Teambuilding or Building Team?

Picture this: eight to ten executives huddled around the base of a table, arms extended, half-smirks line their faces as they try to stay focused on the task at hand: catching their colleague as she falls blindfolded from the table-top into their arms. The message: if one of us falls blindly, or fails to deliver, the rest of us are here to break your fall. Great message, but is it applied practically?

Trust in teams isn’t built in one broad stroke. It’s built up over time, and requires the right amount of dedicated collective attention. A big missed opportunity I see with many leaders is investing real time to develop the team – especially the team at the top.

There is a difference between team-building and the concept of building team:

  • Team-building: an event designed to get people moving, in a novel environment, where parallels can be drawn (sometimes easily, and sometimes with effort) to life back at the office.
  • Building Team: A dedicated effort to build alignment, trust, accountability and relationships required for high performance and success – all in the context of the organization’s strategy. Essentially, it’s ensuring the right people are on the bus… in the right seats… driving in one, clear direction.

There are benefits to both, but when we reflect on the concept of deliberate practice, it’s the constant focus and effort put towards building teams that generates high performance. Geoff Colvin says: “Turning groups of individuals into great teams is a discipline in itself… that’s why the best organizations follow one additional rule: Develop teams, not just individuals.”

So as leaders, what can you do?

  • Be clear on your expectations of the team. Don’t focus only on individual coaching and performance;
  • Address team dynamics with the whole team, not just with individuals;
  • Use every opportunity to build trust – when processes or systems fail, talk with the whole team about what happened and use the opportunity for learning rather than punishment;
  • Engage in high impact conversations as a team – ensure collective accountability for results AND interpersonal impact.

Essentially it comes down to building your collective leadership bench strength – where together you can accomplish more than any one could do individually. That’s the sweet spot of high performance teams… and it takes work.

I’d love to hear from you: what’s the best team you’ve ever been a part of? What made it great?

Boomers, Xers, Nexters and Facebook.

I had lunch this week with a leader-friend of mine who has recently made the shift from CEO to consultant. What he doesn’t miss: The drama that comes with leading in a generational whirlpool.

You’ve heard it before. Today’s workforce is more diverse than ever – with 4, even verging on 5 generations in the workplace at once. My experience working in an organization where 80% of our workforce was Gen Xers and Nexters (aka Millenials), tells me that things aren’t like they used to be. And… It’s a good thing! The ideas and innovation that come with such a diverse mix can be groundbreaking… if it’s harnessed correctly.

According to Linda Duxbury, a University of Carleton professor and expert in organizational health, a generation is formed not because of dates of birth, but rather because of the world events and moments that define their lifetime. At a macro level, life experiences shape our orientation towards the world and our work. Here’s a quick glance at the generations in today’s workforce:

  • The Veterans (born just before or during WWII – 59 +)
  • The Baby Boom (1947 to 1964)
  • The Baby Bust (Generation X) (1961 to 1974)
  • The Echo Boomers (Nexus, Gen Y) (1975 to 1990)

And what we’re seeing now is a new generation entering the workforce… Let’s call them the “Facebook” generation for lack of a better term. More details to come as we learn more about this tech-savvy, compassionate, want-to-make-a-difference-in-the-world cohort…

The applications for leadership? Three words: Pause, Reflect, and Inquire.

  • Before you jump to judgment about that crotchety old boomer in the cubicle next to you, spend a brief moment to pause and think about putting yourself in his or her shoes.
  • When you get annoyed with the need for immediate feedback that so often characterizes a Nexter and now the “Facebook” generation, remember what they’ve grown up with: cell phones, text messaging, twitter – a world full of technology and innovation… they know no different.
  • Check out your own assumptions and treat them as such. Rather than form solid beliefs, take a moment to ask some questions. I bet you’ll learn something new!

Let’s hear about your experiences with generational diversity. Any tips to share?

For more information on Generational Diversity, check out these resources:

Deliberate Practice – Lessons for Leadership

Ever wondered what makes exceptional performers, well… exceptional? I’m in the process of reading Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated and he makes some interesting connections between intelligence and talent. It turns out smarts aren’t the only predictor of high achievement, and in fact, may not be correlated at all.

Colvin goes on to say that it is the act of practicing that leads to high performance and achievement. And, this isn’t just practice for the sake of practice. It’s practice that is deliberate. But what does this mean?

As I sit back and think of all the times I thought I was practicing: scales on the piano, scrimmages in field hockey, running my Sunday long runs to prep for that marathon… all examples of low impact practicing, if we could call it practicing at all!

The concept of deliberate practice, as written by Colvin, contains these five must-have elements:

  • It’s designed specifically to improve performance, and the design is usually facilitated by a teacher, coach or mentor with a vantage point to see you more completely than you may see yourself.
  • It can be repeated… a lot. And this isn’t the mindless task of doing something over and over. It’s intentional repetition, where you are constantly present and at the edge of learning.
  • Feedback is continuously available. While self-assessment often has its place, feedback from an outsider can offer the nuggets that help to improve performance.
  • It’s highly demanding mentally. The focus and concentration of deliberate practice involves constantly seeking out areas to improve and dedicating the right amount of focus and intensity required to get better.
  • It isn’t fun. Doing things we’re good at is fun. Repeating the things we suck at isn’t. Deliberate practice is about seeking out what we’re not good at and doing them over and over. (An interesting perspective compared to Strengthsfinder).

So what does this mean for Leadership? If you’re interested in improving your performance you can start by creating your vision of excellence. This isn’t the results you want to achieve, but rather, the impact you want to have. Then look at your current reality. What are the things that you do, most likely inadvertently, that pull you off course… that inhibit excellence? Seek out feedback. Get a coach. Know that objectivity and an outside view can serve you. Then, begin to create a plan where you work on developing your whole self as a leader – reinforcing your strengths, and getting better at the things you’re not great at. And then…. Repeat!

I’d love to hear your comments on deliberate practice. What do you think leads to high performance?

If you’re interested in learning how Navigo can help increase your leadership performance, drop me an e-mail: esills (at)