Thursday, January 31, 2013

Doesn't Your $500,000 AV Project Deserve a Solid Team?

In all areas of business, understanding of how teams function, having efficient and effective team processes as well as a solid understanding of what these processes are can lead to effectively meeting project goals.
Sure, individuals make high quality decisions everyday in business but the truth of the matter is, the tasks related to these individual decisions are relatively simple1. The more complex the tasks, the greater the need for a team.  With the potential of hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake in AV system projects, isn't it worth it to consider building a solid project management team?

Having a solid team allows the team leader to draw from a diverse area of experts, it opens up alternative suggestions that may not have been thought of before and allows for a systematic process of achieving specific goals. It should be noted, however, that just because a 'team' is assembled doesn't necessarily guarantee effective results. Often the result of 'throwing together' a team is the much maligned management by committee

In order to gain a broader perspective of team processes we can consider four main aspects2 that have a considerable effect on team effectiveness.

1.  Have a Rigorous Decision-Making Process - At the heart of any team is a solid decision making process.  Without a systematic way of arriving at the best possible solution, the success of a team is dubious at best.  Having a solid decision-making process also helps to avoid certain pitfalls that may side track a team.  One common pitfall is the solution trap.  It is human nature to want to provide an immediate solution to the problem at hand.  Often times the first solution seems so reasonable that it gains favor with group members but this only exacerbates the situation and may lead to the team not considering better alternatives.

There are many wonderful decision making models that can cure the solution trap and they all minimally rely on problem identification, generating solutions (as in more than one), refining solutions and implementing solutions.  One of my favorites is the PrOACT Approach as detailed in Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions.3

2.  Observe and Analyze Participation - Who participates in the group? To what extent do they participate? Is it the same people every time? The goal here is to level the playing field of team member participation.  This is easier said than done as cultural and gender differences can affect participation.4  How do we level the playing field? The first step is to observe your team and understanding how individuals in the group contribute.  For example, one person may be assertive and direct while another reserved but detailed.  The next step is to determine how wide the participation gaps are.  There will always be some level of disparity but glaring discrepancies should tell you that you have some work to do.  Finally, if needed, we can narrow the gaps by implementing a number of strategies.  For example, the team leader may act as a mediator, so-to-speak, in order to make sure that all points of view are taken into account.  Another idea is to provide a framework, such as Six Thinking Hats, that relies on input from a number of perspectives.  If you have a pessimist on your team, great! give 'em the black hat of looking at a solution cautiously and defensively.

3.  Influence -  Participation relates to the level at which team members offer input, and influence describes the ability of team members to capture and engage fellow team members.  While influence certainly is welcome we must not allow it to circumvent the process. In other words, consider the 'influencer's' opinion but don't allow it to exclude other opinions.  One way to avoid over-influencing is to purposely comment on opinions that are being overlooked.  This not only sends a message to the group that there is an even playing field but also allows all alternatives to be considered.  As world chess champion Emanuel Lasker once said "when you see a good move, look for a better one."

4.  Conflict Management - “A good manager doesn't try to eliminate conflict; he tries to keep it from wasting the energies of his people..." - Robert Townsend. 

In order to build a cohesive team we must learn how to manage conflict.  There are a number of excellent conflict management models available but you should choose one that leads to productive conflict 5.  For more information see previous blog on Conflict Management Models

The goal of any project is to arrive at the best possible outcomes for a wide variety of decisions that have to be made. Considering these four concepts as it pertains to your team should provide the framework needed to reach these solutions.  

1.  David L. Bradford, "Building High-Performance Teams," The Portable MBA in Management. Allen R. Cohen (ed.), New York: Wiley. 1993: 38-70

2.  The four concepts presented here are an adpatation based on Four Aspects of Team Process That Have a Profound Influence on Team Effectiveness as outlined in Harvard Business School: Organizational Behavior Cases, "A Note on Team Process," Effective Team Process, The McGraw-Hill Companies, October 4, 2001

3.  John S. Hammond, Ralph L. Keeney, Howard Raiffa, "Eight Keys to Effective Decision Making, "Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions", Boston MA.: 1999: 6-7

4.  Participation as outlined in Harvard Business School: Organizational Behavior Cases, "A Note on Team Process," Effective Team Process, The McGraw-Hill Companies, October 4, 2001

5.  Folger, Poole & Stutman, Working Through Conflict - Strategies for Relationships, Groups and Organizations; 2005 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Team Dynamics: What Type of Leader are you? (Part II)

The previous blog introduced basic concepts of leadership and the 'space' that leadership qualities are drawn from.  Today we will discuss what makes an effective leader.

