Permalink to Heaven Or Hell? The Open Plan Office

Heaven Or Hell? The Open Plan Office

Open Plan Office

How an open plan office can help make teams more effective.

The open plan office can be a source of great frustration. Although some people seem to love working in this kind of office setup – it favours the gregarious and highly social. Others, find this environment noisy and distracting and hard to concentrate. But it can be really useful in putting teams together.

The problem

One of our clients took a novel approach to getting two parts of the finance group to work better together. Our client, Alex, was aware that his two finance teams, planning and analysis and financial reporting, were not working as well together as they could. His two direct reports, Jorge and Romana were polite but distant and their teams took their cues from them. Alex wanted them to really understand each other more and collaborate.

Jorge, manager of financial reporting, was conscientious and careful, ensuring that his team’s data was accurate and timely and reflected fairly the financial picture of the organization. He was passionate about ensuring the organization’s assets were well looked after.

Romana, manager of financial analysis, understood the need for accurate data but where Jorge’s role ended, hers began. To her, it felt like a constant battle to get the data soon enough to be able to do useful and timely analysis for the executives so that they could run the business better. She saw Jorge as unnecessarily rigid and jealous of his territory and while she understood his point about accuracy, she didn’t understand why he was so difficult.

Closed Doors

Both managers tended to work with their doors closed and only talked to each other when absolutely necessary. Their teams communicated but Alex was convinced that they actually felt guilty about it and tried not to do it in front of the managers.

We suggested that he try an experiment to force the issue.  Alex set up a meeting with his two managers to lay out the issues as he saw it. First he asked them to listen without interrupting. He described what he had been seeing in their behaviour. He talked about the negative impact it was having on their staff, on him, on the work and even on the senior executive team. Then he shared his solution, admitting that it was unorthodox but letting them know that he wanted them to give it a chance. He was going to mix up the two teams and the managers and have them all sit out in the bullpen. The two managers were going to vacate their offices and sit in the open space with their teams. He was going to have the two offices reorganized as small meeting spaces so that if private conversations had to happen, they could.

Then he told them what he wanted to see. He wanted to see one finance team that was open, friendly and collaborative. He wanted Jorge and Romana and their teams to work together respectfully and have each other’s back. And to cement this, there would be a joint team meeting, facilitated by alternating managers (Jorge one week and Romana the next) to discuss the work and take suggestions from the team on how things could work better. Alex suggested that they would try it for three months, after which they would take stock and decide what to do next.

Open Plan

Then he asked them what they would each need to make the two teams work as one. To Alex’s surprise, both Jorge and Romana admitted that they had been stuck in a rut with each other. Jorge asked for more respect for his processes and his passion for accuracy. Romana agreed but asked him if he would be open looking for shortcuts in his quarter end close that would allow her team to begin the analysis earlier. Both agreed.  Romana asked him if he would like to co-present some of the analysis with her the next time.

At the end of the three months the full teams met to discuss the pros and cons of the arrangement.


  1. The teams said that they had found it easier to communicate when Romana and Jorge were willing to work together
  2. As the trust between Romana and Jorge went up, the team members were able to relax and have more fun
  3. They learned more about each other’s roles and responsibilities and the Monday morning meetings had led to some improvements in how both teams did their work
  4. The fact that Romana and Jorge had taken turns leading their Monday morning meetings meant that everyone felt able to make suggestions about any part of the work… they were more creative as well
  5. When a crisis arose, they worked together to solve it and the solutions came faster.
  6. As the trust between Jorge and Romana went up, the trust in them from the senior executives rose as well. Alex’s boss complimented him on how he had gotten them to work better together.


  1. It was much more noisy with all the people working on the phones around each other.
  2. They were more open to distraction as people tended to get involved in conversations out in the open and others joined in but they agreed in one of their Monday meetings, that such conversations should take place in the small offices.

