Menu

Ideas for Helping Remote Colleagues Bond

Research consistently shows that remote employees tend to feel excluded from the company culture. Remote workers report feeling as if they are not treated equally and often fear that their colleagues are working against them. When a problem arises, nearly half of remote workers let it fester for weeks or more.

To improve workplace integration, my company experimented with several ways to bring our distributed workers together, including virtual coffees, book clubs, and executive-led webinars focused on values. Some of these efforts revved up the team temporarily, but they didn’t solve the culture problems that are inherent to having a large remote workforce.

We realized that we needed to create a “beyond remote” workforce by coming together and creating an environment of bona fide cohesion and trust through meaningful relationships and conversations. Of all the methods we tried to bring scattered workers together, here are the two strategies that brought us the most success in terms of increasing engagement:

Generate structured conversations around shared content. We set out to generate deeper conversations among coworkers through virtual meetings structured loosely like a book club, but with a wider variety of content and platforms. For example, we had everybody watch the same TED talk, read the same book or article, or take the same online learning course. Then, we met via video conference and asked everybody to share a reaction, with one person speaking and then choosing the next contributor to speak for about the same length of time. This selection process had the additional benefit of showing where social bonds are strongly developed or where they might need further development.

We found success in encouraging discussion and openness by starting with icebreaker questions as simple as “How did you take your coffee this morning?” If two people use oat milk, they might infer that they both value health, promoting further sharing and bonding. If we discuss an article’s advice and ask, “Have you used these skills in your personal life?” we hear stories that reveal much more of the whole person and provide a greater glimpse into that person’s character. Gathering this kind of direct knowledge about coworkers creates the kind of trust that’s especially important in global teams.

Use online games to help build trust. While this may sound unconventional, playing a video game — one chosen for its ability to force collaboration and to place the team in scenarios that are destined to fail — helps to build trust and reveal how the team will handle negative pressures. In her book, Learning to Learn and the Navigation of Moods: The Meta-Skill for the Acquisition of Skills, Gloria Flores discusses how the negative emotions that crop up when learning something new can block skill development. She stresses the importance of tools and prompts to help us push through. The gaming framework does just that: It allows team members to work through and even utilize the negative emotions that can arise during the learning process.

Deliberately choose a game that forces as many of your team members as possible to get out of their comfort zones. It’s essential to create the equivalent amount of stress and the possibility of failure that exist at work. Imagine that the team is trying to get into a dungeon, but is failing, and I’m yelling, “Your cannon wasn’t in the right spot, and we’re not coordinating. If you would only listen to me, maybe we’d get there!” Suddenly, that’s an interesting conversation point: You think you’re always right? Are you coordinating well? Are you giving good instructions and requests? Are people responding to you? Failures, and people’s reactions to them, inspire much better conversations, as the team dynamics involved in game challenges often mimic the dynamics of work challenges.

Initially, we tried multiplayer games that included a mission for the team — think Fortnite or League of Legends — but our workers weren’t failing enough. To heighten the situation, we switched to more complex games like Factorio that can stump even software developers who are more used to gaming. Adding this complexity provided a place where the team could safely learn from failures. In these heightened environments, people learned that they needed to speak up the moment they foresaw trouble, so they could renegotiate and form new goals or forge new paths. That alone has had a huge impact on interpersonal and work relationships within our own company.

While book clubs and gaming together may feel like they don’t belong on company time, they have given our company a sense of cohesion and retention that had been missing. Our turnover had been significantly higher than the already high average in the software industry, and our retention rate has since improved. These tactics were a critical part of driving that number down. We’ve also seen a marked increase in progress on ongoing projects — even those had been sitting on the back burner for a long time — and greater employee engagement. With these improvements, we’ve been able to set, and meet, new standards for ourselves. Coming together for non-work activities enhanced our ability to coalesce around our common goals as a company.


Kuty Shalev is the founder of Clevertech, a New York City-based firm that designs, develops, and deploys strategic software for businesses that want to transform themselves using the power of the web.


 
Read more...

If Your Innovation Effort Isn’t Working, Look at Who’s on the Team

An all-star team is making headway with a new initiative that could alter the future of the organization. Spirits are optimistic and the team is successfully maneuvering through new, yet very promising, territory. Then, the results begin taking longer than anticipated to prove, and after too much time spent outside of their comfort zones, the team of high-achieving employees can’t seem to execute within the uncertain environment.

The team’s outlook shifts and it becomes clear that the group will not be able to weather the storm of uncertainty needed to realize this new organizational opportunity.

How could such a capable team fail?

At the heart of many organizations is a deeper problem that blocks transformation: product/function organizational structure. This structure works in well-understood environments, where maximizing delivery of a product or service is the goal, but transformative projects require the organization to return to a more malleable state. This challenge requires teams that are formed through a re-matching of resources and employee capabilities.