There are five key roles to an effective manager:

1.  Edgy Catalyser role

2.  Visionary Motivator role

3.  Measured Connector role

4.  Tenacious Implementer role

5.  Thoughtful Architect role

The Edgy Catalyser

The edgy catalyser leader wants to ensure that things are done right and will face the tough questions to ensure projects are on track. “In this role, the leader has the uncanny ability to ask just the right penetrating question, point the finger at one part of the organization, or question the accepted wisdom of the business in order to get people to see that things might need to change.”1 This particular type of leader clearly sees where the structure, systems, infrastructure or people are failing. A catalyser leader enjoys conflicts and arguments.

The Edgy Catalyser Leader Overview:

  • Ask the difficult, penetrating questions.
  • Spot dysfunction and resistance.
  • Create discomfort and unease when things aren’t improving.
  • Focus on ‘discomfort’.” (Cameron)


Visionary Motivator

The visionary motivator is seen to be the most adaptable and well-liked role within an organization. This leadership style can picture the future, help develop effective motivators who in turn work well with people. The visionary is very good at receiving the respect and trust of others that will ensure successful team dynamics.  

Visionary Motivator Leader Overview:
  • Articulates a compelling picture of the future.
  • Energizes groups of people and engages them.
  • Holds the vision long enough and strong enough for others to step into.
  • Focuses on the ‘buy-in’.” (Cameron, p. 48)


Measured Connector

The measured connector leader focuses on creating a common sense of meaning. This leadership style is good at multitasking and creating trust amongst subordinates to get things moving forward. The common motivator will influence and encourage people to move towards common areas of interest. Letting people reflect on their roles and activities will allow the team to broaden their perspectives. (Cameron, p. 62) 

Measured Connector Leader Overview:

  •  Reinforces what’s important and establishes a few simple rules.
  •  Calmly influences complex change activity through focused reassurance.
  •  Connects people and agendas.
  •  Focuses on ‘connectivity’.” (Cameron, p. 61)


Tenacious Implementer

“The Tenacious Implementer makes sure things get done. In this role, the leader is seen as the driving force for the implementation of the agreed plan. This is often described as the classic Project Manager or Program(me) Manager role. These leaders are renowned for their ability to mobilize other people in service of a plan. They know the milestones, understand the key aims and are au fait with enough of the technical information behind the project that they can be useful integrators at a top level when needed.” (Cameron, pp. 73-74) · Doggedly pursues the plan. 

Tenacious Leader Overview:

  •  Holds people to account.
  •  Leads by driving a project through to completion.
  •  Focuses on ‘the project’ (Cameron p. 73).


Thoughtful Architect

The thoughtful architect is principal architect and designer of strategies.

Thoughtful Architect Overview: 

  • Crafts seemingly disparate ideas into a way forward.
  • Scans the environment, sees what’s happening in the environment and creates an organizing framework.
  • Focuses on ‘the design’. (Cameron, p. 86)

What type of leader are you?

1. Cameron, E., Green, M. (2007, p. 19). Making sense of leadership: exploring the five key roles used by effective leaders. London, Philadelphia Kogan Page, 2008.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Marketing & Strategy Blog: Team Dynamics: There is no "I" in Team (Part I)

Marketing & Strategy Blog: Team Dynamics: There is no "I" in Team (Part I): In its simplest terms , a team is “two or more individuals associated in some joint action.” A more concise definition of a team is “a gro...

Team Dynamics: There is no "I" in Team (Part I)

In its simplest terms, a team is “two or more individuals associated in some joint action.” A more concise definition of a team is “a group of two or more individuals engaged in some joint action with a specific mission or goal".  When we talk of team dynamics we include motivating and driving forces that propel a team toward its goal or mission1 .

Project strategies, work plans, team processes, team behaviors, and individual human factors are all considered integrated components of a solid project management structure. These components operate within three different spaces. The three spaces of project management include organizational space, personal space, and team space. Team space focuses on team dynamics were interactions between people occur.  

Within the team space there are five essential issues that should be considered:

1. Who am I, Who are you?

2. Who are we together?

3. What are we Here to do?

4. How are we going to do it?

5. How are we doing? Or how did we do?2  

These questions provide teamwork and collaboration amongst team members and ultimately shape the effectiveness of team dynamics. Positive team dynamics increases project performance and success as each individual is responsible for his "space".

Human factors including genetics, values, personalities, experiences, culture, and beliefs also influence team dynamics. Since each person on a team has different human factors that they bring to a team and the fact that they exert full control over this shows that personal space also has a strong influence on team dynamics.

It should be clear that team dynamics and synergy is not something that magically appears but rather a complex mix of individual and group identities as well as the ability to develop clear and concise goals and deciding on a system of checks and balances.

