Permalink to Three Mistakes Newly-Promoted Managers All Make – Part Two

Three Mistakes Newly-Promoted Managers All Make – Part Two

Trying to be friends with staff Managers need to provide a balanced view of performance, both the halos and the warts, and if the manager is trying to be friends with staff, it’s much harder to give tough feedback

This is the second part in a three part series on mistakes newly-promoted managers all make. Part one can be found here.

Friendly newly-promoted manager

Chris was very excited when he was given the news that he was being promoted to team leader but he was a little nervous as well. He had worked very hard to prepare for his interview but he knew that one of his team mates, Marty, had also very much wanted this role. He knew that Marty had expected to win because he had told everyone on the team that he thought he was the best one for the role.

Chris was determined to treat everyone equally and be a really good team leader but he knew it would be hard. Perhaps he could take the team out to the pub at the end of the first day and treat everyone for a drink.

Everything went fairly well for the first month except that Marty was taking advantage of Chris’ good nature. When Chris had asked the team to follow a particular approach, Marty openly disagreed and when Chris insisted, Marty shrugged and said, “Okay,” but Chris could see that Marty was only giving lip service to the new approach.

Over the next month, Chris tried everything he could think of. He tried taking Marty out for a drink to try to persuade him to put more effort in. He tried pointing out to Marty why the approach was a good one. He tried pointing out to Marty that he was shooting himself in the foot because he was losing some goodwill from his fellow team mates. Nothing seemed to get through to Marty who stubbornly continued to tell his fellow team members that Chris was not on the right track.

Chris’ boss George, called up Chris and arranged a meeting. “Chris, I understand that things are not going very well with Marty,” he said. Chris nodded. He explained how frustrated and disappointed he was.

George asked him what he had tried. When Chris laid out his strategies, George listened and then asked him a key question. “And how is that working for you?”

Chris had to admit that he was at a standstill with Marty.

Your team, not your friends

George then pointed out that Marty was making a classic mistake. Chris had been trying to deal with Marty as if he were primarily a friend. “You are no longer just Marty’s friend, Chris. You are his boss. That’s what we are paying you to be. You weren’t wrong in trying the friendly approach but Marty is a tough nut. The friendly approach is not sufficient with him.” George also pointed out, “If you want to get your team working well for you, you will have to be intentional about how you play out your role. Effective teams have effective leaders who are intentional about how they lead. That’s what I’m looking for from you.”

They talked about how Chris could get tough. “You have to really lay it out with Marty. He’ll take advantage of your friendship if you don’t. You have to be really intentional about this. The team’s success depends on it.” They made a strategy together. Chris and George agreed that if Marty didn’t respond to this approach, they would create another strategy where there were consequences for Marty.

A business discussion

Before the end of the day, Chris had booked a meeting with Marty for the next day. It went very well, and by the end of the meeting, Chris was confident that Marty understood what he had to do. What did George suggest? Here was the strategy:

  1. Book a meeting room for the conversation – context matters – by booking a meeting room, it signalled that this was a business meeting and was serious. (Not in a pub which was more social and suggested that they were of equal rank.)
  2. Chris was to ask Marty to listen without commenting until Chris had laid out his point of view.
  3. Chris as then to share a very specific description of Marty’s behaviour and its impact on Chris and on the other team members.
  4. He was then to ask Marty, specifically, for different behaviour (commit to following the approach and support the him and the team). He was to ask for Marty’s reaction by saying, “Do you understand why this is important to me?”
  5. Finally, the plan was that If Marty then acknowledged Chris’ points, then Chris was to ask that he step up and fully support the new approach. If Marty waffled or argued, Chris would repeat the question until Marty acknowledged his point of view. (Broken record technique)
  6. Finally, Chris kept the meeting brief and thanked Marty for his time. At no time, did he ask for Marty’s friendship or imply that this was anything but a business discussion.

Chris was fortunate that he had a boss who understood his dilemma and had a very good strategy to suggest. By focusing on the team and how Chris needed to get the team working together, Chris was able to retrieve the situation. Ultimately, Marty fell into line and Chris was able to show his intention in terms of leading the team.

Having some challenges with your newly-promoted managers? Tips like these and more can be found in our monthly newsletter. Sign up here.