Transformation-capable teams are made up of people who are not only high performers, but who hold a unique balance of skills and mindsets that allow them to sustain focus, agility, and optimism in the face of uncertainty for prolonged periods of time. Ultimately, not all top-performing employees are equipped for this.

In our book, Leading Transformation: How to Take Charge of Your Company’s Future, we highlight certain capabilities to search for and cultivate while building a transformative team. Specifically, there are three unique characteristics that will play critical roles as a team takes on a breakthrough initiative.

Negative capability: being comfortable with uncertainty

The term “negative capability” was coined by the poet John Keats while describing writers like Shakespeare who were able to work within uncertainty and doubt. Keats was describing the ability to accept not having an immediate answer and to remain willing to explore how something may evolve before there is a clear outcome.

In the modern context, negative capability can be thought of as the ability to be comfortable with uncertainty, even to entertain it, rather than to become so anxious by its presence that you have to prematurely race to a more certain, yet suboptimal, conclusion. Whereas many people cannot stand the fuzziness of uncertainty, those who demonstrate negative capabilities can facilitate the exploration of new terrain and the discovery of an adjacent possible opportunity.

Individuals with negative capability remain curious and focused even when your project is far from the end goal. Chances are, they will even find this point of the project enthralling, rather than overwhelming, which is exactly what you want. They will also be able to suspend judgement about an end result and stay open to many possible outcomes, rather than become fixed early on to one version of success.

Chaos pilots: leading and executing in unfamiliar territory  

In 1991, Danish politician and social worker Uffe Elbæk took out a $100,000 personal loan to open an unusual business school called Kaospilot. The vision of the business school was inspired by a previous project of Elbæk’s, where he observed a new skill set in students for navigating uncertain problems and saw the opportunity to teach these skills to business leaders who needed to do the same. Chaos pilot is a perfect label for a specific persona needed on a transformative team.

Chaos pilots are people who can creatively lead a project through uncertainty. They have negative capability, but they also have other critical skills, such as the ability to create structure within chaos and take action. Leaders who are chaos pilots are able to drive a team forward on a project even as the environment around them fluctuates.

Although it may sound glamorous to be such a person, being a chaos pilot is hard — they are the colleagues working on ambiguous projects and frequently getting beat up in the process. People who aren’t capable of being chaos pilots quickly flounder when the environment around the project gets shaky.

Chaos pilots often care more about creating meaningful change than about climbing a corporate ladder or getting another star on their charts. Finding chaos pilots to join you can be challenging and requires observation and experimentation, though there are a few fertile places to look for good candidates.

For example, look for people who are getting mixed performance reviews, but who are still highly prized by the organization. Often, these people are getting mixed reviews because they make those around them uncomfortable — because the potential candidates often challenge the status quo — but they continue to succeed, because they perform so well.

Divergent thinking, convergent action, and influential communication

Finally, there are three neuropsychological traits to seek while building a transformative team. These three traits — divergent thinking, convergent action, and influential communication — all play a crucial role to succeeding in innovation and transformation. While many individuals hold one or two of these skills, finding a person with all three is more challenging, yet optimal.

The first of the three, divergent thinking, is the ability to uniquely connect new information, ideas, and concepts that are usually held far apart. People with this skill can match dissimilar concepts in novel and meaningful ways and uncover new opportunities that others may overlooked.

Convergent action, the second trait, is the ability to execute on these new ideas in order to create something tangible. Though many people can come up with great ideas, it is often those with convergent action who will move that new concept from idea to product. Last, having the ability to communicate ideas in a coherent, compelling, and influential way is paramount. This trait will inspire other leaders and decision-makers to believe, support, and act on a novel idea or opportunity.

Similar to how many transformative business opportunities are found in unlikely places, the same is true about where you may find the best-suited team members to drive forward a promising new initiative.

Each organizational project represents a moment of potential transformation, and each successful project helps an organization self-correct away from becoming a calloused machine executing on routine, and instead become what they need to survive: a malleable organization capable of capturing new opportunities.


Nathan Furr is an assistant professor of strategy at INSEAD and a coauthor of Leading Transformation: How to Take Charge of Your Company’s Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2018).


Kyle Nel is the CEO and cofounder of Uncommon Partners, a behavioral transformation consultancy, the former executive director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs, and a coauthor of Leading Transformation: How to Take Charge of Your Company’s Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2018).


Thomas Zoëga Ramsøy is the founder and CEO of Neurons Inc. He is a coauthor of Leading Transformation: How to Take Charge of Your Company’s Future (HBR Press, 2018).

 

Read more...

When One Person’s High Performance Creates Resentment in Your Team

  • Category Teams

Organizations face a dilemma in their hunt for talent. They pursue the proverbial “best and brightest” who can outsell, outthink, and outproduce their peers. So they spend sizable resources to attract and retain high performers who stand out. But often these organizations also want teams that function in solidarity. So they place their prized recruits in collaborative groups and tell them to fit in.

