Permalink to Limited resources? Design abundance yourself

Limited resources? Design abundance yourself

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

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

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

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

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

the goal

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

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

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

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

beautiful constraint

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

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

The central concepts of the A Beautiful Constraint are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read A Beautiful Constraint and see what you can change.


Permalink to Are you Succeeding? How do you know?

Are you Succeeding? How do you know?

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

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

1. Introduction

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

I suggested that we try a three-step approach:

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

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

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

Ready? Let’s go…

2. The Last 90-days

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

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

Aristotle would have been impressed, I’m sure.

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

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

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

3. The Improvement Journey

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

4. The Next 90-days

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

Individual plan

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

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

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


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


Permalink to 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 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 The Top 5 Ways to Improve Your Team’s Performance Mindset

The Top 5 Ways to Improve Your Team’s Performance Mindset

Power of the Pause

The pause is an often overlooked feature of team success. Here are the top five ways where pausing to reflect can improve the performance mindset of your project team:

  1. 90-Day Team Check-In
    Good team hygiene includes taking time every 90 days to reflect on progress and identify critical steps the team must take over the next 90 days to improve performance. Project teams often focus on doing the work at hand and not how they might continually improve how to do the work. These 90-day check-ins are a chance to reflect and improve how the members work as a team.
  2. Widening your margin of safety
    When project teams finish one activity, they must clean up after themselves. In a mining accident, a man tore his rotator cuff after slipping on snow covering a large sheet of metal that hadn’t been put away. The margin of safety had narrowed.
  3. Heightening Your Personal Awareness
    Buying time for a sensible second thought is an important element of a performance mindset. Knowing yourself and taking time to make a decision is a useful component for your toolkit.
  4. Pausing to Evaluate Options
    A reflective pause allows you to evaluate options. Ask yourself if an option meets both short-term and long-term requirements and what the consequences are of taking action or not taking it.
  5. The Gift of Time to Your Teammates
    The better the team members manage handoffs through jointly owned processes, the better the team manages time. Pausing to think about who needs to know your information, whom you should inform, and who has information that would help you, can all create time efficiencies for the team.

Time is common to all these stories. Take time to reflect and your project team will have a higher chance of success. Take time to be aware of your surroundings and your project team will be safer. Take time to prepare for things going wrong and your project team will be better able to respond to emergencies. Take time to reflect and share your reflections with the project team, and your project team will be more likely to continually improve.

We have several services to help teams and leaders significantly improve their performance. Contact Bill or Esther today for a no-obligation conversation to find out how their work could help your team.


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

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

Move the work forward

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

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

Forward thinking

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

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

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

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

5 Ways to hand over a project

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

Handover success

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

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

Permalink to 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 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.
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