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Tag Archives: teamwork

Am I the Only One Who Dislikes Internal Competition??!

Competition     Like you, I have worked for sales managers and general managers who get all excited about internal competition — you know, those annual Sales Contests where the top producer wins and everyone else loses. Typically they have names like “Spring Sales Sweepstakes” or “Las Vegas Extravaganza.” I guess these events are designed to get everyone fired up for sales success.

Well…maybe they do. But in my experience, one thing these contests don’t do is build teamwork. I don’t mean to sound contrarian, but I hate sales contests! I’m convinced they do more harm than good.

Now before you label me un-American, since we Americans love a winner and all that, let me add that a contest with multiple winners where everyone has a shot at winning the Big Prize is fine. Nothing wrong with incentives — I’ve spent most of my career in an incentive-focused environment. But incentive and competition are two different things. In an effort to get your sales team fired up, are you inadvertently sowing seeds of mistrust and an unhealthy competitive spirit between people who are supposed to be pulling together? Your poorly thought-out sales contest may end up with unfortunate unintended consequences.

In my experience with salespeople and sales teams I have always placed a high value on healthy teamwork. Having a bunch of hard-charging Lone Ranger types, each looking out for Number One, has NEVER been my preferred route to sales success with the teams I’ve led (which probably explains why I would last maybe thirty seconds working on Wall Street!). Teams support one another. Teams collaborate. Teams aren’t afraid to share ideas and leads. Teams build each member up when things are tough and challenge each member to work more effectively. In short, teamwork is a highly-prized value, so anything that undermines teamwork is probably a bad idea. Including most sales contests.

By the way, depending on your sales environment, well-crafted territories can also build teamwork. I once worked for a national firm in which each of the sales reps had a large, defined territory, resulting in a high level of collaboration. If I traced a lead to a home office in Chicago, I knew I would be passing that lead along to my colleague Mark in the Chicago sales office. I also knew if he found a lead and traced it to the Pacific Northwest, he would pass that lead along to me. We all watched out for each other and worked together for the good of the company. Later, however, after I left that firm, I heard that they had done away with territories, leaving each rep free to pursue leads wherever they were in the country. So guess what? Mark and I would have gone from being collaborators to competitors. Maybe I’m dumb, but that doesn’t sound smart.

So, sales managers, if you want to incentivize your team, go for it! But why not come up with a set of prizes or bonuses or whatever in which everyone can win? Set goals commensurate with each salesperson’s experience level and billing potential. Avoid the Darwinian “I win, you lose” approach that I fear is still too common in many sales environments. I predict your organization will reap the rewards as the spirit of teamwork is enhanced. And if you think I’m being a competition wimp — well, you may be right. Still, why not try it and see if it works? I’ll bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how well your team does when they really are working as a team!

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Posted by on June 27, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Help Me Understand!

Birds     Quick question: how much of the interpersonal conflict you experience in the average day is based entirely (or almost entirely) on misunderstanding? If you answered “about 99%” then join the club.

It seems to me, thinking about a typical day, that I seldom get into real conflict over what I would call issues of substance. Oh, sure, now and then we’ll find ourselves in an honest, substantive argument about “real issues”…but the kind of conflict that drives us nuts, especially between co-workers, friends, even spouses, is the kind that is generated and perpetuated by one misunderstanding after another. He says something she misunderstands, which prompts her to say something he misunderstands, which causes him to react, which causes her to react, which quickly escalates into (a) a full-blown screaming match, or (b) the chilly fog of the silent treatment.

Nowhere is this more evident than in marriage, that closest of interpersonal relationships. My wife and I teach a marriage course, and without going into too much detail, one of the fundamental starting points for couples to understand is that men and women hear things differently. If I say something to my wife that she perceives as somehow unloving, she will react, sometimes with angry words, glaring eyes and confrontational gestures and body language. She’s reacting because I’ve hurt her feelings and she’s trying to connect with me in order to resolve things; but instead of realizing that, I get offended because her response seems controlling and disrespectful to me. I feel like she’s mothering me, scolding me, and trying to control me. That’s not her intention at all! But in the heat of the moment, do I stop and consider the source of her hurt and her anger? Nope — I get defensive and react to her reaction, and the cycle starts to escalate. My (unintentionally) unloving behavior triggers her (unintentionally) disrespectful reaction, which causes me to behave (unintentionally) even more unlovingly, which triggers an even more (unintentionally) disrespectful reaction, and so on in a spiral of angry conflict.

