Over-Collaboration: Solution #2: Better Skills and Behaviors

Our last newsletter gave you some questions to think about regarding planning and attending meetings and encouraged you to be more intentional. Our second solution is about skills and behaviors needed to avoid over-collaboration. Next week, our third solution will look at the role the organization plays in making collaboration work.
In our careers, we’ve likely learned many of the keys to effective collaboration: building trust, having diverse input, not being a control freak, and recognizing people’s contributions… among other things.
In a world where collaboration is increasingly necessary and pounded into us from all sides, it’s also likely that we’ve not learned the nuance of limiting and shaping collaboration so it doesn’t waste our most precious resource: our talent’s time.
Here are five skills and behaviors great leaders utilize for avoiding over-collaboration.
  1. They are goal-directed. The best collaborative leaders are overt about the who, what, where, why and when of collaboration.  Does our business strategy for this initiative require a great deal of collaboration? What does it look like… project assignments ?  Weekly meetings?  Or is regular reporting enough?  Do I need maximum collaboration with group A or person B now or only later in the project?  Great collaborators start by determining the outcome they are trying to achieve and then work backward, intentionally designing the collaborative elements of their project, initiative and working relationships.
  2. They define clear roles for each collaborator. Everyone involved needs to be able to answer ‘why am I here?’ At a minimum, they need to know the role they play in decision-making, including “final” decisions. One of the fastest ways to make people think that collaboration is a waste of time is when they have a different assumption about their role in decision-making than the leader or other stakeholders do. Transparency is critical.
  3. Each meeting has a purpose. We talked in the last newsletter about the sheer number of meetings on everyone’s calendar. Too often, the purpose of each meeting is not well defined but occurs because everyone has it on the calendar.  Great collaborators will tell you what outcome is expected from each meeting. They also run meetings effectively and efficiently.  And, if the meeting isn’t needed, they cancel it.
  4. Great collaborators facilitate conversations by asking the right questions. Meetings and conversations are decidedly two way. They lead the meeting and the collaboration process by asking open, thought-provoking questions not simply sharing information.  One of the questions they ask regularly is… “how well are we collaborating?”  Is everyone’s time well spent?  Can we do with fewer people, fewer meetings, or different collaborative methods?
  5. They promote constructive conflict. The power of collaboration comes from the diverse perspectives in the process. Great collaborators know that constructive conflict, focused on robust debate and deliberation, usually creates a superior result.  They also do not tolerate destructive conflict and they step in to stop it when they see it.  Importantly, they are also mindful that time constraints don’t allow for every voice to be heard on every topic.  They set expectations for debate and deliberation in advance.
Think about these five skills and behaviors.  Where are your strengths? Where are your development areas?  Choose one of your development areas. Identify two actions you’ll take to improve in that area. Let us know the results.

Over-Collaboration: Solution #1 – Be More Intentional About Meetings

Our last post talked about the problems of over-collaboration: wasted time, burn- out of some of your most valuable people, and decision/action bottlenecks.  Let’s start with something practical – smarter use of meetings as a collaborative tool. It’s not sexy, but it’s a solution that can save your team thousands of hours per month.

Most people don’t want to be viewed as un-collaborative or leaving someone out of the loop. Nor do we want to be left out of the loop ourselves.  And technology has made scheduling and accepting meetings incredibly efficient.  So, the meetings pile up.  I can’t tell you the number of leaders I’ve worked with who tell me how easy it is to accept invitations without really knowing what the meeting is all about.  Maybe they know it’s related to an important initiative, but they’re not sure exactly why they’re needed for the meeting.

So, the meeting goes on the calendar with all the others and the leader shows up.  By the time they’re questioning whether they really need to be there, it’s often too difficult to extract oneself.  So they’ve wasted 30 minutes or an hour, and they’ve wasted time physically or mentally coming and going to the meeting.  What really matters about this?  There’s the opportunity cost of not being able to tackle higher priority items.

The first solution to over-collaboration is to be intentional when planning, accepting and running meetings.

