to maintain their peripheral vision and catch items that otherwise might take longer to see and react to.
  3.  Constantly managing effective communications
    Communications are a major challenge for teams managing complex projects or operations. Preventative maintenance allows teams to constantly challenge and improve their communications practices. Meetings, for example, are a constant challenge for teams – by challenging the effectiveness of meetings a team can streamline its meeting frequency, duration and effectiveness.
  4.  Using the culture of the team to prevent conflict
    Interpersonal disagreements and personality conflicts often derail team effectiveness. Leaders of intentional teams quickly step in to manage these corrosive elements of team life. A key tool is the culture of the team and the agreements that have been forged around this culture. Culture is based on repeated behaviours. If the acceptable behaviours have been identified and agreed to by everyone on the team, the leader has powerful tool to hold team members to account when they are operating against the agreed behaviours.


Going sailing without checking the seaworthiness of your craft can lead to bad outcomes. Not conducting preventative maintenance on your team can also lead to undesirable results. A small investment in getting ahead of the issues and challenges of your team will allow you a smoother ride in the long run.


In coming blog posts, we will explore each of these preventative maintenance topics further.

Click here for a downloadable worksheet: Your Purpose as a Leader

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