In his classic Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey says, “Seek first to understand — then to be understood.” Nowhere does this apply more urgently than during conflict. In order to break the cycle of misunderstanding, I need to stop reacting and start thinking, “Where is this anger coming from? How much of it is due to my insensitivity? Can I defuse the anger by owning up to my share of the responsibility?” Asking these questions is the first step toward breaking the cycle of misunderstanding.

My opinion based on years in the workplace is that some of these male-female differences apply outside of marriage as well as inside. Men, in my experience the women with whom you interact will tend to value face-to-face communication, and they will often want to talk through arguments in detail and bring things full circle. Women, sometimes the men you work with will go silent on you, not because they are trying to be difficult but because they may be angry and need time to collect their thoughts and cool down. Give them some space! Men may also be the ones to say “Drop it! Forget it!” during conflict, because, for them, the issue is resolved. It’s over — let’s move on! This can be highly frustrating if you’re the one who wants to talk it out, until you realize that he doesn’t need to talk it out. When he says, “Forget it,” he means it!

This is a topic that we could discuss endlessly, of course, but the point is clear: if you’re in the middle of a conflict, will you be the one to break the cycle? Remember the old-fashioned signs at the railroad crossings, the ones that used to say “Stop! Look! Listen!”  That’s a great recipe for defusing conflict. If you can learn to stop reacting, start looking and begin really listening, you can figure out the root cause of the misunderstanding and steer the relationship back onto firm ground.

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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“The New Groupthink”

Brainstorm    Do your brainstorming groups look like this? Neither do the ones I’ve been in. My memory of brainstorming sessions usually involves several loud colleagues arguing (I was usually one of them) with several quieter colleagues sitting there looking anxious and disengaged. Years later, after having spent countless hours in the sort of “No Bad Ideas” brainstorming sessions we’re all familiar with, I’m becoming convinced they can be severely counter-productive, an exercise in group frustration where the ideas that tend to surface aren’t the best ideas at all.

This is the third post where I’ve quoted from the book by Susan Cain called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It’s in these pages where I ran across the phrase “the New Groupthink,” and the idea immediately brought to mind images of those brainstorming sessions where the loudest and most eager team members — the Extroverts — always seemed to dominate. Their ideas were the ones that ended up on the gigantic flip chart sheets stuck here and there around the room — and since they always seemed to be the one chosen to summarize the team’s ideas, their ideas tended to get the most attention and affirmation. Meanwhile the Introverts in the group were sitting quietly on the fringes keeping their often-excellent ideas to themselves, reluctant to compete in the jostle of words and emotions.

I think the phrase “the New Groupthink” describes a kind of false consensus based on what all the Extroverts think would work. Sound familiar? But there’s a better way. Listen to how Susan Cain describes it: Remember the dangers of the New Groupthink. If it’s creativity you’re after, ask your employees to solve problems alone before sharing their ideas. If you want the wisdom of the crowd, gather it electronically or in writing, and make sure people can’t see each other’s ideas until everyone’s had a chance to contribute.  Wow — sounds to me like the exact opposite of typical brainstorming!

She goes on to explain why, if you want the best ideas to surface, this radically different approach is so important. Group dynamics contain unavoidable impediments to creative thinking, she writes. Don’t mistake assertiveness and eloquence for good ideas. Those words convict me. In the past I used to be the one who thought he had the best ideas, and because I loved to hear myself pontificate I would usually be the assertive one in the brainstorming group, proclaiming my ideas with volume to match my level of conviction. How much did I contribute to “Groupthink” by unknowingly stifling the ideas of my quieter colleagues? I suspect I did it a lot. Age does sometimes bring wisdom, or at least a bit of self-assessment, and I hope I’ve learned my lesson. Now I try to listen more than I used to, and it’s amazing the things I learn.

What about you? If you’re the leader of the group, maybe you need to try some of the approaches Susan Cain outlines above and seek the contribution of your team in a more private way. If you’re the Extrovert on the team and the boss convenes a brainstorming session, make sure you quiet your impulse to dominate and seek out those in your group who may be hesitant to contribute. And if you’re the Introvert with the Best Idea Ever, speak up. Borrow a whistle or an air horn, if you have to, just to get everyone’s attention! Then someday when your idea has saved the company billions, you’ll be able to smile quietly and say, “See? We quiet ones do have great ideas!”