  • Determine if you really need to meet. Does every one of your meetings have a clear purpose and intended results? Do you really need to meet every week? Every month?  Can you cut the meeting from 60 to 30 minutes?  If it’s just to share information or it’s a low value meeting that seems more habitual than helpful, get rid of it altogether.
  • Be a better meeting leader.  How organized are you?  Consider must-have versus nice-to-have agenda items.  Set expectations and put targeted time limits on the agenda items.  Are you managing the discussion?  Is the person who always talks forever encouraged to get to the point?  Fight the “collaborative” urge to hear what every single person has to say on every single topic.  Do you know how to artfully table an item when you don’t have the right information or the right people at the table to make a decision?
  • When you’re planning your meetings, think about each person you are inviting. Why do they need to be there?  Do they have critical information? Are they needed to make a decision?  Are they there only for internal political reasons?  Are you making an intentional decision to include them or are they invited because they’ve always been at this type of meeting in the past?  Talk with them and encourage them to speak about whether this is a good use of their time.
  • Don’t make attendance all or nothing.  Can one person represent one or more additional people at the meeting?  Can some people be invited only for certain meetings or segments of meetings?  Maybe they can dial in or show up at a specific time.  If you only need me for 10 minutes of a 60-minute meeting, that’s 50 minutes I can spend on other pressing matters.
  • Be intentional when you receive a meeting invitation.  Ask yourself the following questions:  Why am I invited to this meeting? What value will I add to the meeting and the organization’s goals by attending? What will my role be?  Is this an opportunity for someone else on my team?
  • Give yourself and others permission to say no. Too often we feel like we can’t decline a meeting invitation.  It means we aren’t a ‘team player.’ Permit yourself and others to decline meetings.  Teach people how to say no effectively and respect it what someone else says no.  Executives who lead by example can create a culture that makes it acceptable, even desirable to limit how many people attend how many meetings.

Look at the meetings on your calendar over the course of the next month.  Which can you decline going forward?  Which can you delegate to a team member?  Are there some you can attend only part of?

Let’s say you remove just 3 meetings per week for a total savings of 120 minutes, which equates to 8 hours per month.  Now multiply that times the number of people on your team… or by the number of people in your company.  How many hours do you come up with?

What’s the value of hundreds or thousands of hours per quarter better spent on addressing your business challenges?  What’s the value of collaborating more intentionally?

Collaborate The Right Way and Free Up 20% More Time

Collaboration is a great thing. It brings together diverse perspectives and experiences, helps us generate new ideas and can create breakthrough results. In highly matrixed organizations it seems to be just about the only way to get things done. As a matter of fact, research says collaboration has increased by more than 50% over the past 20 years.

Great, right? Actually, it’s not so great. Too many of us are collaborating too much and in the wrong ways. We see 5 key risks from too much collaboration.  Which of these are familiar to you?

  • Time sinks: Highly collaborative environments create a lot of extra meetings, phone calls and emails – which eat up a lot of time. One HBR article says that we’re spending about 80% of our time on these three activities.
  • Burn out: The good news is your highest collaborators – your uber-collaborators – can drive team performance more than all other team members combined. The bad news is people seen as the best sources of information and in the highest demand as collaborators have the lowest engagement and career satisfaction scores. They are at higher risk to leave, taking valuable knowledge and experience with them.
  • Bottlenecks: Uber-collaborators can become seemingly indispensable to different groups or projects. Work just can’t get done and decisions aren’t made without their participation, insights and perspectives. They can then become decision or workflow bottleneck, as well.
  • Poorer work quality and speed. Multiple studies show that both suffer when people over-collaborate. But super high levels of collaboration have become the norm and it’s hard to see the forest for the trees on quality and speed.
  • Too few doing too much. Collaboration isn’t spread around enough. Up to 35% of value added collaboration comes from 5% of employees. 20% of your “star” performers are among your worst collaborators, i.e., they aren’t getting their results by collaborating. Only 50% of your top performers are also top collaborators.
What to do? Our next 3 articles will answer that question and give you new ideas on digging yourself out of these collaboration pitfalls.
Fenway Park

What can the Red Sox Teach Us About Winning? Sweat the Small Stuff!

