Blog RSS
Border Background
  1. How the best leaders become coaches: lessons from the field

    July 5, 2016 by Alison Hill

    Being a team player, touching base, big wins, level playing fields – not to mention  dropping the ball and getting it over the line –  are just some of the terms from the sports field that we use at work. So when we decided to address the topic of leadership coaching, we decided to ask a successful sports coach for tips that we could translate to the workplace.

    When Adam took over as coach of a club soccer team, they had come last in the previous season’s competition. They weren’t too discouraged, as they were mates who liked playing together, but they had no expectations of winning. Three months into this season, they have won eight games in a row and stand a good chance of winning the entire competition. So what’s changed? And how did they get there?

    As I spoke to Adam, the parallels between coaching a group of 16-year-old boys in football and leading a team at work became clearer. Last season’s coach/manager has moved on. The team is ready to play but not highly motivated. They lack some skills and resources, and above all they lack belief that they can achieve. These are the steps Adam took to turn the team’s fortunes around.

    1. Observe and learn

    For the first few training sessions, Adam watched the players, assessing their skills and attitudes and observing how they worked together as a team. He didn’t step in or change anything until he had this figured out. Adam then worked out what he needed to learn himself before he could support the team. He realised that he couldn’t teach them hard skills in the time available, but could suggest areas of improvement for each player and an approach to learning new skills.

    Lesson: The best coaches start by truly understanding the team they are working with before they rush in with solutions. They know that self-education has to come before teaching others, and empower their teams to be responsible for their own skills development.

    1. Plan and consult

    Once he had observed the team and was familiar with their strengths and weaknesses and how they worked together, Adam make a plan for tackling improvement. Upgrading skills was to be their individual responsibility, while teamwork and team culture would be his.  He consulted the team about their vision; what they wanted from the season and what they expected to achieve.

    Lesson: Involving the team in their own goal setting and making a concrete plan of action brings results. The best coaches know that setting achievable yet challenging goals motivates people.

    1. Set expectations and parameters

    Adam emailed each team member, outlining what was expected of them and what he would do for the team. This included attending every training session, showing total respect for teammates,  and encouraging team members who made mistakes or struggled with new skills. In turn he committed to 100% positive effort and the intention to win every game.

    Lesson:  Setting clear expectations for everybody in the team – including the coach – builds a respectful culture in which everybody is expected to do their best and support one another in an atmosphere of civility. The best coaches hold their team to high standards of personal conduct as well as professional skill.

    1. Advocate for the team

    The team’s culture of non-performance meant they were under-resourced and rather ignored by the club. Adam’s mission was to get the team the resources it needed to succeed, and he pressured the club to provide new training balls, bibs and cones. This motivated the team and they soon began to win games and catch the attention of the club’s hierarchy. A coach needs to ‘go in to bat’ for the team and get them the resources they need, as well as to be supported by the organisation, to be truly effective.

    Lesson: Whether it is better equipment, more time to complete a project or recruiting a star performer, a good coach tries their utmost to get the team what it needs. Their commitment to advocating on behalf of the team shows the team they are valued as well as providing them with resources  to maximise their chances of success.

    5. Learn from setbacks and failures

    When the team started winning, they were surprised by their success. They won a game, but then had a bad loss, crumbling under pressure. Adam reassured them that this did not confirm their fear that they were a poor team after all. He admitted that he had formed a false sense of their mastery after the previous week’s win, and thought that winning would be easy this time too. He asked the team why they thought they had lost, and how they felt about it, and together they recommitted to a slightly different training routine, moving players to different positions, and working harder at skills. They aimed for improvement, not perfection.

    Lesson: Progress is not always linear and there are bound to be stumbling blocks. Confronting these situations, learning from them and adjusting plans when they are not working makes for a better result. A great coach leads the team through setbacks and is not afraid to talk about the negative aspects of performance as well as the positive.

    1. Review performance and celebrate success

    At the end of each game, the team has a quick chat about what went well and what went badly, but Adam is aware that they would rather get home than talk about the game at length. He plans a longer, more formal feedback session for the next training time, where they can talk honestly among themselves – and when tempers have died down if necessary. He stresses that by this time he has had time to reflect on the game, which is crucial in setting the tone for a review. The players contribute their ideas, the team discusses them, and the coach acts on the good ones. He sets the rules for these discussions: no criticism of anybody in front of others; talk about the team, not individuals.