The dynamics of the team were more effective as they began to understand each other. Romana and Jorge elected to go back to their offices at the end of the three months but they kept the regular Monday morning joint team meetings and they instituted a regular Monday lunch, just the two of them.  Alex’s boss told him he was a star for solving what had become a sticky issue.

We can help. The work we do with leaders and teams helps them clarify what effective communication looks like and how to use it to help your company. 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.



Permalink to Killing a Virtual Team

Killing a Virtual Team

“The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.”
-Babe Ruth

A colleague of ours is part of a virtual team spread across North America. This teams is, for the most part, successful. It uses online tools to communicate and is successful in the market place. However, it has one large blind spot – it’s annual face-to-face conference – is a waste of time and money. The key failings of the most recent annual meeting were:

  • More planning was put into the meals and team building fun night than for the meeting itself
  • The meeting agenda was not adhered to
  • Strong personalities took over the meeting and had a conversation between themselves
  • The leaders didn’t seem committed to the meeting – they kept coming and going

The Economist Intelligence Unit reports that in 2009 more than 50% of the organizations it polled have virtual teams doing important work. The EIU also reports that “…good management is the not norm in virtual working.”

Have we forgotten how to behave when we are together? Do the disciplines of effective team performance escape when we are not used to being with each in the same room? Does multi-tasking become the default, distracting us from listening and contributing in a productive way?

Teams need to be self-aware and the leaders of virtual teams should be extra vigilant about their own behaviour and that of others so that all meetings are productive.

Here are some strategies for getting a virtual team back on track and more intentional:

  1. Be clear about the Return on Investment (ROI). Meetings are expensive. Why would you not consider the return that you get on the investment? Be clear about what the purpose of the meeting is, what the agenda will contain and how you will measure the outcome of the meeting.
  2. Hire a professional facilitator. Having a professional help you design and manage the meeting releases the team leader and members to get on and think about the content of the meeting. The facilitator will ensure you have a productive agenda laid out and will keep everyone engaged. The meeting will be more productive and focused.
  3. Separate social time from work time. The team’s meeting is a business meeting. It must be focused, professional and well managed. The social time can be whatever you want it to be, but don’t let it bleed into the business meeting.

We can help. Call us if your virtual team needs a refocus or if your processes are holding your team from performing at its best.

Permalink to Does Your Board Listen?

Does Your Board Listen?

“It’s as simple as this. When people don’t …feel like they’ve been listened to, they won’t really get on board.”

―Patrick Lencioni,
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

Do people on your board really listen to each other? And does everyone feel listened to or is there anyone on your board that doesn’t really get heard? Boards have some of the same needs as teams as you will see in this example.

Assessing The Team

We were asked to work with a board of a health charity. It was the time in the planning cycle for the board to think about risks, assess the size and probability of things going wrong and to propose mitigation strategies.

In terms of teamwork, in this board, they had two issues: the first issue was that they had an experienced board member whose style was like a steam-roller, and the second issue was that they had no organized way to integrate a new board member, nor any awareness of its importance.  They had Susan (the steam-roller), who thought that she really knew all of what was going on and who spoke up the most often in the board meetings. She argued with anyone who disagreed with her and many on the board got into the habit of just letting her have her way because it took so much energy to tangle with her.

Janet was the new member of the board. She had come to the board role with really good experience in another sector and was feeling her way in this one. Consequently she hung back trying to get a handle on the board’s work. She hadn’t really sufficiently developed her relationships and knowledge of the health sector to feel comfortable voicing her unease with Susan’s solution.

The Problem

One day, a problem arose. A client had come forward to complain about one of the doctors who had been volunteering in the charity’s medical clinic. This client had accused the doctor of malpractice. The doctor has been associated with the charity for fifteen years and was someone Susan admired very much. Susan was proposing that the board didn’t have to think do anything about this. She vouched for the doctor.