It’s early in the baseball season and hopes are running high. The Red Sox have a lot of great talent on the team. There should be a lot of wins this year. What can the Sox teach us about winning?

I hear what you’re saying. We’re not the Red Sox. Sports teams aren’t like most organizations… or are they? Talent is everything for them, right? But how many times have we seen teams spend big money on great talent only to have a dismal season because of bad morale, poor coaching, or unexpected changes drive them off course?

A few weeks ago, Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated, wrote about how the Red Sox have ‘Culture Culture’ meetings during spring training. The article reinforces what we believe. A winning culture doesn’t just happen. Being intentional and sweating the small stuff – the right small stuff – is what creates it.

Building a great team starts with being intentional about hiring great talent but it doesn’t stop there. Without the right culture, even great talent will underperform much of the time.

The talent in the majors is of course the best baseball talent around. They all have spring training to get ready for the season. Think of it as onboarding. All teams work on the fundamentals during spring training but the Sox and some other teams, intentionally focus on culture – and the details that build it. For example, the idea of each person contributing to the team is paramount to Red Sox culture. So, in spring training when reviewing game films, they don’t just call out the highlight reel moments. They call out moments like running out a play to make it to first or an at bat that sets up the next batter to drive in a crucial run. They’ve taken the concept of team and defined the behaviors that represent it. Has your organization done the same?

They also make culture building a habit. They’ve created a short-hand language that allows them to talk about the successes and failures on the field in real-time. Everyone on the team knows what a right-handed fist pump means vs a left-handed one. What key words or phrases are you using as “short-hand”? Is using them a habit? What other culture building habits do you have?

In winning cultures, everyone has the opportunity to reach their potential. The Red Sox have one of the youngest teams in baseball. Back in the day, young ball players

We All Have Biases

biasThe events of the past few months have put bias or potential bias front and center in the American consciousness.  In its extreme, bias becomes an -ism.  Absolutism. Sexism. Racism. Agism. Name your -ism. These extremes can lead to discrimination, fear and, at times, tragedy.  We have seen this with our own eyes too many times.

Before we say, I’m not a biased person, stop.  The truth is we all have biases.  It’s part of being human.  They can be biases we are conscious of or biases that are subconscious.  We aren’t really aware of them until someone points it out.

For most of us, most of our biases never rise to a level of -ism.  Still, they impact our perceptions and decision-making.  You may have a bias for action.  What impact does that create?  You are probably great at getting things done. However, does that bias also cause you, at times, to not spend enough time planning and then you or someone else ends up having to do a lot of rework? Or maybe, you have a bias for only hiring people who have a certain degree from a certain school. That bias is probably the result of having very positive experiences with people you hired with that profile.  However, could it also be causing you to miss out on some other great hires? Do you have a bias for experience when listening to ideas or suggestions from others?  Rightly so, wisdom can come with experience. However, those who are new to the situation see it with fresh eyes and their insights can be just what you need to hear.

Bias in the extreme is an ugly part of our human existence.  However, its more benign forms impact us every day.

The Power of Thank You


As we move toward Thanksgiving, my thoughts are turning to gratitude. I question whether we show enough of it in the workplace. We often think that because someone is ‘doing his job’ he doesn’t need or want to know that we appreciate the value he is providing, the results achieved, or the extra effort given. That’s not to say that we should be showing appreciation or praise for everything someone does. Work is not an 8 year old’s soccer team where “everyone is a winner.” However, a simple thank you can garner immense returns.

Think about the last time someone gave you a genuine thank you or compliment on your work when you were not expecting or asking for it. How did you feel? What did it do to your relationship with that person? If you had two competing demands from the person who said “thank you” and someone else, who were you more likely to move to the top of you list (assuming that all things are equal, like the other person is not your boss or the CEO or someone else who trumps everyone else)?

Effective leaders recognize the contributions others make. They recognize that others achieve the results for which the leader may receive credit. They know that without others they are unable to achieve many goals.