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Connecting the Dots?

Dots      Last time we talked about the topic of Introverts and Extroverts. It’s really fascinating how much our society is wired to appreciate Extroverts and make Introverts feel out of place! Here’s one recent example…

I was at a day-long business conference last week in a room with about 200 strangers. There on our plastic-enshrouded name tags alongside our names (First Name BIG FONT, last name smaller font) and company/organization was a colored dot. Oh-oh, I thought — this has all the earmarks of an ice-breaker.

Sure enough, at the first break, the cheerful lady at the mic announced that during the break we were to find someone else with a dot the same color as ours and converse. Strike up a conversation. Get to know each other. I presume we weren’t supposed to get too deeply into the weeds of intimacy since we only had 15 minutes (“Five minute countdown, everybody — five minutes!”) This was a longish break so we were supposed to connect more than one dot, as it were, although I think I cheated and talked to the same guy for maybe 20 minutes before I headed to the restroom.

I don’t really mind this stuff, actually, being more or less an Ambivert — with elements of both Intro and Extro woven into my personality. I can do fairly well chatting with strangers. (I do confess to an impatience with rules, though, which explains more than anything else my cheating on the colored-dot protocol.) But when I mentioned this episode to my delightful, sociable, introverted daughter, her immediate response was, “I hate ice-breakers!” And I had to wonder, how many of the people in the room wearing colored dots on their nametags felt exactly the same way? Was this exercise really designed by Extroverts, for Extroverts, leaving a significant number of Introvert attendees feeling awkward and out of place? Did it really break any ice?

The wonderful book by Susan Cain called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking delves into this fascinating topic in detail, and I highly recommend the book. One thing she said toward the end really struck me. “If you’re a manager,” she wrote, “remember that one third to one half of your workforce is probably introverted, whether they appear that way or not.” Boss, you had better stop and consider that reality, especially if you’re an Extrovert yourself! How much of your workplace, from the placement of desks to the assignment of accounts, is designed to appeal to (and maximize the performance of) Extroverts — to the possible detriment of many gifted Introvert members of your team? Have you made provision for these quieter, more reflective types to make a full contribution to your organization’s success?

More about this later. For now, if you go to a trade show or seminar and your name tag bears a colored dot, take my advice and plan your strategy ahead of time. Find a pleasant person with the same color dot as you, grab some coffee and locate a comfortable corner to chat. You even have my permission to talk with a dot of a different color! Oh, and one more thing — they called this particular ice-breaker “Speed Dotting.” I am not making this up.

 

 
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Posted by on May 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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The Toxic Power of the “Downer Club”

Negative Co-workers      I was once the newest member of the “Downer Club.” I didn’t realize it at the time, and we never called it that, but that’s exactly what it was.

We all worked for the same company, and I was the brand new sales rep, naive and eager to please. So after a few weeks on the job when I was invited to join a co-worker for breakfast, I jumped at the chance. After all, I wanted to make friends and fit in, and here was a great opening to do just that. And it got even better, because when we arrived at the restaurant I was surprised to see three or four of our co-workers already at the table. Apparently this group get-together took place on a regular basis, often every week, and now I had been invited in!

We re-introduced ourselves around the table, placed our orders, and started to chat over coffee. And I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but it didn’t take me long to figure out that this wasn’t just a periodic gathering of colleagues — it was a 90-minute-long gripe session. Sometimes it went even longer, as one after another my new co-workers started dredging up a litany of issues: times when the boss had chewed them out unfairly…times when accounts had been shifted arbitrarily…times when commissions had been calculated incorrectly. Two things became clear to me: first, that my fellow salespeople hated their jobs; and, second, that they loved getting together to talk about it. I sat there silently absorbing this endless list of corporate malfeasance on the part of my brand new company, and before I had finished my scrambled eggs I was wondering — “When I took this job, did I make a terrible mistake?!”

Welcome to the Downer Club.