    In this team, success is not celebrated by singling out individual players for medals and commendations. The biggest celebrations are reserved for when a player who has never scored a goal before gets one, rather than for when the star player scores another one. Adam’s proudest achievement is that a player who has never scored in many years of playing kicked the winning goal last week.

    Lesson: Success belongs to everybody, and so does disappointment. The best coaches do not praise or criticise reactively. They reflect and plan before honest discussions about—–

    The parallels between coaching a sports team and a business team are clear – that’s why the sporting metaphors fit so well. Lead your team to success by being the coach who uses a consultative leadership style, plans before acting, and shows flexibility and a willingness to take considered risks. Then watch your ‘weakest performer’ score the next winning goal.


  2. Creating virtuoso virtual teams

    August 18, 2015 by Alison Hill

    By Alison Hill

    Technological change and the globalisation of business mean we will probably all work in a virtual team at some time. Well over half of us already work in virtual teams.

    While the debate goes on about whether virtual teams are more or less productive, efficient and responsive to customer needs, what is certain is that they’re here to stay.  While nothing can quite replicate face-to-face contact and the behavioural and emotional interaction and learning that comes with it, leaders are working hard at creating a different experience of the workplace that promotes efficient teams that are also happy and productive, innovative teams.

     

    Technology has made collaboration across borders of time and geography relatively simple. Enterprise social networking software, screen sharing, document sharing, collaboration tools and online meeting platforms provide the means to create a sense of community. Making them available is a good start, and ensuring that they are extremely well supported is vital. Many will have experienced the frustration and time-wasting of virtual meetings hijacked by technical glitches. Excellent tech support and training for all users is non-negotiable for effective virtual teams

    Whether being part of a virtual team means working from home a few days a week or managing people dispersed across the globe, there are challenges in communication, collaboration and leadership. Sharing information, integrating knowledge and achieving team cohesion are undoubtedly more difficult than in a face-to-face team. Simply using technology well won’t solve these issues. There must be attention to the interpersonal dimensions of a virtual team.

    In a healthy team, conversations are encouraged and knowledge is shared. Expectations are clear and roles are made explicit. Team members feel heard. This may be a little harder when some members are at home or in another city or country, but it can be done. From simple things like sharing photos of the team and their locations, to drawing up and agreeing to rules for virtual meetings (no multitasking, give everybody a turn to speak, turn webcam on at all times, for starters) to hosting virtual team building sessions, work at it.

    Leaders must:

    • focus on both technology and interpersonal competence
    • encourage respect for other cultures and languages
    • promote diversity as a strength
    • build trust between team members
    • build trust between themselves and their team members
    • ensure technical support is available
    • facilitate training in technology and people skills
    • recognise and reward efforts and results right across the team.

    Team members must:

    • dial in to meetings and events on time and respond to chat and requests for collaboration
    • be aware of body language – slumping, eye rolling and smirking are just as impolite and destructive in a virtual meeting
    • observe the same manners as in a face-to-face situation – don’t get up and walk around, check Facebook, or make a phone call
    • ask for advice and help from your dispersed team members
    • be ready to learn from one another, not just about the mechanics of the job but also about values and attitudes
    • celebrate diversity, for example by learning about one another’s public holidays, religious festivals, birthday traditions and so on.

    While work might be geographically dispersed and asynchronous, it is still happening in a team. Virtuoso virtual teams will value working and learning together, each contributing fully to its success.

    Have you worked in a virtual team? What is your experience of working remotely? Let us know how it is for you.


  3. Great teams need great players

    August 4, 2015 by Alison Hill

    Search any employment site using the keyword ‘teamwork’ and you will find hundreds of hits. In today’s workplace, we are all assessed on our ability to work in a team. Teams may form to work on a specific project, or may be where the day-to-day work of the business happens. Teamwork is highly rated by employers and job applicants should always show off their teamwork skills. So what makes a great team? And what does it mean to be a team player?

    ‘A successful team is a group of many hands
    but of one mind.’ – Bill Bethel

    The best teams have a defined, shared goal and purpose

    Teams that are put together with a common purpose and a well-articulated goal are able to reach a solution and achieve an outcome. Everybody on the team should know what the objectives are and how to get there.

    High-performing teams have a great captain and a motivating coach

    An inspiring team leader does more than just coordinate tasks and see that goals are met. They will also be a great communicator, an adept facilitator and a skilled mediator. A good leader models desirable team behaviour and prioritises team goals over individual ones.

