Permalink to Connect People With The ‘Why’ Of The Work They Are Doing

Connect People With The ‘Why’ Of The Work They Are Doing

“…You have to connect people with the why. They have to understand the deeper meaning of the work they are doing and even if the work doesn’t connect to them directly then they must understand how the organization creates deeper meaning in the community…”


These were the words of one of the senior leaders that we interviewed for our Intentional Leaders research. We asked these leaders what challenges they were facing, how they were tackling those challenges and what they found to be effective in addressing these issues.

One of the principles that became particularly clear in our conversations was that team members of all generations, but particularly Millennials, want to see a direct connection between their own values and the work that they are doing. Failing that, they want their organization to be making a difference in the community.

One of the senior leaders told us that he has to work hard as a leader to know his team members well – to understand their motivation and their aspirations and then to connect the team member with work that would best suit them.

This is different from trying to be friends with your team members. Leaders still carry the responsibility of driving the organizational strategy forward. In order to do so, they must know their staff, know their capabilities and work with them to ensure that they are giving their best work. They must communicate the meaning of the work and connect it to the capability of each team member.

To give you an example: Helen is the CFO of a manufacturing company that creates products out of extruded plastics. The organization’s most popular product is a display shelf sold through a client to retail stores.

Helen’s team is a mixture of hard-working, honest accountants drawn from several generations.  As you would expect, her team is ethical and motivated by the principle of professionalism.

But Helen goes further.  When a new staff person comes on board, she makes a point of taking them on a tour of the plant, explaining the different roles of the people working on the plant floor. She also takes the time to find out what kinds of volunteering the staff person does in their spare time, what causes they like to support and what they like to do in their leisure time.

When it comes time for the annual fundraising appeal for charities in the community, she makes sure to involve staff in picking the organizations that would receive the support. Helen’s team members feel respected and appreciated for who they are outside of work and typically put in more effort within their working day.

Staff connect to the “why” of the work and that builds loyalty and commitment which drives productivity.

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 Prerequisite for a great leader

Prerequisite for a great leader

Illustration by Creativity and Innovation Keynote speaker, Simon Banks.

Illustration by Creativity and Innovation Keynote speaker, Simon Banks.


Dr. Stephen Brown, an Australian educator, made this statement and it has a very simple power.

You may be a leader by virtue of position and by virtue of having direct reports but do you have leaders working for you who are mentoring and coaching and producing leaders?

My daughter works in the advertising industry and from the very beginning of her work experience, it was clear that she not only had to learn her job and perform well but she also was not going to be promoted until she had taught someone her job. And she had to teach her job well enough that if she was promoted, she was free to do the new job.  And by the way, her first performance review was one of the best, most thorough performance reviews I have ever seen. It was a coaching document all on its own and it not only addressed how she was performing in many different aspects of her job but it also addressed how she was mentoring her direct report, a summer intern in the most junior position in the organization.

Our clients in the mining industry are fanatical about safety and one of the requirements of first-line supervisors, was to lead a “safety share” every morning and at the beginning of every shift.  The safety share is a way to model awareness, teach about the work that the team is to tackle that day and to create a team that helps each other be safe.  The supervisors also ask team members to contribute a safety share of their own from time to time and everyone takes a turn. This is another mechanism by which responsible leadership gets modeled and passed on.

In the finance industry, the same principles apply. Another of my clients, a senior director in an accounting organization, spoke of how he developed his staff.

I typically hired them for their technical skills and of course they had an implicit mandate to keep current. In fact they were far more likely than I to be on the leading edge of technical knowledge. However, the more important and less obvious development path for them was to grow their maturity, their seasoning and their leadership skills. I sent them on courses where they would be stretched and challenged and where their world view would be broadened.”

He went on to say that when it was his time to move to a different city, there were three high-performing potential candidates for his role. And the one who got his role has continued to grow and impress while the other two went on to different and exciting roles elsewhere in the profession.

