Archive for June, 2011

Foundations of team success – whatever the scale

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

I saw last week that Croatia is now going to be able to join the EU, probably in July 2013. Assuming it goes ahead, they will be the twenty-eighth state to join. It is of particular interest to me as I spent eight years working with their Interior Ministry and Ministry of Justice assisting with their preparations for this eventuality. Croatia is an incredibly beautiful country which I have visited many times. When I visited during the late 1990’s, however, I saw a more serious side.

I visited Vukovar – a Croat city on the border with Serbia – where there were mass murders based on ethnicity, together with a huge amount of physical damage. At the same time I also visited Bosnia. Sarajevo and Srebrenica, both of which I found terribly depressing, were awful places which appeared to have no hope at that time.

Balkan history is complicated, however, what happened in Yugoslavia in the last quarter of the last century is reasonably straightforward. The Yugoslav President, Josip Broz Tito died in 1980. He had ruled post-WW2 Yugoslavia in a hard line manner. In doing so, he managed to retain a bond between the very different parts that made up Yugoslavia. Once he was gone, no one could carry on his style of leadership. As the economic decline took a stronger hold during the 1980’s, the disparate states within Yugoslavia increasingly focused on their differences. The areas that are now Slovenia and Croatia knew that they generated the majority of the country’s income, much of which subsidised the other areas – and so they decided that they wanted out. Slovenia decided it had had enough in 1991 and declared itself an independent country – and got away with it. Croatia, which is closer to Serbia, decided to follow suit, but by this time Belgrade – the current capitol of Serbia and the former capitol of Yugoslavia – was wise to it and decided to halt it. Their devastating war began.

Fast forward to Europe in June 2011, and we find a similar situation – substitute the EU for Yugoslavia. There is a harsh economic climate, a number of states are close to financial melt-down and there are mutterings that the richer states don’t want to support them any longer. There is no prospect of war, but there is the prospect of the downfall of the Euro. The question is being asked as to whether it is possible for a currency to function effectively across a number of countries without one ‘corporate’ shared financial strategy.

These moments in history are played out every day all over the world. What happens on these world stages occurs in far smaller teams in organisations. What they illustrate so well are the foundations that must be in place for any team, country or continent to function effectively:

  • Effective senior leadership – a leader who is prepared to listen, and who has true followers.
  • Strong and valued relationships – ones that have been built over time where there is strong rapport, not ones that will splinter when under pressure.
  • A shared vision and strategy – which is bought into by all parties through open dialogue.
  • An ability to handle conflict – a willingness to talk, negotiate and accept responsibility.
  • People or states have problems – they are not problem people or problem states, and they need to be viewed in that way.
  • Valuing diversity – an acceptance that we all bring different abilities to the table which will be recognised in different situations.

Effective leadership means thinking forward to these difficult times during the relatively easy times – and everyone needs to demonstrate this as we all have that responsibility.

As a team member, team manager or team leader, what are you contributing to ensure your team is truly effective in challenging times?


Make the complicated simple

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

Many years ago I went to the Emmanuel College, Cambridge University May Ball. I had been invited by a friend from school who took a degree course there. I hasten to add it was only the May Ball I went to – that’s as close as I got to Cambridge University!

I hadn’t done particularly well at the Grammar School we were both at, and so I went with the view that I would meet with lots of people who I would struggle to engage with, and that I would know far less than them in all meaningful areas.

Nevertheless, I had agreed to meet my friend Steve a couple of days before the May Ball in order to spend some time with him, see a little of Cambridge and meet his friends – including my partner for the event as I not met her previously. When I arrived, he duly took me to meet one of his friends. I can’t remember the friend’s name, or much else about the meeting, other than when we went into his room he was there with his bicycle. The bicycle was upside down and the friend was scratching his head. He greeted us and then outlined his problem by saying, “I’ve got a slow puncture and need to mend it, but I can’t find out how to get the rest of the air out of the inner-tube.” I was amazed. One of the greatest young brains in the UK and he didn’t know how to get the air out.

I often think back to that experience. I think it was the point when I realised that there was a difference between knowledge and skills, and it was a reminder of how dangerous and unproductive it is to assume what people might know.

I was reminded of it again last week. I was working with some senior leaders and we were discussing leadership theories, models and practices. I decided to use John Adair’s Action Centred Leadership Model and asked who had heard of it and could explain it to me and the others present. None of the three people present had heard of it. I was astonished.  I (wrongly) thought that it was the sort of ‘foundation’ leadership theory that every leader knows about. And the reason why I haven’t blogged about it previously is because I assumed that it was too well known to be worth it. Perhaps I was wrong?