Let me publicly thank a few people who have supported my success this year:

* Thank you to my assistant Diane who has helped me make order out of chaos, helped me put process in place and given me the time to focus on those areas where I add value to my clients.
*Thank you to my husband and family who, even when I doubt myself, have no doubt in the value of the work that I do.
* Thank you to my clients who put the trust in me to help them achieve their goals and to move performance forward in their organizations.
* Thank you to all of you who have so generously let me know that you find value in the words I put on this page every week and that you appreciate finding it in your email.

Happy Thanksgiving!

How Unhappy Are Your Employees?

unhappy-employeesWorkers in America are an unhappy lot. The Conference Board reports that only 45 percent of workers are satisfied with their work, continuing a two-decade trend of increasing dissatisfaction. Research tells us that there is often a link between dissatisfaction and people not doing their best at work. Think about that. Nearly six out of ten people in our organizations may not be bringing anywhere near their best to work

Those types of numbers can lead unwelcome scenarios for your organization. For example, people who are dissatisfied in their jobs will leave — either physically, or sometimes worse, mentally. Usually, the best performers are the first to go when they are dissatisfied. They are highly marketable, and they know it. On the other end of the spectrum, poor performers will often not leave but simply continue to be dissatisfied. The bulk of the dissatisfied workforce will stay. That is, they won’t be the first out the door, but they will begin mentally shutting down. They will begin to only do what absolutely needs to be done or only what will impact their merit increase. They will come in at 8:00 a.m. and walk out precisely at 5:00 p.m. And once they see top performers leaving, they too begin to look toward the door.

As a leader, you need to retain and engage the strong performers on your team. Here are some things to think about:

    • Look at your team. Who’s a flight risk? Whose departure would significantly impact the business or the team? Who’s not going anywhere but at the same time is not as fully engaged as they once were? Create re-engagement strategies and contingency plans to implement if a performer leaves.
    • Look at yourself. How satisfied are you? Does your performance reflect your satisfaction? As a leader, your team takes direction from you.
    • What vision have you developed and communicated for your organization? Does it make people say, “I want to be part of this.”
    • As you set goals with your team, how meaningful are those goals? Will the person have a sense of progress? People are satisfied when they perceive they
      are doing something meaningful, have a choice in their work activities, feel they are performing competently, and are making progress.
    • Are you giving people a choice in how they run their business or manage their work?
    • Are you helping them build their capacity through coaching? Do they have the skills and knowledge to perform competently? Are they able to use their strengths?
    • Have you spoken with people about how they perceive their current work and working environment. How do they feel about it? What interests them about it? What frustrates them? Have a conversation and create a plan together to build on what’s good and to address what can be changed.
    • Don’t throw money at something, unless that is the real issue. In the same way, avoid contests, employee of the month programs, one-time bonuses. These things do create motivating environments for a short period of time—until the momentary glow wears off. Money will not work long term. You need to think about the real motivators. Authors Thomas and Tyman refer to real motivators as meaning, autonomy, progress, and competence. Dan Pink, in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, talks about autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
    • Finally, on the chance that a poor performer leaves, how attractive is it for a strong performer to join your team?

Why Engagement Isn’t Just About Soft Stuff

Employee Engagement

If you’re serious about improving performance and driving growth, focus on how happy and engaged your people are. That may seem mamby pamby, but there is growing evidence that it’s not such soft stuff.

Here are a couple of Gallup statistics to consider:

  • Actively disengaged employees erode an organization’s bottom line.  Within the U.S. workforce, Gallup estimates this cost to be more than $300 billion in lost productivity alone.
  • Engaged work groups show higher productivity, fewer safety incidents, lower absenteeism and are more profitable than disengaged work groups.  Their research shows that engaged organizations have 3.9 times the earnings per share (EPS) growth rate compared to organizations with lower engagement in the same industry. (Gallop statistics)

Now the question is. “What really drives engagement?” Teresa Amabile, a Harvard Business School professor, and Steven Kramer researched that question. What they determined is that of all the events that engage people at work, the single most important is simply making progress doing meaningful work. In a September 4, 2011, New York Times article, Amabile and Kramer note, “As long as workers experience their labor as meaningful, progress is often followed by joy and excitement about work.” Interestingly, this positive “’inner work life“ (as the researchers call it) has a profound impact on creativity, productivity, commitment, and collegiality.