Many managers miss or underestimate the potential harm to high performers from their teams. Often with good intentions, managers set up high performers as targets for sabotage, aggression, and exclusion. As the Japanese proverb warns: “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.”

Some high performers exit their organizations to escape such negative social consequences. Those who stay often flounder without peer support. Research estimates over 30% of high performers feel a lack of engagement at work, and 25% expect to work elsewhere within a year.

 With the rise in collaborative models of work, the problem gets worse. Our research, forthcoming in the Journal of Applied Psychology, suggests that an emphasis on teamwork in the modern workplace has amplified the risks for high performers. That’s partly because high performance is relative and based on social comparison. In communities with frequent interaction, opportunities for such comparison increase.

We draw our insights from a field study of 414 stylists at 120 Taiwanese salons, followed by an experiment involving 284 business students in the United States. The salons offered a context that reflects many characteristics of workgroups: a socially dynamic, open environment where stylists worked both individually and interdependently. Rewards were also determined based on both individual contribution and collective success. To cross-validate findings from the field study, we then chose a complementary approach: a controlled experiment among MBAs where we could randomly assign conditions (i.e., more cooperative or a more competitive group norms) and manipulate the individual performance feedback after tasks. Our evidence from both the field study and the experiment points to a clear social downside of high achievement, as peers were more likely to belittle, insult, and damage the reputation of high performers. In addition, we found that the social penalty increases in more collaborative workgroups.

One obvious trigger for the undermining behavior is envy. People led by their emotions often smile at the misfortune of others. But our study suggests that something even more sinister may be at play: peers may lash out against high performers as a strategic, calculated act.

High performers often receive first choice of scarce resources such as high-profile work assignments and preferred customer accounts, which can spark threat perceptions among peers. High performers may also shatter performance standards, create more work, and raise expectations for the group. Nobody likes “rate busters” on unionized factory floors, for example, or “troublemakers” who expose incompetence and ignorance.

This tension is heightened in collaborative communities, where peers may see themselves as acting selflessly on behalf of the team when they knock down high performing outliers who threaten solidarity.

But that’s just half the story revealed in our research findings. Self-interest also simultaneously pulls peers in the opposite direction: toward supporting the high performers in their midst. Regardless of envy and potential threats, high performers create perks for their teams like greater access to resources and greater leader satisfaction with the group.

High performers may also earn rewards on behalf of others, like when honor roll students do the bulk of the work on group projects at school or when all-star athletes carry their teams to victory. Benchwarmers don’t complain when championship rings get passed around.

The benefits point to an important paradox in our findings. The same high achievers targeted for sabotage simultaneously earn higher levels of support. Love and hate coexist, largely because peers view high performers as both threatening and beneficial to their careers.

Such contradictions take a toll. Research suggests that experiencing both friendly and hostile responses from the same source can be disorienting and more harmful to one’s work and health than hostility alone. This is because the inconsistent messages increase interpersonal uncertainty as well as cognitive and emotional burdens.

Managers who want to both maintain high returns and hang on to their high performers should anticipate that high performers will draw fire, clarify that undermining high performance will not be tolerated, and be prepared to lend high performers emotional support.

Beyond that, our research suggests two broad categories of intervention based on the understanding that peers’ treatment of high performers follows rational assessments of threats and benefits.

First, managers can address peer concerns that high performers threaten their welfare and resources. One approach might be to create a more balanced performance review system that values team members’ contributions beyond task accomplishment — the dimension that most favors high performers.

Organizational citizenship behaviors like helping others, making constructive suggestions, and being a good sport also matter in business, helping to lubricate the social machine of the organization. High performers sometimes forget these dimensions, focusing on tasks and ignoring people.

Second, and more importantly, managers can cultivate the understanding that everyone wins with high performers on the team, despite the reality that equal allocation of resources within a group is not always feasible or fair. To balance the inevitable peer perception of threat, managers can emphasize the upside.

For example, high performers bring expertise, experiences and connections that often translate into better team reputation, goal accomplishment and overall performance — all of which benefit everyone on the team. Managers can further facilitate the transfer of benefits by setting up star performers as mentors, allowing peers to learn and improve.

Along similar lines, managers can help high performers help themselves by coaching them to demonstrate prosocial values and behaviors. When high performers have others’ best interests at heart, they become less likely to hoard credit and dismiss team contributions, thus reducing their chances of being perceived as a threat to the team.

Managers should pay particular attention to these issues in workplace cultures that emphasize harmony and cooperation. The key is helping the team recognize that the benefits may outweigh the threats when they collaborate with high performers.