Please reach out to Bill or Esther regarding your team challenges. If more comfortable, contact our concierge at concierge[at]bigtreestrategies[dot]com who can direct you to information about our services that will be applicable to your current needs.

Permalink to Do You Keep the Team Moving Even When it is Out of Scope?

Do You Keep the Team Moving Even When it is Out of Scope?

Who Pays for Snow Clearance ?

Imagine this: Your company, Workerbee Inc, is the construction contractor on a major capital project, the White Hills mine. It is owned by a major mining company, Big Kahuna. Your project is in the Canadian North, where winters are long and cold. You are the project manager for Workerbee on the White Hills project.

You receive a phone call at 4 AM on a January morning. “We’ve had a major dump of snow at the site,” you’re told by your operations manager. “The problem is the snow removal company is a no-show this morning and we’ve got 30 centimeters of the white stuff preventing the crews from getting to the site and it’s still coming down. What should I do, boss?”

Your instinct is to say “Call the Project Director for White Hills at Big Kahuna and get him to do something about this. The snow removal contract is with them, not us.”

Your second thought, the one you go with, is “Get some equipment together and get to clearing the snow. Our crews need to get on site or we’ll be behind on the deliverables for the week and we can’t afford to wait.” Later in the day you clear the course of action with the project director from Big Kahuna. Production goes on and you’re making the progress you need to against plan.

But We Kept The Project Team Moving

A month later your project accountant comes to your door. “That snow clearing we did for the project a few weeks ago? Do you know how much it cost us? I’ll tell you – $9,000. We had a crew working on it for 10 hours because of the blizzard. We didn’t have enough equipment and we had to rent some. How do we bill the client for the work as it’s out of scope for us?”

The answer to this question depends on what sort of agreement you have set up with the client, Big Kahuna. If your project is like many, you may struggle to get payment – you may run into objections based on the fact that this was not your role to fulfil. There was a snow clearance contract with someone else and the client should have dealt with them (even if it meant a slow down at the site).

Alternatively, you may have run into few problems because this type of eventuality had been anticipated and a course of action determined long before the snow fell.

Probably your agreement is based on the spirit of understanding and cooperation and anticipates this kind of eventuality. Perhaps you and your client have already determined a course of action for these kinds of issues.

Our research at Big Tree Strategies, shows that stand out projects are set up using interest based agreements. Once in place these agreements allow for greater success in settling disputes of the type outlined above.

Interest-based Agreements

Getting to Yes, the best seller book based on the Harvard Negotiation Project, lays out the two paths that are possible in setting up (and managing) agreements:

Positional Bargaining Interest-based Bargaining
We are adversaries We are joint problem-solvers
We seek victory (over you) We seek agreement (together)
We want concessions We want to work together to agree who gets what
We dig in to our position We dig out to find shared interests
We mislead We are open and use principles
We insist on our position We insist on objective criteria
We use pressure We use reason and yield to principle, not pressure
We want to win We want win-win

If your White Hills project was set up using an interests-based approach, you and the project director from Big Kahuna would already have the principles in place that would guide an out-of-scope activity; the conversation would be about how to accommodate the snow clearing activity which was undertaken to keep the project on time.

In the absence of these principles and agreements, the conversation could quickly disintegrate into a finger pointing, recriminations and a lack of payment for the doing the right thing for the project.

So, how are you and your team doing in managing to principles and not positions?

  • Do you have agreements set up that are principles-based?
  • Does everyone always keep their eye on the long game (i.e. accomplishing the business goals)?
  • Do positional behaviours get dealt with immediately so that all parties can find a win?

Find ways to reset the conversation. Seek principles you can agree on and insist on using them in solving problems and disputes.

Big Tree Strategies is a consulting firm for senior executives in charge of teams managing  large projects that are critical to their organization’s success. We provide a consistent, coachable and repeatable program that teams learn and apply as they do their work.
Drop us a line or give us a call if there may be an area on your large capital project team that needs some help. In the meantime, sign up for our newsletter, you’ll find monthly tips applicable to the challenges faced on large project teams.

Permalink to The Top Three Mistakes Newly-Promoted Managers All Make

The Top Three Mistakes Newly-Promoted Managers All Make

There are some classic mistakes that newly-promoted managers make. Knowing about them and the techniques for avoiding them can help a new manager make a great start to their role.