    A great team is much more than the sum of its parts

    When they run well, teams accomplish more and give back more to their members than working alone can ever do. (And when they run badly, they can be detrimental to both the business and the individual team members.) Teams offer an amazing opportunity to learn from others, share skills and knowledge, and to work more productively.

    Communication is the key to great teams

    A study by MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory and reported in HBR found that the best teams learnt how their members communicated and then shaped and guided the team to follow successful communication patterns. This mattered more than selecting the team based on individual talent and reasoning skills.

    Open communication and contributing ideas and information to the group are the foundations of teamwork. The best performing teams have clear rules about how and when communication will happen. This must include deciding how the team will share its progress and success with those outside of the team.

    The MIT Human Dynamics Laboratory study found that successful teams communicate by:

    • Talking and listening in roughly equal measures
    • Keeping contributions to group discussions short
    • Facing members of the team when speaking to them
    • Speaking and gesturing energetically
    • Connecting directly with other team members, and not only with the leader

    The best team members avoid negativity and set a good example

    The most valued members of teams set standards that others want to follow. They do this both through their work and in how they conduct themselves. Jealousy, sabotage, unproductive criticism and negativity have no place in a team. On the other hand, suggesting new ideas, participating fully, working towards the team’s target and respecting the contributions of others are behaviours of a valuable team member.

    According to this survey, over 90 per cent of people find that one of the best things about work is being part of a team. Has teamwork always been a positive experience for you? Is it one of the things you look forward to in your next role? Let us know in the comments below, or on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.


  4. Return of the Intergalactic Admin Manager

    September 9, 2014 by Kate Dass

    Several years ago, Challenge Consulting’s Organisational Psychologist Narelle Hess, who happens to be a die-hard NRL fan, took it upon herself to create a NRL staff tipping competition. “YAY” no-one said. But, when the incentives of a Jurlique gift pack for the winner and, even better, an actual wooden spoon for the loser, were dangled in front of us like the proverbial carrot, we were all in.

    Of course, this required selecting tipping comp aliases. I chose the subtle “Intergalactic Admin Manager”. The tipping comp is still going though, I must admit, having only returned to Challenge on a temporary basis after an absence of two and a half years, I am a less-than-enthusiastic participant (or is this just a cunning ploy to get my hands on the until-now elusive wooden spoon?)

    The point in all this is that I am back. Why am I back? How am I back?

    Let’s start at the very beginning.

    People are generally astonished that, until I resigned in late 2011, I was Challenge Consulting’s Administration Manager for 11 years. The common question is: why did I stay that long?

    The co-founder and original Managing Director, Elizabeth Varley, is, quite simply, the number one reason. I worked directly and closely with her, literally and figuratively, and was given more and more professional development opportunities as the years went by. As my skills and competencies expanded, I was challenged to expand them further. I learned how to manage payroll, the company banking, staff superannuation, website management, social media communications. I became a qualified Career Guidance Counsellor and Psychometric Testing Administrator. I ran workshops and wrote business proposals. I was trusted, I was encouraged, I was challenged, I was made to feel like my duties made a genuine difference to the success of the company.

    Another key component was Elizabeth’s uncanny ability to select the right people for her company’s culture. Every time she took even the slightest risk and went against her instincts, the person never lasted long. This rarely occurred, however, and this meant that the team working for her and, crucially, with her, was happy, supportive and willing to work hard and with excellence as its standard.

    Thirdly, Elizabeth’s willingness to be flexible in the working arrangements of her staff members meant that when, in September 2008, I left to have my first baby, she left me in no doubt that there would always be a place for me in the Challenge team, in whatever capacity suited my new responsibilities as a mother. In early 2009, I returned to work first one day per week, then, two, then three. The balance between work and family was perfect. When, in 2011, I discovered that another little person had decided to join our family, Elizabeth was the first person, other than my husband, I told. As her employee, I wanted her to be able to plan for my successor (I did not envision being able to return to work as quickly as the first time, so I made the decision to resign). As her friend, I had no hesitation in sharing my news with her, knowing that she would be nothing less than overjoyed. I left with sadness but no regret in December 2011 and threw myself into mummy-ness once again.

    Now, I adore my children. But, something no-one ever mentions for fear of being placed in front of a firing squad for daring to suggest that motherhood is not always a complete joy, it can be somewhat lacking in intellectual stimulation. Astonishing, I know. What, you mean you can’t understand why changing your seven thousandth nappy and watching In The Night Garden ad infinitum might be, I don’t know, a tad boring?