Hot shots who can deliver results are valuable, hard to retain, and costly to replace. So managers of high performers should stay vigilant, watch for signs of isolation and disengagement, and intervene early to cultivate and protect their investment. Along with the Japanese proverb, they should heed the wisdom of a similar saying: “Tall trees catch much wind.”

Hui Liao is the Smith Dean’s Professor in Leadership and Management at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business

Elizabeth Campbell is an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management

Aichia Chuang is a distinguished professor at the National Taiwan University’s College of Management

Jing Zhou is the Houston Endowment Professor at the Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business

Yuntao Dong is an assistant professor of management in the School of Business at the University of Connecticut.

 

HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW: https://hbr.org/2017/04/when-one-persons-high-performance-creates-resentment-in-your-team

Read more...

How to Handle Underperformers on a Team You Inherit

Recently I was talking with a new manager about the team she had inherited. While she thought that most of the team members were doing a good job, she was concerned that one or two people were not pulling their weight. She wasn’t sure what to do about them. She was worried that if she fired these people, or even put them on notice, it would sink morale and others would worry about losing their jobs, too. She also didn’t want to come across as mean and insensitive so early on, because she wanted her team to like her. But she knew that if she didn’t do something, the team might not hit its goals.

These concerns probably sound familiar to any new manager. Suddenly, instead of focusing only on your own performance, you have to make sure that other people are performing. Instead of building relationships with one or two coworkers, now you have to think about how you relate to the whole team. It’s not an easy transition. In order to manage it successfully, there are two principles you should keep in mind.

Principle number one is to remember that as a manager, your primary responsibility is to the organization and the achievement of its performance targets. Your job is not to compete for the “most popular manager” award or to make things easy for your team. Principle number two is that your success depends on the success of your team members. You need to help them achieve their individual and collective targets and feel good about the company — but you can’t do their jobs for them. If someone can’t perform, you have to find someone else who can, or you’ll be putting your own success at risk.

Applying these principles means that you have to be, in the words of Jack Welch, hardheaded and softhearted. You have to prioritize the team achieving its goals and everyone performing at the required level. But in order to do this, you have to set your team members up for success. This means understanding each person’s individual style, personality, and capabilities — and what they need to be successful.

Let’s go back to this new manager’s dilemma. She should not let the weaker performers on her team off the hook. This would not only put her and the team at risk of missing their goals but also send a message to other members that she is not serious about achieving the targets. Some employees may resent the fact that they have to work hard while others can slack off. Eventually they too might feel they can get away with underperforming. So not dealing with poor performers can be worse for morale and overall team performance than confronting the issue directly.

At the same time, the new manager shouldn’t judge the underperformers too quickly by assuming they are not capable or motivated. She shouldn’t assume that they can’t do better or aren’t the right people for the job. Instead, she should consider the potential reasons for their performance. Maybe the previous manager hadn’t insisted on high performance, or hadn’t trained them properly, or hadn’t given them the tools they needed.

So what should the new manager do? First, she needs to make her expectations about high performance clear to everyone on the team. She should create a performance “contract” with the team that lays out the overall goals and what each person needs to contribute to reach them. This contract might also include the behaviors that are expected.

Based on these requirements, she then needs to meet with the “problem” performers one-on-one to find out what’s going on. What do they need in order to get to a higher level? How can she help? Are they willing to do what’s needed to step up? For example, some people, when confronted honestly and constructively with high performance requirements, will start talking about whether there might be other jobs that better fit their skills. Others might raise the question of whether they have the capacity to work at that level. And still others, in the best scenario, will be excited about the challenge and will want to talk about what they have to do in order to improve.

For those team members who are ready to move forward, the manager has to establish an action plan and timeline for getting them to acceptable performance. This might include formal training, peer coaching, observation, future feedback sessions, or any number of other supportive steps. And for those who are not willing to put in the work, the manager has to move forward with replacing them or redistributing their work to others.

What’s important is that a manager do this transparently and quickly — in a matter of days, or weeks at the most. Creating the expectation for high performance and doing what’s necessary to help your team be successful is a critical skill for anyone managing others. So learning how to do it at the beginning of your managerial career will serve you well not only in this first job but also in many to come.

Ron Ashkenas is a Partner Emeritus at Schaffer Consulting. He is a co-author of The GE Work-Out and The Boundaryless Organization. His latest book is Simply Effective: How to Cut Through Complexity in Your Organization and Get Things Done.

 

HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW: https://hbr.org/2017/06/how-to-handle-underperformers-on-a-team-you-inherit?referral=00563&cm_mmc=email-_-newsletter-_-daily_alert-_-alert_date&utm_source=newsletter_daily_alert&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=alert_date&spMailingID=17463422&spUserID=OTA1Njk1ODMwMAS2&spJobID=1041158494&spReportId=MTA0MTE1ODQ5NAS2

 

Read more...