Some people also refer to it as the “I, We, It” theory, and others as the “Team, Task, Individual” theory. This is because of the naming of the three overlapping or interlocking circles (see the diagram above):

  • It / Task – the completion of the task, achieving the task
  • We / Team – the creation, sustaining and motivating of the team to ensure it works effectively
  • I / Individual – the individual development of members of the team

Adair’s view was that all three of these aspects are required to successfully lead (and manage) given situations. They are overlapping circles as each supports the others.

I personally see it as a foundation theory as it’s one of those that can be used in any situation – and if something isn’t going quite right, or things aren’t running as smoothly as perhaps the leader thinks they should be, it’s a great one to check against as to how they are leading. When doing this, it’s often possible to recognise that a leader is directing, conducting or encouraging more activity in one or two of the circles, to the exclusion of the other(s) – and there can lie the reason for things not being on track. In visual terms, one or two of the circles become disproportionately large in comparison to the other(s).

Whilst the theory is relatively new – having been developed and publicised in the 1960s – some people now see it as being too simplistic. This is not a view that I share – I think that there lies its strength and power. Leadership shouldn’t be seen as complicated as it really isn’t – if leaders make it overcomplicated, people will not follow. Simplicity is the beauty of this model, which then makes me wonder why it took until the 1960s for someone to come up with it!  Perhaps Charles Mingus had the answer when he said, “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creative”.

If you want more detail on the theory, there’s some useful guidance and assistance at Businessballs.

What the best Leadership Theory or Model that you have been introduced to, and what makes it so effective?


Songs in the key of life

Saturday, June 11th, 2011

I have been doing a lot of coaching recently. In fact, I have done very little over the past year, and then about 15 coachees have all come along at once (whilst the content of the last sentence is accurate, my dad – if he’s still reading – will think it an exceedingly good joke! I suspect others may not …)

The coachees are all senior leaders and chief executives from both public and private sectors, and from across four different organisations. Having a number of coachees like this has enabled me to look at some of the themes and discriminators across the group as a whole. They are predominantly my own personal musings as it would be wrong to talk about the majority of my thoughts and conclusions here. One aspect that I do feel comfortable mentioning, however, is that of Emotional Intelligence (EI). I have been reminded of how effective people can be when they use it.

I have seen EI explained in a number of ways, however, the one that works best for me is that contained in The Emotional Intelligence Quick Book by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves. They use a four-box model which I have always found easy to understand and explain.

The first two boxes relate to Personal Competence:

  • Self-Awareness – Do you understand your emotions, do you understand your tendencies in given situations and are you able to stay on top of your usual reactions?
  • Self-Management – Can you use the awareness of your emotions to stay flexible and deal positively with situations, are you able to explore your emotions to understand yourself better? (this also links to my last blog post on the Adult Learning Cycle).

The other boxes relate to Social Competence:

  • Social Awareness – Can you accurately pick up on the emotions of others, understand what’s happening for them and interpret others’ feeling even when you are experiencing different ones?
  • Relationship Management – Do you listen, do you use your emotions and those of others to manage interactions and do you value your relationships?

One aspect of my musings was as to how I personally achieved the Self-Awareness aspect. It was prompted by one of those times when someone compliments you on something and asks you how you do it and you don’t really know that well. Does it happen to everyone, or is it just me? Anyway, it got me thinking.

And I spent a lot of time thinking about the songs I sing and hum to myself. I have worked out that they fall into four categories.

  1. I think of a song I like, and sing it to myself
  2. It was the last song I heard on the radio, in the supermarket, on my MP3, etc.
  3. I sing a song because something non-emotions based has prompted it (i.e. when I turn the engine off in my Ford Ka having left the lights on, the car makes a warning noise exactly like the first note of the Beach Boys ‘Sloop John B’, and off I go! …)
  4. I am singing the song as my emotions have chosen to tell me to sing the song, and if I listen to it, it helps me understand where I’m at or what I’m feeling.

Regarding Point 4, for example, I know that when I find myself singing or humming Pink Floyd’s ‘Comfortably Numb’, there is some situation that has been going on for a while and has sapped my energy – so much so that I have become almost oblivious to the situation. The song reminds me of this, I identify the situation and do something about it. The song reminds me of my responsibility. On my recent birthday, I heard myself singing the Robbie Williams lyrics, “I hope I’m old before I die” – not a song I can recall singing at other times – and when I came out of a recent coaching session where the person was doing everything too fast, I found myself singing the Simon and Garfunkel lyrics, “slow down, you move too fast”, over and over.

I believe it’s one part of me giving another part of me messages, through my emotions – and listening to and interpreting them increases my self-awareness.

I am, however, left with a question. Is Point 1 really a grouping, or should it be part of Group 4 – and it’s just that I haven’t found the meaning for anything that I put in Point 1?

Does this happen for you, or is it just me? What do you think?