    I needed to do something. Anything.

    I did bits and pieces of casual work during 2013 and early 2014. And then – the aforementioned Narelle celebrated her 10th Challenge Consulting anniversary in July. Whilst nibbling on a piece of excellent cheese and sipping on a glass of fizzy wine, I silently sidled out of the boardroom and took a wander around memory office. It was all familiar, yet different. It was also somewhat, ahem, disorganised. My reputation as the Office Cleaning Nazi remains to this day. No-one has yet dared to remove my whiteboard reminder, written I don’t know how many years ago. Challenge’s current owner and Managing Director, Stephen Crowe, approached me with, was it fear?, and said, “I bet you hate that state of the office.” I replied, “It didn’t have look like this in my day.”

    The team repaired to a very nice dinner washed down with quantities of wine. Maybe it was the wine, maybe it was my innate need to clean and apply order taking control of my brain, but I said to Stephen, “You know, I’d love to come in and sort things out for you.” We met the next week and had a (sober) chat about what I could and would do. Our current Administrator / Social Media Coordinator, Jenna, just happened to be departing for a month in Canada the very next week. And so here I am, just for the time being, looking after things at Challenge Consulting once again, every Tuesday.

    I love it. Things have changed, of course, but I still feel comfortable, welcome, and capable of making a difference, even in a small way.

    Here are some key words and phrases to take away from this personal perspective on staff retention and why people stay, and even return:

    – Professional Development Opportunities

    – Making a Difference

    – Team Spirit

    – Challenged and Trusted

    – Selecting the Right People for the Company Culture

    – Management’s Willingness to be Flexible

    – Facilitating Work/Life Balance

    – Feeling Welcomed, Valued, and Trusted

    [Thank you, Stephen, for this opportunity. I cannot express how much I appreciate it.]


  5. Are we relying too much on email, rather than actual conversation, to communicate?

    November 2, 2011 by Jenna

    Latest online poll results:

    Yes – 80% 

    No – 20% 

    First, I would like to convey my thanks to everyone who responded with comments this week – obviously this issue struck a chord with lots of you, and there was some very thoughtful, heartfelt feedback!

    It is, naturally, a fact of living and working in the 21st century across cities, states, countries and time zones, that email communication has become a toll of communication that cannot be avoided.

    And, as with all forms of communication, email is not an all-encompassing evil. Sometimes it is the best and most efficient way to convey information. However, when it is used to ask simple questions when it would be faster to pick up a phone, or when people hide behind it, or when they copy in huge contact lists of irrelevant people, it becomes silly and annoying.

    I loved the anecdote shared by one poll respondent: “In my office, the IT lines went down for two days. Suddenly there were people at my door wanting to chat, and I had numerous marvellous conversations on how to do things better. People were walking around the corridors, having a laugh at the photocopier, and the whole atmosphere in the building lifted. Now with the IT lines restored, I sit in a silent space, no one chats, and even the colleague right next to me sends me an email with a simple question. Bring back the conversations!”

    As another respondent said: “there is no substitute for having a conversation to stimulate ideas and creativity.”

    Indeed. Getting everyone around the table, brainstorming, sharing ideas, laughing, asking questions, listening to each other, is unarguably more stimulating and fun than a series of silent, staid emails.

    But, a single email sent to all participants afterwards listing the main discussion points and action items is, equally, an efficient and effective way to convey the ideas generated and itemise the next steps for everyone involved to take.

    Email is also an excellent way to keep a record of an important exchange between colleagues, or between yourself and a client: “In the workplace, I prefer to communicate via email. I like that I have information in writing (both from what I have sent and received from clients) to refer back to.” Further: “Emails should be used as a confirmation of a conversation, and not as the main form of communication.”

    However, there are some situations where an actual conversation, either face-to-face or via telephone, is supremely preferable to an email exchange. “Too many people rely on emails to issue orders, bad news and to address employee issues. Excessive email usage kills the art of spoken communication and removes the opportunity for someone to respond to a certain situation.”

    No one enjoys difficult conversations, such as performance managing someone. We all have a client or contact we loathe speaking with. It is always so tempting to simply shoot off an email. But, of course, these are precisely the situations where a conversation is the best approach.

    How many times have you changed the tenor of what you will say next because of the reaction to your last statement?