What are you doing to create leaders in the people who report to you? Have you been filling the ranks with real bench strength? And are their leadership skills as well developed as their technical ones? If so you are well on your way to being a great leader yourself.


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 Leaders – Think and Act Positively

Leaders – Think and Act Positively

Here are three examples and philosophies about how a leader approaches life and work that can have a tremendous impact on the success of their team.

The Power of Gratitude

There was once a woman who made a courageous choice. She chose to react positively in the world. There were three steps to what she did:

Step one:

She made a list before going out in the morning of what she was grateful for. For example, she had a good job that she enjoyed. So on a workday, that was at the top of her list.

Step two:

She looked in the mirror and chose one aspect of herself to praise.  One day she praised her smile. Another day she praised her energy. And so on.

Step three:

On her way to work, she consciously greeted people she saw with a smile and a “Good morning”.

The first few days, some people looked at her a little puzzled, others responded positively and one person just growled. At work, there was one person who had always seemed grumpy but she went out of her way to say “good morning” and to not be put off by his manner.

Over the weeks, she felt more and more able to maintain her positive attitude and to be grateful for things in her life. This gratitude carried over into her work and because she was now more conscious of the good things about her team, she made a point of telling them how much she appreciated them.

The more she felt good about herself, the more she acted with kindness to others around her, the more others responded in a like manner.  Soon her whole team displayed a feeling of lightness, where before it had been a bit gloomy. And while her team still had some tough challenges to overcome, a dour manner in their leader wasn’t one of them. This is the power of gratitude.

The Power of Positive Psychology:

The second example is about how the power of gratitude is connected to the power of positive psychology. Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., is on the vanguard of the Positive Psychology movement. Fredrickson, a research psychologist at the University of Michigan, specializes in the study of positive emotions and developed the “broaden-and-build” theory.

Fredrickson suggests that positive emotions seem to broaden people’s repertoires of things they like to pursue. They broaden ways of thinking beyond our regular baseline, and they accumulate. Broadening, she says, allows people to discover and learn new things. Telling people they do good work is a way to unlock their bold dreams about what they could strive for next. And it is the key to helping people believe that they can be more successful which becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

As a leader, then, it is important to find ways to broaden people’s thinking about what is possible and what they can accomplish. They will work harder toward these dreams than if all they hear is criticism. So this is the power of positive psychology.

The Power of Teams Acknowledging the Positive

Finally, there is third connection that I would like to make. Some leaders begin their meetings with a “check-in” that asks people to go around the room and share what they are most proud of since the last meeting. This builds positive energy that allows the participants to be more confident in their decision-making, which leads to more and more success.

This doesn’t mean that leaders should ignore their team’s challenges but it does mean that the team has more energy to tackle those challenges. And it starts with the leader. This is not something you can do with your team while not embracing it yourself. This is where you definitely need to lead by example.  Questions that leaders can use to tap into these positive results include:

  • What are you most proud of in any area of your life since the last time we were together?
  • What are you most grateful for?
  • If you were to look in the mirror and say what you liked the most about you, what would it be today?
  • Thinking of each of your team members, what do you appreciate about them?


Permalink to Four Powerful Questions for Successful Leaders

Four Powerful Questions for Successful Leaders

Poor communication costs organizations productivity and returns to shareholders. It’s calculated that $26,041 US is the cumulative cost per worker per year due to productivity losses resulting from communication barriers.  Towers Watson calculate that companies with highly effective internal communication have 47% higher total returns to shareholders.

So it’s clear that clean, effective communication is critical. And what specifically are the benefits?

  • When leaders communicates well during a process, they have more control over the results of the process – they are able to lay out for staff how things are going to play out and what their role in the process will be
  • Employees that feel they are “in-the-know” are more motivated to do good work
  • When you share information on the right things at the right time, others make better decisions
  • When people feel well-informed, they feel respected and more positive
  • When a leader shares ideas and information, it helps to “socialize” the issue or initiative. The more people hear about an issue or a proposed course of action, the more likely they are to give the leader feedback and buy in to the solutions.