Janet wasn’t at all sure that Susan’s approach was the right approach. What if the client was right? What if it turned out this was just the first of many complaints that surfaced and it becamse known that the board had decided to do nothing? She was convinced that Susan was overlooking a real risk to the organization. She asked questions about the review process undertaken when complaints like this were received. Who was involved? A team of medical staff from the clinic? Human Resources? The board’s errors and omissions insurance advisor? She shared some of her experience from a different board on which she had served. None of the board members seemed to want to go against Susan however and the board voted to do nothing. Janet informed the board that this meant that she would have to step down.

The Outcome

It appeared later, that Janet had been right. This was the first of a number of complaints and the doctor, ultimately, was forced to resign. When this came to the courts, the judge was very critical of the charity’s board when it became clear that the board had no normal process of review of complaints and that it did not live up to its duty of care to the charity’s clients.

An ideal situation for a board should have active participation, not passive support for decisions it takes.

Common Board Situations

What about your board? Have you had a similar situation? Do board members listen to each other? Do they draw out and encourage the quieter team members to contribute their ideas? Do you as chair of the board, defer to your louder board members? Do you have a process of review of complaints that come to you about staff and volunteers?

Five quick tips to help alleviate this sort of situation:

  1. Devil’s Advocate: When you have someone who is strongly advocating and not listening, invite someone else to play devil’s advocate. It will get another perspective to be represented in the room.
  2. The Power of Fresh Thinking: Never discard a new board member’s ideas without exploring them thoroughly in a non-judgemental fashion. Inquire into the basis for their point of view. They may in fact be seeing things that you are not because they are new.
  3. Control the Air Time: A good chair insists that all board members have equal voice time and not give a steam-roller free reign.
  4. Encourage the Quiet Ones: If you haven’t heard from someone in the meeting for a while, ask them explicitly for their point of view.
  5. Consider Stepping Down from the Chair:If the chair is passionate about the issue under debate, a smart chair might consider appointing someone else to chair the meeting for this item.

Permalink to The Power Of Teamwork – Jimmy Rollins

The Power Of Teamwork – Jimmy Rollins

Jimmy Rollins, a professional baseball player (shortstop) for the Philadelphia Phillies talks in this video about why teamwork is so powerful and why it matters. He’s been working tirelessly to improve his baseball club’s performance through teamwork.

Permalink to Team Spring Cleaning

Team Spring Cleaning

Team Spring Cleaning

In many parts of North America, spring is creeping up on us. Astronaut, Chris Hadfield (retired Canadian astronaut who was the first Canadian to walk in space), said that from space, almost daily it was possible to track the progress of spring as the planet moved on its axis and the sun’s warmth crept north.

When I think of spring, I think of spring flowers and fresh scents. I also think of spring cleaning. In my mother’s youth, spring cleaning involved washing all the bed linens and hanging them out to dry outside on the line for the first time so that when you brought them in, they had this wonderful clean scent. It also involved taking an inventory of rips or worn holes that would have to be repaired so that they would last another year.

Spring cleaning also makes me think of teams involved in important work, taking the time to do their own inventory of what state the team is in, what habits they have that need to be amended or changed and what relationship repairs may need to be undertaken so that the fresh scent of effectiveness and trust can arise in all its interactions.

Five tough questions to ask yourself about your team:

  1. When you think of your own team, what comes to mind?
  2. Is this the very best team you’ve ever been on or does it falter at times?
  3. Is the level of trust very high or could it be repaired?
  4. Are your stakeholder relationships solid and empowering or do you need a plan to improve them?
  5. Does your team have good self-management routines that ensure that your plans don’t fall through the cracks, that you are tracking your progress and that you are continually learning together?

We can help. Think of us as providing mechanisms for continual spring cleaning. Assess your team with our free team assessment by clicking here. Or contact us by phone, or email


Permalink to How to improve your team’s performance by 40%

How to improve your team’s performance by 40%

Intentional Teams™ Deliver an Additional 40% of Efficiency

How to improve team performance by 40%

We started out by asking:

  • If you had a piece of equipment that was only working at 60% capacity, wouldn’t you fix it?
  • And, if you had a team that was full of excellent people but together they only worked at 60% effectiveness, wouldn’t you do something to improve it?