    Would a problem with a customer be handled more quickly if the customer’s response was immediate? The nuance of the spoken voice includes information you would miss with electronic communication.

    Some organisations have initiated “no-email Fridays” and encourage people to pick up the phone for a conversation on any day of the week or to see others in person. These organisations report they soon experienced better problem-solving, better teamwork, and happier customers.

    I also found it interesting and somehow reassuring that listed amongst the dozens of titles in our new range of online skills tests is one that assesses Office Telephone Etiquette: “The focus of this assessment is on evaluating a test taker’s communication skills along with their ability to recognise proper telephone etiquette and the best way to handle calls.”

    What do you think? Leave your comments below or, of you feel moved to do so, please give me a call! 

    Our new poll is live! Tell us: Does your manager really care what you think and is their door really ‘open’? Results published in next week’s ChallengeBlog …

    _______________________________________ 

    Challenge Consulting has a Facebook page. Click the FB icon to “Like” us now and stay in touch re our new blog posts, weekly poll, links and more …


  6. “It’s all about the people”: Why this is the #1 reason people stay in their jobs

    September 20, 2011 by Jenna

    Rather heart-warmingly, this is how one of our “What’s the #1 reason you stay in your job” online poll respondents succinctly put it. 

    More than a third of respondents chose “I actually like the people I work with” as their #1 reason. Here are the full results: 

    • I actually like the people I work with – 35.2% 
    • I have flexible hours and work arrangements – 17.6% 
    • Other – 17.6% 
    • I actually like the work I do – 11.7% 
    • The money: I am paid above-market rate – 5.8% 
    • My manager inspires me – 5.8% 
    • There are opportunities for learning – 2.9% 
    • I am too lazy to look for another job – 2.9% 
    • There are opportunities for promotion – 0.0% 
    • The bonus and other financial rewards – 0.0% 

    As much as “Hawaiian Fridays” would also tempt me to stay in an otherwise lacklustre role (as another witty respondent volunteered as their #1 reason), I personally agree that it really is the people you work with that ultimately make or break a job. You could get the best job in the world, but if you then discovered that you’ll also be faced with a team of idiots and a psychopathic manager every day, then you’d probably be out the door again quick smart.

    I’m just saying.

    To further support this, here are some more poll responses:

    • I am blessed to be surrounded with very capable and competent staff.
    • I work with a truly amazing and inspiration group of people from the CEO to the Reception staff. The whole team is there to support each other and we are all working towards the goals. The first company I have worked for in quite a few years that I would be really sad if I ever left!
    • I work for family-owned company that treats its people like family. They reward and recognise many things that I know many other employers simply do not.

    It’s a safe bet that most people consider employee compatibility to be an essential requirement for an optimum work experience. Liking one’s co-workers will likely remain the key to overall job satisfaction as long as people are required to spend a lot of time on the job and work with the same people on a regular basis. It has also been shown to increase productivity, job satisfaction, and even life satisfaction. 

    “Anecdotal evidence throughout the culture suggests that liking one’s co-workers is a cherished benefit and even good for business. For example, the U.S. Army for years ran advertisements using the jingle “Be All You Can Be” until market research indicated that to attract the next generation of personnel, a better approach would be to stress the opportunity to “work with people you like”. Recent recruitment posters feature groups of people working together in a variety of occupations.” [Source]

    “Professor John Lounsbury, Trump University faculty (psychometric assessments) and a professor of psychology  at the University of Tennessee, has conducted extensive research in the area of job satisfaction. He has made some striking findings that suggest a positive correlation between employee compatibility and overall levels of personal satisfaction:

    • Based on a diverse sample of more than 1,100 adults in a variety of occupations, I’ve found that liking the people you work with is substantially related (positively) to overall job satisfaction and moderately related to both career satisfaction and life satisfaction.
    • Also, people who rate higher on the following traits tend to like the people they work with more: resilient/emotionally well-adjusted, extraverted-outgoing, agreeable, optimistic.
    • There are no differences in liking coworkers for males versus females, and workers age 20-29 like the people they work with more them those age 30-39. [Source]

    Whilst we’re on the topic of happy teams and staff morale, next week we’ll be looking at whether or not employers should foot the bill for their company’s Christmas party. What do you think? Have your day in this week’s online poll

    ____________________________________________________________

    Challenge Consulting has a Facebook page. Click the FB icon to “Like” us now and stay in touch re our new blog posts, weekly poll, links and more …




SUBSCRIBE Join Our Mail List
Border Background