William H. Whyte said that the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. We often think we have communicated but then we discover that others have differing assumptions or have made up a story in their head about what’s really going on.

Leaders need questions in their toolkit to ask themselves when tackling a project or a new initiative. Here are five powerful questions:

  1. Who needs to know?
  2. How will this change in process (or different solution) impact others? Peers? Team members? Your boss? No surprises!
  3. What does my team need to know? Inexperienced leaders often assume that they know what their team would need to know but they are just as often wrong!
  4. Which partners or colleagues do I need to collaborate with?
  5. Who else should be involved and at what stage?

Asking yourself these questions on an ongoing basis will make a huge difference to your effectiveness and to that of your team. And if this kind of questioning becomes part of your company’s culture, it will make a significant difference to your bottom line.




Permalink to Intentional Change: Responding to the Downturn

Intentional Change: Responding to the Downturn

A CEO said his purpose was not to prevent bad things from happening, but to help his people learn from what took place. This is especially true if your people know only times of increased revenues, loose spending restrictions, and underlying assumptions about the business based only on growth. They had never experienced a downturn.


They say when the going gets tough, the tough get going. But it’s better to say when the going gets tough, smart people become engaged in creating positive change. Here are three examples of intentional positive change, followed by questions to ask.


Example one: Innovation

A mining organization wanted more control and accountability by looking for ways to create an integrated team model. It wanted to modify its EPCM relationships (Engineering, Procurement and Construction Management). The company had taken almost all procurement in-house with a centralized function and established procedures. In one project it started to contract the E (Engineering) separately from CM (Construction Management). It also started to contract for ECM on another project, and decided to stay with the EPCM on yet another.


Innovation came from how the company contracted by identifying the value that was needed and the accountabilities required from its partners. It also started experimenting with a blended, integrated project team. It contracted with external partners to give people key roles that were normally within the company. It also explored how technology could facilitate better real-time communication and accountability. An upside of the downturn is that experienced, contracted people from the engineering companies were available.  Questions:


  • Are you looking at old, established ways of managing projects?
  • Can you use technology to leapfrog barriers you experienced in the past?


Example two: Increased transparency and trust

Hang on to your best people when times are tough. They will be the core of your experience and base of your intelligence. Companies that share information with their employees, and are open and transparent, are likely to be trusted by those employees. A trusting culture breeds loyalty and engagement. But companies that hold back information will not fare as well. Employees want transparency and truth from senior leadership, and in a downturn this becomes more acute. Especially during a downturn leaders should communicate more in person and less by email. You should also sit down with employees and share career options with them. Questions:


  • Have you identified key people you wish to hang onto and told them your career plans for their future?
  • Is there information you could share to build trust and help them plan their career?
  • How could you build a more trusting culture?

Example three:  Future-proofing the work force

An organization had intensified training and development programs for its employees, including financial literacy training. The finance department gave workshops that included EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes), so employees better understood how to manage the balance between revenues and expenses. This created better financial managers and increased knowledge, and gave people more tools. The gift of the downturn is that a young generation of employees who had never known this could learn what managing in a downturn looks like. Questions:


  • Are your employees as financially literate as they could be?
  • Do you understand the development needs of your key people and do you have plans to meet them?
  • Have you communicated with key people about your development plans for them?


[Esther Ewing and Bill Sedgwick are co-founders and partners of Big Tree Strategies Inc. Big Tree Strategies works with teams that are doing critical work, and helps them become more effective and engaged.]



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.

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Many teams operate well below their potential. They are fragile, divided, easily derailed, and often mistrustful. Intentional Teams, by contrast, are robust, aligned, and focused. They achieve great things. They define careers. They become legendary.

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