And many people could relate to that. They could see how having a team work at only 60% capacity would be frustrating and an erosion of high potential.

Then one of our clients said to us, “My board doesn’t understand what a team working at higher than 60% capacity actually looks like. They don’t feel the advantage in their gut. Help me persuade them.”

And so, began the journey to describe in clear, everyday language, the 40% difference that comes from implementing Intentional Teams™.

The 7 characteristics of  an intentional team:

  1. More rewarding: Our research shows when a team is intentionally focused and consciously and deliberately managing its culture, its members have a work experience they wish to duplicate wherever they go.
  2. Lower turnover: In a team that is intentional, its members don’t wish to leave. Individuals experience personal satisfaction and group cohesion.
  3. Higher engagement: Intentional teams are full of people who are more highly engaged, involved, satisfied employees, working on important work and passionate about the team’s success.
  4. A shared understanding: One of the features of an intentional team working at high capacity is that they have a shared understanding of the focus of its work together and the key priorities that the team must achieve.
  5. Self-correcting: Even an intentional team can get slightly off the rails with distractions or conflicts. However its members know how to name the issue or distraction and have an agreed process for dealing with it.
  6. Have each other’s back: In an intentional team, its members look out for each other and if one has an issue, they all tackle the issue if necessary to help solve problems and to support each other.
  7. Pulling in the same direction: The team members have the same understanding of the key results they need to achieve and they are getting there with a minimum of fuss.

Intentional Teams are great places to work and can make the difference between success and failure in critical work. One of our client teams was full of individual high performers but together they were not impressive. They were each pulling in different directions, lacked trust and had a culture of blame when errors were made. When two team members each assumed the other was informing a key stakeholder, the ball was dropped and the key stakeholder was handed an unfortunate surprise with no warning. The stakeholder was fuming and the team realized they had to pull up their socks. We worked with the team and now this team is humming along in high gear. The stakeholder attended a progress review meeting facilitated by the team’s leader and at the end of it, agreed that the team had robust action plans in place to monitor their communications. “I feel I can trust that I’ll hear the honest news now, on a timely basis, and that they will come to me with a plan to deal with it.”

Do you have a team that is working at less than optimal capacity? To take our free assessment, click here.

If you’re not sure, let’s talk. Contact us here to find out more about how to create great teams, working at full capacity. We’re happy to help.

Permalink to Fast Teamwork

Fast Teamwork

Intentional Teams are everywhere. Here is an example of teamwork in action – this is the Ferrari F1 Pit Stop.

Permalink to Strategic Planning – Four Must-do’s for a Successful Planning Cycle

Strategic Planning – Four Must-do’s for a Successful Planning Cycle

“Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs”.
–Henry Ford

Four Musts for Planning Cycle

Goal Reset

Once a year, during a period that suits the company’s natural rhythm (for accounting firms, for example, nobody is focusing on anything other than client work from February to May) conduct a lessons learned and goal reset for the coming period. This activity may involve formal data gathering, inclusion of outside experts, restatement of vision and mission statements and other items fundamental to the organization’s positioning in the market place. This does not mean that they need to be reworked in their entirety – that depends on the judgement of the Executive and Board.

Action Planning

The bridge to strategic management is the regular updating of actions plans that support the strategic direction. This should not be signaled as extra work; instead it should be part of the management discipline of 30, 60, 90 day plans. Keeping planning to manageable chunks and checking on progress regularly allows for flexibility and small changes to direction.

Line of Sight to Personal Objectives

The continual and deliberate linkage of the action plans and personal objectives builds a sense of commitment to what the organization is attempting to do in the world.

One of the most effective examples we’ve seen was a vice president who created a small, professionally formatted work book for everyone in his organization. It was intended to give a direct connection between the goals, objective and metrics for the year and each employee’s personal objectives.