This is the first in a series of three blogs on the topic. I will identify the three mistakes and give you techniques to not only avoid them but to grow and thrive as you start to develop the foundation of your management strengths.

Three Newly-Promoted Manager Mistakes

  • Trying to do it all – not delegating Sometimes newly promoted managers forget that the way to prove their worth is to get things done through others
  • Trying to be friends with staff – Managers need to provide a balanced view of performance, both the halos and the warts, and if the manager is trying to be friends with staff, it’s much harder to give tough feedback
  • Pushing to be promoted before you’re ready– In their zeal to grow their careers, some managers apply to senior jobs too quickly in order to get ahead. All they prove is that they don’t yet have the judgement to know the growth they still need to make.

Not delegating?

One of my clients, George, a newly-hired Controller, had the disconcerting experience of having his new boss stop by his desk one night. It was 7 pm and George was still working, trying to get a handle on some cost analysis. His boss barked at him, “Is there something wrong with you? Does the fact that you are still here at this hour the fourth day in a row mean that you can’t actually do the job I hired you for?”

George stared at his boss, slightly panicked and not knowing what to say. His boss went on, “I don’t expect my managers to do everything themselves. If you are still here this late, day after day, you are either not smart enough to do the job or you are trying to do all the work yourself. You choose. You will either learn to delegate or you will burn out. I know what I would prefer. Let me know what you decide,” he stumped off.

George was shocked but it was a very useful wakeup call. Had he been delegating enough? Not likely. And he had to admit that staying until 11 pm for days in a row meant that he was too tired to do a good job the next morning.

You can’t do it all alone

From then on, he  decided he must change his ways. He analyzed the work. He met with his staff and portioned it out so that he was not the first preparer of the information but the reviewer of it. It was the beginning of a great career that eventually saw him become CEO of a publicly traded company and a very successful businessman.

George would tell you today that if he hadn’t learned that lesson, he would never have been so successful. And from then on, he always applied the principle of asking himself, “Should I do this work, or should I delegate it?” He became a more intentional leader and his people grew and he grew along with them.

Steps to start delegating

How did George do it? The biggest change was to follow the two points below – changing his mindset, and asking one question about each piece of work he handled:

  • He changed his mindset about his staff. He decided to be intentional about growing the capabilities of his team. He knew he couldn’t prevent problems his staff would have as they learned and stretched beyond what they knew,  but he could make sure they learned the most from whatever happened
  • He asked himself weekly, “Who should do this work and what support do they need from me?” He made an effort to get work off his plate that others could do, or be trained to do.

Delegating, or, not delegating can be one of the hardest things for newly promoted managers to get right. Drop us a line and share with us your delegation challenges, perhaps we can help. Rapidly we can get you or your managers to leave behind the behaviour of not delegating. Our system is a consistent, coachable and repeatable program you can quickly learn and apply.

In my next post, I’ll explain the second mistake newly-promoted managers make – trying to be friends with their staff.


Permalink to The 2 Secrets to Team Success

The 2 Secrets to Team Success

“Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.” ―Mahatma Gandhi

Choice and habit are the secrets to high-performance team success

I’ve been struggling to write this blog post. I’ve been finding every excuse to put it off – it’s summer, I don’t have an idea to work with, the dog’s barking, you name it. I was thinking about this as I drove to work out at my local gym, a good place to let my subconscious work I thought, or was it another avoidance tactic?

Anyway, I was reflecting that on the one hand, I choose to go to the gym every other day and have done so for over three years now, and on the other, I was choosing not to write a short post. That’s when it dawned on me: it’s all about choice and habit. We are not victims when it comes to what we choose to do, to say, to be. It may feel that way sometimes, but we always have a choice.

Perhaps the most compelling story of choice is that of Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. In 1944, Frankl and his wife Tilly were sent into the madness of the concentration camp system – Tilly died in the Bergen-Belsen camp. Viktor’s outcome was different – he survived, despite six months doing slave labour. His story is told in his book Man’s Search for Meaning and was the basis for his therapeutic approach and philosophy.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Frankl’s philosophy is bigger than a simple blog post, so let me come back to my central insight as I made my way to the gym. I was choosing how to feel and act in relation to writing this post. What I needed to do was to change how I felt and acted. The second part of the insight was that choices quickly become habits, some good and some not so good. My habit had become avoidance.