The leader’s role, then, is to help people make progress — remove obstacles, provide support, recognize progress, and provide feedback on what’s not working. Unfortunately, almost all managers don’t see making progress as a compelling motivator. When Amabile and Kramer asked 669 managers from around the world to rank five employee motivators, they ranked “supporting progress” dead last. Ninety-five percent of these leaders failed to recognize that progress in meaningful work is a far more important motivator than raises and bonuses.

When was the last time you talked about any of this with your people? Probably not recently. Conversations with our teams are usually about financial results, how many deals are about to close, or where someone is in a project.

Next time you are trying to create motivating environment, don’t automatically think about traditional rewards. Think about whether your people feel like they are moving up the trail or if they feel like their pushing a boulder up a mountain only to have it roll back down on them.

Then ask yourself how you can bring more of of a sense of progress to the work and the workplace.

Creating a Powerhouse Culture

Company CultureThe powerhouse employee is highly capable in the work he does, motivated, and engaged.  Capability is something you can either hire for or develop.  An investment in skill-building is never wasted unless those skills become obsolete very soon after the investment.  Most people come to anew job full of motivation and engagement.  They are ready to go, excited to be there, and committed to success.  The ironic thing is that, after a period of time in the job or with the company, commitment can take a bid dive.

As a leader, spend time this week thinking about where your team’s capability, motivation, and engagement levels are.  How are you increasing them or decreasing them?  As you do this week’s thinking, take money out of the motivation and engagement equation.  Money is the cheap and easy way to try to create commitment and one that really doesn’t work for anything but short bursts.  Over and over again, research shows that long-term motivation and engagement at work come from being able to make progress and feel competent in doing something that is meaningful.  Many things, such as those listed below, can get in the way of generating long-term motivation and engagement.  Have you been guilty of any of these?

  • Assuming that making a profit is motivating enough for anyone to inspire performance
  • Giving someone a project, allowing them to move forward with it, and just before it’s completed telling them priorities have changed.
  • Consistently setting goals that are so much of a stretch they are viewed as unrealistic in any time frame.
  • Shifting priorities again and again and again.
  • Promoting people or moving them into new roles while providing little to no direction regarding your expectations for them.
  • Telling someone they own the project, then advising them in a way that makes them feel yo are controlling every aspect.

Take Action!  Real Change Accelerator

Examine your efforts with your team, then answer this question.
What are you really doing, really putting effort into, that’s building a powerhouse team?

Are These People a Team?

TeamThe word and idea of a team gets used a lot in the work world. Managers talk about their teams. Teams are pulled together to solve business issues. Teamwork is touted as the best way to achieve results.

I’m often asked to work with teams who are not performing as well as they should be. Some are outright dysfunctional. And, sometimes, the group is not a team at all. They are a group of people who report to a particular manager or who serve a particular client group. Usually, the person who brought me into the organization thinks they are or should be a team, but in reality, they aren’t or don’t need to be. There are four reasons why what is often called a team is not a team at all:

  • Lack of common purpose: A team needs to have a common purpose that can only be achieved by the members of the team working together. If the purpose can be achieved without that kind of collaboration or if the only commonality is that we have the same boss, it’s not a team.
  • Individual, not shared, goals: Teams have shared goals and accountabilities. If each individual only has individual goals and there is no need for shared goals, then what is it we are all trying to achieve together?
  • Team members aren’t bought into the cause. If the team members don’t find the purpose of the team to be compelling and can’t really see how they add value, there is no team. Team members need to believe that the work being done by the team is important. They need to be committed and motivated to achieving the results.
  • They only get together to share information. Many of us have been in team meetings where the sole purpose is for each team member to update the other team members and this is the only interaction the team members have with each other.

Teams exist to take action against a shared purpose and goals. If we do not work collaboratively to generate ideas, to make decisions or to execute specific actions, then the “team,” is really a very labor-intensive communication vehicle. The “team” is a distribution channel. It’s not really adding any value, just getting information from one point to another.