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.



Permalink to I have a new team to manage – what should I do first?

I have a new team to manage – what should I do first?

Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success. – Henry Ford.

New Team, What do I do?

One of my clients, a manager named Isaac, was to be put in charge of a new team and he asked me how I could help him to get the team up and being productive together quickly.

Isaac had been named the new manager of this sales team but it would be six weeks before he would take over.  So he had some time to plan for this.

We suggested that he ask the team a key question ahead of time and facilitated a kick-off team retreat at which they did some planning. The first question he asked was:

What information do you, the team, need to know about me?

I suggested that he ask this question and use the responses to prepare some information about himself that he would share with them. The principle was that to trust him, they had to begin to know him.

Isaac was really surprised at some of the questions the team asked him. He had expected that they would ask him about his work experience. And they did:

Had he always been in sales?

(No, he had had strong hopes as he graduated from college that he would get a technology job but while at university, he’d had a summer job in sales at the telephone company and it turned out he had a knack for it)

Had he ever experienced real disappointment in his work?

(Yes, he’d applied for a job in the technology department of the  telephone company and they had a lot of stronger candidates so he didn’t get the role.)

But they also wanted to know:

Where had he been born?

(Halifax, Nova Scotia)

Did he have siblings?


What did he do for fun outside work?

(He was a good amateur photographer and he had a small sideline taking pictures at weddings which had started when his sister had gotten married and their photographer had cancelled. From there, her friends had asked him to do it, he enjoyed it and so this sideline had just bloomed.)

Then I worked with him to create a design for the retreat where he would get some further answers. They would start with some discussion topics that they would share with each other. The day dawned for the retreat. Everyone was excited and curious about the retreat and how it would go. He  began with some opening remarks and then we got the group talking:

For each individual, what were they most proud of in any area of their life?

(This helped him get to know them as well as helping them to get to know each other better – again, this built trust.)

What had been their best experience as a team – what was the experience that they had enjoyed the most where they had been the most challenged, appreciated, trusted, or respected?

(This would help them visualize the ideal team when they came to make decisions about how they wanted to work together.)

What conditions had made that teamwork possible?

and then I asked the whole group:

Thinking about the team today, what are the strengths that are operating?

Strengths they mentioned included:

An ability to be honest with each other about challenges that the team was facing

A sense of humour

Playing together when the work was done

A shared commitment to the team’s mandate

Next, we asked the team what could work better in terms of how they had worked together in the past. We asked, Knowing what the strengths of the team were, how could they work even better together?

They identified a few of the challenges:

On a couple of occasions, when most of the team had finished their work, a couple of individuals still had work to finish but the rest of the team went out to celebrate anyway

Some team members didn’t share credit for the successes with senior management

When mistakes were made, fingers got pointed and blame was assigned

Finally, we asked them how the team would work ideally in the future. And we asked them to create a picture – one where every member of the team put markers to the paper – and to put all the details in. (The key was not for them to try to be artists but to get all the elements of great teamwork up in some way on their paper.)

Then, looking at the picture, we asked them to imagine how they got there. What were the steps the team could take to achieve the best of what was in the picture? Together they created a great set of action plans to get to where they wanted to be as a team.

They would still have to put in some work from time to time to check in on how well they were living up to this ideal. But having laid the foundation for it, they were ready to tackle their work together and Isaac’s team was well on its way to beginning to work together successfully.

Permalink to Performance – Do I train people, change them out or something else?

Performance – Do I train people, change them out or something else?

One of our clients is wrestling with a performance issue. He wants a higher level of performance from his geographically distributed sales and service managers.
He wants to train them more; we wonder if that’s going to do the trick. We think that there are several elements he should be thinking of:

Are they in the right roles?

Often people are hired or transferred into a role that simply doesn’t suit them. They have the skills but not the temperament; the flexibility but not the interpersonal skills.

The temptation to knee-jerk the person out the door is strong. The problem is that you may be wrong. What if you experimented and moved them into another role for a while and tested if they are more effective? It can be eye opening as one client found out – a ‘trouble maker’ in one situation has become a star when moved into a new role. And they were that close to firing the person.

 Do they have the right systems and tools to be effective?

All too often a performance problem is blamed on the individual. However, when you look a little deeper, you find that the person has been set up to fail – the system they were working in held them back.
One client let a senior account manager go because of the loss of a customer. The truth was that the CEO and Executive Team were just as complicit in the poor communication and client management as this manager; it didn’t suit them to look the whole picture and he took the fall.

Does training work?

If the training is supported by practical tools and accountability tracking then it can be embedded. The trouble is that training is often seen as the cure-all. It’s rather like prescribing an exercise regime to an overweight person and then not ensuring they workout every day.

To borrow from Edward Deming: Plan what you want; Do what you planned; Check on how you did; Act on what you learned and make the necessary changes.

  • What performance do you want? Be clear.
  • Agree what the performance improvement plan will be.
  • Implement the entire plan, not just the training component.
  • Provide specific feedback and assess how the person did.
  • Make changes, raise the performance bar and try again.

We think that our client should look at the entire performance picture. Train if you must, but make sure that the people have the right systems and tools to help them be successful. Then, perhaps, you won’t have to train at all.

Permalink to Accountable Leaders

Accountable Leaders

The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed. It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. It becomes the throned monarch better than his throne.

I had to memorize this in my grade nine English class. My teacher, Mrs. Bakke, was a strong believer in the value of committing famous texts to memory. Of course we were all in doubt at the time but now I realize how wise she was for this passage became a sort of talisman for me, reminding me of the importance of compassion.

These days, in business, there is a lot of talk about productivity and bottom line and results and those are certainly important. Leaders certainly need to hold themselves accountable for these things. But that focus addresses the what of the leader’s role. What about the how?

A results and bottom line focus without compassion or mercy is a pretty cold dish served up and while it may yield short-term results, it doesn’t always lead to long-term health of an organization.

We had a client who faced the difficult challenge of how to deal with an employee who was no longer measuring up. The employee had been promoted by another senior leader who had since left the organization. Our client inherited this employee on their team and under this new management, the employee had really failed to deliver the key results that were core to their job. However, this employee was also very well liked by other employees and had, according to other leaders in the business, delivered in a previous role at a high quality of business. And the employee, a middle manager, had been with the organization for almost 20 years.

What to do? Our client called on us and asked our advice. Our client’s primary concern was to do the right thing. But the right thing is not always obvious. What was the right thing here? And for whom? For the leader? For the employee? For the organization?

We worked with the client and the employee to analyze the situation. We provided 360-degree feedback assessment to ensure that data was collected from a number of different people with whom this employee interacted. We analyzed the context in which the employee was working and the skills that they employee already had. We came up with a coaching plan and worked with the employee to set some goals. Ultimately the employee asked for a transfer to another department where they could return to a version of the previous role. Our client helped make that transfer happen.

The results? An employee was saved from dismissal with his dignity intact, the organization was saved from an expensive buyout and morale and productivity went up on the team when they saw how compassionately the senior leader had dealt with the issue.

In this case, neither the quality of mercy nor the quality of leadership was strained.




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