Behaviour driving team habits

In our work with teams, we see a lot of behaviours being played out, behaviours that are based in choices team members make and habits they build up. Perhaps one of the most important is whether members of the team see themselves as individuals who happen to be in a ‘team’, or as members of a true team that has operates as a unified, intentional whole. This is central to the ability of the team to perform.

If team members commit to being members of a team, if they are prepared to put aside their own individual ego and ambitions, then the team can form and develop. If they don’t, if they pay lip service to the notion of ‘team’, and continue to operate as Lone Rangers, then the team as a whole will struggle to coalesce and perform.

We believe that teams must be formed intentionally, that team members must make choices about being productive members of the team and that they must adopt new habits to foster the health and effectiveness of the team as a whole.

High-performance teams and mindset

Intentional Teams™ are teams that produce results. They get results through consistency of behaviour across the team and by building repeatable habits into their processes. These habits and behaviours are chosen by the team and the team holds itself accountable for making them happen.

What’s going on in your team? What choices are you and other team members making about being part of a team? Are you choosing to talk about what makes this a team and what behaviours will allow the team to be successful? Are you building new habits to foster team performance?

Try this simple exercise at your next team meeting – Have each team member write down what two choices they have made to be a team member. Ask them to share with the rest of the team. Then, ask what habits they and the team have been building together to ensure team success. Identify a couple of areas where the team could do more. Set a quarterly goal to work on these.

Sign up for our monthly newsletter where we provide actionable tips to help you lead your teams into the high-performance category.

As always, we’re here to help with a consistent, repeatable, coachable process that elevates your current team to a high-performance team. All (leader and team) will be equipped with the tools to endure change that your industry, competitors or stakeholders may put in the way of your team’s success. Find out more by an email or phone call to either co-founder.

Permalink to Does Your Team Work in Sprints?

Does Your Team Work in Sprints?

Are you a tortoise or a hare?
How your team can take advantage of both.

Much of the traditional advice on being more effective in business assumes that being methodical is of higher value than working by energy bursts.

If you recall Aesop’s fable about the race between the tortoise and the hare. The hare is complacent and full of quick bursts of energy but trips up when he thinks he doesn’t need to work at beating the tortoise.  He falls asleep halfway through, and the tortoise gets ahead and wins the race. The tortoise is quiet and humble and methodically takes his time moving along.  In fact Aesop’s moral of the story is that “slow and steady wins the race”.

Setting aside the judgmental factor, there is a clear message here that being persistent and methodical has more virtue and is more likely to be successful than those who work in bursts.

Productive bursts of work

But what if you are not wired to be a methodical person? What if your most productive and effective work is done in bursts? The reality is that while many are productive in a steady, persistent fashion like a marathon, others are productive in a short bursts like running a sprint.

Do you plan your work? Of course you do… especially if you are the steady, persistent worker.

I once had a boss who took large projects, divided the work by the number of weeks that she had before the project deadline and did a portion of the work each week. Very methodical. Her nightmare was risking being late for a deadline.

Eye on the deadline

I, on the other hand, work best in short bursts with the adrenaline running and the urgency high. While I don’t sleep on the job like the hare, maintaining the urgency of work over a long period is simply not how I’m wired. Do I plan my work? Certainly. And I plan for short bursts. And my nightmare is the same as my boss’s – being late for a deadline.

Let’s take this blog as an example. I planned to write the first draft this week. It’s due next week on my publication schedule. This allows my partner time to read it and give me feedback, which we do for each other.  I gave myself one hour to see what I could get done. That’s my sprint. And I planned for the sprint to give myself the urgency I need to get creative.

Marathoners and sprinters: get along

So what is the application to your team’s work and productivity? All teams will have some marathon runners and some sprinters. Sometimes they don’t respect each others’ ways of approaching their work. But they can all make an important contribution to the teams’ work.  The key is for the team members to let each other know their deadlines and when they need each others’ contributions in order to be productive.

What to do next

In our Intentional Teams Framework, we recommend a number of team routines for checking in on how the team is working together. Those routines can be equally useful for marathon runners and sprinters.  What will be different will be the timing in how they each prepare to contribute to those routines.