Did I have the good sense to stop going after that first negative encounter? Are you kidding? Of course not! I wanted to fit in, to be part of the group. I had been a sales rep for maybe twenty minutes and I figured hanging around with my so-called colleagues would be a good, productive way to spend my time. And after a few of these breakfast gatherings I got to where I could come up with negative sob stories just like everybody else. The Downer Club had initiated a new convert. What I soon discovered was that I felt great during those breakfast sessions, hanging with my so-called friends, but I felt lousy afterward — negative about my job, my boss, and myself. The false high of being part of the peer group quickly gave way to the hangover caused by an overdose of negativity.

I lasted in that job about six months. Could I have stayed longer, done better and not violated my boss’s trust in me when he hired me? Probably. But whether or not the job was the right one isn’t the point. I see now that my desire to run with the pack caused me to make toxic decisions. The so-called “power of positive thinking” may not be absolute, but I can attest to the power of negative thinking! It is guaranteed to be corrosive to your enthusiasm and productivity!

So here’s a question for you: when it comes to your work, who is on your “Mental Committee”? Do you surround yourself with people who pick you up or who bring you down? I suggest that some self-examination may be in order. As for me, I changed jobs, got into a much healthier environment, and quickly came to realize that I had been part of the problem, choosing to surround myself with the wrong crowd. How about you? Is it time to turn in your membership card to the Downer Club?

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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The Unqualified Compliment

Admit it — doesn’t it feel good to receive a word of encouragement? I’m thinking particularly of the workplace here. I don’t know about you but I derive quite a bit of personal satisfaction, not to mention a sense of job security (maybe too much, come to think of it) when I receive a compliment or an encouraging word from the boss. Conversely, when the boss never says anything encouraging, I find myself plagued with self-doubt. Am I not measuring up? Does he or she not like me anymore? Neurotic? Maybe…but I strongly suspect I’m not the only one. You know who you are!

Somewhere between the sound of silence from the boss and the pleasant and encouraging word of affirmation lies what I call the Qualified Compliment. I had a boss once who was the master of the Qualified Compliment — he simply couldn’t bring himself to say something encouraging without adding a stinger at the end. Examples:

  • “Nice month in January! Way to go! Of course, the rest of the quarter doesn’t look so hot…”
  • “Good work on the McDonald’s buy — nice piece of business! Why didn’t we get on Fred Meyer?”
  • “Looks like Bill is really coming around — you’re doing a good job with him! But Anne is really slipping…what’s going wrong there?”

Just once, I used to think, can’t you say something encouraging and then leave it there? I guess he feared I would get complacent…but actually his backhanded criticism sowed seeds of self-doubt. Not healthy.

Managers, here’s a thought: try giving one of your team members a compliment without qualification: an Unqualified Compliment! Then see what happens. I think you have some subordinates who will REALLY appreciate it!

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Celebrate!

Our fundraising team just finished a terrific calendar year-end. For you in the business you grasp the significance of what I’m talking about. For you non-fundraisers it’s hard to overstate the importance of December. It is often pretty much the make-or-break month for many donor-supported organizations.

Anyway, the other day we did something all too rare in the not-for-profit world: we celebrated. Our department leader scheduled a two-hour gathering in mid-afternoon complete with taco bar and refreshments and we had a mini-fiesta. And as we ate, we spent time talking about the contributions others had made to our collective success. It was a lot of fun and created, I think, a terrific atmosphere of cohesiveness and cooperation among our large and diverse team.

And that got me to thinking: how often do we miss the chance to gather together and celebrate what our teams have accomplished? How often do we pass up the opportunity for a collective celebratory pat on the back?

Maybe some bosses are afraid to “waste the time” when there’s so much work to be done — yes, you made the goal, but January sucks so get back to work. Others may fear we’ll all get too complacent and lose our sense of urgency if we spend even a little time in the party spirit recognizing what we’ve achieved together. I suppose some managers simply aren’t wired in a relational configuration (translation: they’re relatively un-empathetic and somewhat clueless about the emotional needs of their subordinates) so the idea of celebration never occurs to them.  Maybe not-for-profit organizations are simply “celebratorily challenged.”

So here’s a suggestion: find something to celebrate, and do it! “Seek the good and praise it,” as the saying goes. If you haven’t been doing this much your team may find it odd at first, but having been on both sides of this one over the years I speak from experience: few things build a sense of team like a collective attaboy/attagirl. So, take some time off, invite the troops and have a party. Oh, and tacos help, too.

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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