The booklet contained:

  • Vision and Values of the organization (provided by the organization)
  • Key Metrics for the year (provided by the organization)
  • Goals and Objectives for the year (developed by the leadership team)
  • Department Goals ( developed by the department)
  • Team Goals (developed by the team leaders and their teams)
  • Individual Team Member Goals (developed by the individual with input from the team leader and other team members)

Celebration & Accountability

Quarterly celebrations of success reinforce progress that is being made on the plan and communication of priorities on an ongoing basis. They also allow for reinforcement of accountability.


Permalink to Strategic Planning – Rethink the Planning Cycle

Strategic Planning – Rethink the Planning Cycle

A few years ago we worked with a business unit in a large bank to conduct their annual planning. As they arrived in the room one member of the team said “Ah, the planning game begins again.” When asked for an explanation, he said “Well, we all know the rules of the game. We’re expected to sand-bag our results to make them look like they’ll meet our ‘stretch goals’. Of course, we all know that the real goals are less than the stretch goals, so we have to make stuff up.”

With strategic planning, it’s easy to assume that forcing the process will still produce acceptable results. Frequently, planning is conducted according to the organization’s budget cycle and the calendar for planning is predetermined by finalizing financials and Board submissions.

An alternative to the budget lockstep is start earlier, or not ‘start’ at all. Consider instead the use of an 18-month rolling plan. The idea is firstly to uncouple the planning activity from the budget cycle and secondly to extend the horizon of the plan beyond a calendar year. In this way, the planning activity can be conducted based on another set of assumptions – what’s good for the enterprise, not what’s good for finance.

Of course, budgeting is still critical. The difference is that budgeting is part of the planning cycle; planning shouldn’t be part of the budgeting cycle.

Permalink to What kind of project team leader are you?

What kind of project team leader are you?


One man can be a crucial ingredient on a team, but one man cannot make a team.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbor

What Project Team Lead Are You?

There was a new team member coming… everyone knew it… the project had been failing and one day, the project leader, Sam, wasn’t there anymore.  When the team members asked around, they discovered that Sam had been transferred to another division.

Everyone knew that Sam had disagreed vociferously on more than one occasion with his boss, Joe. Also, Sam had never really wanted to hear bad news. When something wasn’t going well, he would lose his temper a bit and although he said he wanted to hear what was really happening, they found in practice that he would rather hear that everything was going well.

In fact, when Joe called the team together for a meeting to discuss the progress of the project, he implied as much, although he’d put a good face on it. Joe decided to talk about what made a good project leader and what made a good project team member. He said that there were ways to succeed and ways to fail. And that he wanted them to know how to succeed.

It’s important to work well with others

First he made sure that everyone understood that in order to succeed in this division, you had to be a good contributor and work well with others. The team members were a little nervous. “How will we manage without Sam?” one of them asked.

Joe reassured them. “One person doesn’t make a team,” he said, quoting one of his favourite management experts. “You are all good resources to this project. And yes, we will need another project leader and that has been taken care of. Joanne will be starting next week. But I expect you to support her and work to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Everyone must act as if they own the business

Joe went on to say that they would all need to step up and take ownership of the project’s purpose. Every one of you, he said, has an integral part to play in making this project happen and you shouldn’t lose sight of your own value to the project.

Be willing to hear bad news…

When Joanne arrived, she found that she had to encourage the team members to speak up. They were used to being discouraged from bringing bad news. A couple of times, she kept questioning until the bad news came out. Then she would comment, “Oh great. It’s important to know that. Now let’s work together to figure out how we can solve that problem.”

Facilitate and encourage others to open up

And she made a point of taking team members aside and complimenting them on their willingness to speak up.

“It means a lot to me,” she said, “That I know you will tell me if things aren’t working out. That means I can rely on you.”

How has the loss of a key team member impacted your work? What kind of team leader might you be – one who is indispensible and therefore holds back the other team members or one who is facilitative of others’ success? Let us know what you think.



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