For more information on Intentional Teams click here. Take this time to fill out the Big Tree Strategies team assessment, it will take you 2 minutes. It’ll show you where your team is starting from and give suggestions of what to do next to improve.

Sign up for our monthly newsletter (left-hand side of this page) which highlights one team performance tip – with actions you can take at your next team meeting to get further down the road to success. Here is a link to our latest issue:


Permalink to Five Ways to Increase Team Performance

Five Ways to Increase Team Performance

“Entropy is the natural tendency of a system to degrade over time”.  


Ever noticed how if you don’t use a piece of equipment for a while that it needs maintenance before it’ll work properly? This happened to me recently when I was using my bandsaw – turns out that the blade had begun rusting from disuse. As my father, a farmer, said to me: “Preventative maintenance beats fixing things”.

What’s Entropy Got to do With It?

Many teams bump along – team members work on their individual responsibilities and the overriding belief is that if everyone does their piece, the team will be successful. Our work with really successful teams shows that leaving success to chance is a poor strategy. Sometimes it can be striking how basic the preventative maintenance actions are to lift a team’s performance.

Here are some maintenance tips for you and your team:

1. Be uneasy

Complacency is easy to fall into. Successful teams know this and challenge the status quo, often. Teams that are students of themselves don’t accept that their current performance is predetermined; they engage in open dialogue about what is holding them back and what they should do to be more successful. Then they change something.

Hint: Assemble your team and ask a simple question such as “How can we improve as a team?”


2. Be compelled

A few years ago, we worked with a project team that was determined to improve its performance. We found that the most fundamental challenge they faced was that the team had multiple plans, while they all believed that there was only one plan. Once they consolidated all these plans a lot of their problems evaporated.

A team works in sync when it has a compelling reason to do so and a plan that everyone understands. The problem is that we often rely on our memory about the plan and don’t use it as a day-to-day tool to ensure continued alignment.

Hint: Conduct regular reviews of the plan. We recommend formal 90-day check-ins that combine a look back and a look forward where new elements are introduced to be worked on in the next three months.


3. Engage the right leadership gear

Leadership in a team is not about the team leader telling people what to do, or at least not all the time. Often, effective leadership is about standing back, coaching and encouraging team members to think situations through and determine what the best course of action is. It’s also often about encouraging team members to step up and be leaders themselves.

Hint: If you’re the team leader, hold back and challenge the team to find the answers to a problem. Let them plan a solution. Let them decide who will lead and who will help. Then support them to success.


4. Get better every day

We’ve observed many times that ideas from away seem more credible than the ones made at home. This often plays out when a team ignores a suggestion from a team member who might say: “In a previous life we had a problem like this and this is what we did…” The team has two options at that point – either gloss over the experience of the team member or stop and do a deep dive to really understand what can be learned from that story.

Hint: Mine the knowledge and experience on your team. Encourage team members to tell stories from their past that are relevant to the situation at hand – then look for the wisdom in the anecdote and see if it can be used in your team.


5. Build a trust wall

Nothing erodes performance more than a lack of trust. Why would I exert myself and take a risk to offer an idea or insight if I don’t trust that my contribution will be listened to and treated with respect? Why would I volunteer my energy and time if I didn’t trust that others will join me in changing something important to us as a team? A team with a strong wall of trust has the basis for building other elements of its success.

Hint: Build a habit in your team of carrying through on commitments to each other. Acknowledge success. Reinforce actions that demonstrate trust in the team. Put team members together so that they can build a track record of doing what they say they will. By being trustworthy, we become trusted.

Entropy is inevitable but not irreversible in a team. Keep working on the health of the team and performance will improve.

One good way to increase your team’s performance is to know where you’re starting from. Take our no-obligation team assessment and find out how best to start on the road to a high performing team. click here to get started.



Permalink to 5 Tips to Improve the Mood of Your Team

5 Tips to Improve the Mood of Your Team

Is your team in a bad mood?

Do you ever find yourself in a team meeting and everyone seems to be critical or cranky or the opposite of creative? When no matter what you do, someone is unhappy or tuned out? When you dream of calling the meeting police and have someone booked for obstruction?

It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are ways to get prompt changes to the dark cloud over your team meeting.

Five Quick Fixes for Immediate Improvement

  1. Call for a break… If everyone’s been sitting for too long, you all may need to call for a break and deliberately move around, maybe even outside. Change it up. Maybe you need to get a piece of fruit or drink some juice or go for a walk. Change your kinetic energy. Ask everyone to do that and meet back inside in 20 minutes ready to tackle one more issue.
  2. Call for a process check… Are you pushing for a decision when proper notice wasn’t given or the right people haven’t been consulted? Was the item on the agenda only supposed to be brought forward for discussion? Good process, good decisions, bad process, bad decisions. Remind people or question them about what the process is and what it should be.
  3. Call out the elephant… Is there one thing that the team has been tiptoeing around that is holding you back? Is there a problem with someone in the room? Do you actually have the time/energy/budget for the issue at hand? Is the problem you are trying to solve something that customers don’t care about? Name the issue and see the relief as everyone stops wasting energy on avoiding the elephant.
  4. Call on the team to do something different… When you are blocked on an issue, especially if it’s at the end of the day, sometimes it’s good to put it off until you’ve slept on it, particularly if you are meeting again the next day. Sometimes, sleeping on an issue gives new perspectives. Also, ask the team what issue, if solved, would most clear the path for solving other issues. When we are stressed, solving or getting some progress on the most stressful issue can be really helpful.
  5. Call on the team to create success by picking low-hanging fruit… If your team is trying to pick an issue to solve, look at the easy ones first. It may be that an early experience of success will give your team the energy to solve a more difficult issue next.


Improving your team performance doesn’t have to be a complex project. For more on these and other team routines that create success and clear the “bad mood” of your team, learn about Intentional Teams, our signature methodology that has helped many organizations improve their team performance.

Each month, in our newsletter we provide actionable tips you can try at your next team meeting. Join today and start the journey to  increase your team’s performance. Click here:


Permalink to Biting Your Way to Greatness – Does It Work?

Biting Your Way to Greatness – Does It Work?

Like millions of others, I watched Louis Suarez bite Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini during a 2014 World Cup match. I, for one, was convinced he did try to take a chunk out of Chiellini’s shoulder and that he should have been disciplined for doing so. The purpose and rules of football clearly state that you and your team should try to annihilate the opposing team, using a ball, not your incisors.

This got me thinking… Is it ever appropriate that a member of a team resorts to ‘rogue’ behaviour, even if the team benefits from that behaviour? All teams have members who sit somewhere on the spectrum of Ultimate Team Player to Lone Wolf. All teams have members whose behaviour at times make us wince. What defines unacceptable behaviour? What if that behaviour enables the team?

Teams need clear rules

It comes down to the rules of the game. Some teams (anti-terrorist SWAT units, for example) are required to to act with a high degree of autonomy in a fluid and quickly changing situation. Even here, though, members of the unit, while highly trained and intelligent, have to keep the aim of the mission and the the overall rules of engagement in mind as they operate. While members are chosen for traits such as self-reliance and independence, they are expected to abide by Standard Operating Procedures. Checks and balances exist to encourage sufficient independent decision making within a clear framework that is constantly reinforced through rigorous training.

In business, biting is bad. And yet, in some teams (think sales, for example) it seems inevitable at times. The inducement of individual compensation for individual effort is often the standard and this drives individual behaviour accordingly. Is this actually a team, where cooperation is rewarded? If so, the team leader has to create the conditions where team members can balance individual performance with team based initiatives (cross-selling of services, team ‘ownership’ of the client relationship, for example). Once again, the rules of the game have to be clear and reinforced.

FIFA made a call on Suarez’s fate – he missed the next nine games. FIFA was quoted as saying: “Such behaviour cannot be tolerated on any football pitch, and in particular not at the World Cup, where the eyes of millions of people are on the stars in the field.” 

This begs the question: If the eyes of millions were not on the game, would Suarez’s action have been any more acceptable? The credibility of football and teamwork were on the line. If biting is acceptable, then any player may be the next one bitten.

Is there “biting” on your team? Take a stand. Deal with it.

If you lead a team or are on a team where there is “biting” behaviour and you’d like some guidance on how to deal with it, please contact us via phone or email. We’ve got experience with this type of team dynamic and can work with you to get the situation resolved.


Permalink to Walls or windmills – how do you react to change?

Walls or windmills – how do you react to change?

There is an old Chinese proverb, for which the English equivalent reads

When the wind of change blows, some build walls, while others build windmills.

Reacting to Change

Photograph by Penny Richardson, all rights reserved, used by permission.

Flexible leaders don’t build walls to keep the change out, they build windmills to take advantage of the change and generate power. Being a flexible leader is one of the key principles of Intentional Leadership. One of our clients was working on a large project for one of their clients. Their client had been going through a lot of change with its South American parent. When the project had first started out, both parties would have characterized the nature of their transactions as largely based on goodwill and a handshake.

Change happens all the time

Then the pendulum swung in the other direction – everything had to be documented and seven or eight levels of approvals were required for even very small amounts of expenditures. This frustrated everyone involved. The downside for this was that some of the staff at our client tended to complain loudly about the approvals and the extra documentation. And their client used their documentation requirements to shield them from accountability in making progress on the project. Both sides were pointing fingers and playing the blame game… a classic wall that kept out progress. We worked with the combined team to figure out how they could make windmills out of this change. Our client and their client came together to make sense of this and to generate some mutual power so that the time it took to get the approvals wouldn’t hold up the work. We helped them understand from each other what was negotiable and what was not.

Change affects your team

It required everyone to be flexible,  to be willing to see beyond the detail of procedures and approvals and to keep a keen eye on the overall objective. All parties had to become more open – our client had to step up its game in documentation and their client had to become a little more cooperative instead of using their requirement for documentation in a punitive way.

Do you make walls or windmills? Are you a Flexible Leader? Do you adapt to change so that everyone has more power?

For more information on how your team can weather change and generate creative power, contact either co-founder of Big Tree Strategies, Bill or Esther or send an email to our concierge [concierge at] to explain your needs and see if there is something we could help with.

We have other examples of clients we’ve helped here and here.

Permalink to The Team’s Got to Win

The Team’s Got to Win

“As long as there are games to play it is not over.”
Sir Alex Henderson


Sir Alex Henderson, the Manager of Manchester United football club from 1986 to 2013 is reputed have been a bad loser. More than that, it’s reported he had barely controlled temper and struck terror into his opponents. He also used humour, recognized talent and extolled the virtues of hard work to his players. It worked, apparently – United won the English title 13 times.

An intense desire to win is a strong feature of many successful leaders. It binds the team together and defines the size of the stakes of the game. However, the desire to win must be supported by a compelling story and the ability to tell the story.

My team must win

A project leader we worked with, whose team was sinking a mine shaft as part of building a new mine, defined his winning with the statement: “We will be sinking two shafts to over 3000 metres. It will take more than 18 months, working every day, every week, every month. Here are three metrics you must keep in mind: We must achieve six meters a day, every day, every week, every month. We must do this without injuring a single person. And we must do this within the agreed budget.” They did it.

Leaders have to be many things but more than anything else, they must have the conviction that the team can (and must) win. This must be supported by a single-minded story that describes the finish line and paints a picture the team can grasp and work towards.

Some practices great leaders use with their teams:

  • Choose a Winning Measure – The human brain seems to be wired for three’s. We can remember them and three doesn’t overload our ability to understand the interrelationship between the three items. That are your team’s three key measures? Choose them, explain them and stick to them.
  • Find the Story – We all need a good story. Take the three measures and build them into a story that touches the team members in the heart and the mind. Explain why the work of the team is important. Be clear about what winning looks like, tastes like, sounds like. For the mining team the balance of productivity (six meters a day) needed to be balanced with zero-harm safety and working within a clear budget.
  • Tell the Story – Do it over and over again. Tell it new members of the team. Make it a slogan and a tagline for emails. Get the team to tell the story to each other, to customers and partners. Review the story in weekly meetings and link it how the team is progressing. Internalize it. Then live it.

So, what’s your ‘six-meters-a-day’?

We can help. The work we do with leaders and teams helps them clarify what winning looks like and how to create the story. While you’re here, why not take a few minutes and do a team assessment to find out what may help your team win. Contact us today for this and other team-related questions.


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