Part II will focus on five key roles of an effective manager.

1.  Eckes, G. (2002). Six sigma team dynamics: The elusive key to project success. John Wiley and Sons.
2Berens, L. V., Ernst, L. K., & Smith, M. A. (2004). Team dynamics: Defining the team essentials for team
     success [Adaptation of: Quick guide to the 16 personality types and teams]

Monday, June 25, 2012

What's the Score? Learning & Growth Perspective

I have always been surprised by the lack of product knowledge that some company salespeople display.  Yes I realize that this is probably a gross generalization but in my professional experience navigating the seemingly mundane waters of information gathering can be treacherous. 

I suppose this began early in my professional career as a design engineer for a sound contractor.  Often I would need information about a product only to be summoned to bureaucratic hell.  Perhaps in an attempt to right past wrongs and to validate a cognitive consumer behavior model based on the theory that consumers are more likely to purchase from companies that provide satisfactory answers to their questions, I always include employee training in my strategic plans.  

Now that I have concluded my rant on the inadequacies of some organizations when it comes to product knowledge, we can get to the crux of the matter. 

The learning and growth perspective of the balanced scorecard seeks to answer the question: How must an organization learn and improve in order to achieve the vision of the company? [1].  An appropriate example is the vision statement of Avon: To be the company that best understands and satisfies the product, service and self-fulfillment needs of women - globally.  In order to best understand the product, service and self-fulfillment needs of women, a clear understanding of product attributes is essential.   

The learning and growth perspective is part of what feeds the internal processes of a company, the way customers view the company and ultimately the financial aspect of of the organization.  In our example, knowing what type of make-up products are right for a certain individual supports the notion (and vision) that Avon is a company who truly understands the needs of their customers (customer perspective).  Furthermore, the company might look at internal processes in which they can excel to achieve their vision (internal perspective).

From a hierarchical point-of-view:

Promotes new customer acquisitions and secures repeat business resulting in increased sales

Customer views the company as one that understands their needs/promotes an image of experience 

Allows management to determine the best processes to follow

Product Training

Hopefully it's clear how a knowledgeable sales staff can provide benefits to your organization on multiple levels.

Further Readings on BSC:

A learning-and-growth metric for strategy-focused organizations
Otto Laske, PhD PsyD.
Personnel Development Consultation
Copyright © Otto Laske, 2001 

       Engineer (economist) Bogza (Cozma) Rodica Maria, PhD
       The Bucharest Academy of Economic Studies

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What's the Score? Keeping Score With the Balanced Scorecard

I used to mention on my profile that I was proficient in balanced scorecard methodology but what does this really mean? 

This seemingly enigmatic term is neither a cipher for readers to figure out nor an attempt to keep tabs on your favorite team at the ball park but rather a strategic planning and management system which provides a way to measure non-tangibles.  

Financial metrics are an indicator of a company's past performance but what about how customers view the company or internal aspects such as employee satisfaction? How critical to the success of an organization are these concepts, and perhaps more importantly, how do we measure such things?

Drs. Robert Kaplan and David Norton have the answer.  They developed the balanced scorecard as a way to develop objectives, metrics, targets and initiatives for non-financial performance issues.  This is not to say that financial measures are not included in the balanced scorecard but rather are only a portion of the overall view of an organization.

The balanced scorecard is separated into four perspectives: Learning & Growth, Internal Processes, Customer Perspective and Financial Perspective.  Each perspective can be seen as a building block for the next.  Concepts in the learning & growth perspective, for example will, in all likelihood, have an affect on how the customer views the organization (customer perspective).

The learning and growth perspective, I feel, is perhaps the most under-rated concept in business today.  In my next blog post we will examine this perspective and see how the concepts here can actually add to a organization's bottom line.   

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Conflict Management Model

Although change is often met with ambivalence, in the confines of the workplace it is inevitable that at some point change will occur. It may not necessarily be the magnitude of the change itself but rather how we manage change. As Leban and Stone suggest, managing change is a disciplined process that directs an organization from its current state to a successful future state [1] . It’s this future state that we should consider as an endpoint for conflict resolution.

Perhaps the most difficult type of change is the reorganization of a company.  Depending on what types of plans were previously implemented this may involve developing or re-evaluating a number of plans, including a communications plan, an organizational plan and/or a strategic business plan.

Often the hardest change to overcome is the implementation of guidelines or rules for each department where previous management favors an outcome control approach to sales, for example The sales department may have a particularly hard time adjusting to this change because in an OC system they may have the autonomy to choose their own sales strategy rather than that of corporate management. Although parameters may be suggested to the salespeople, they are probably vague and rarely followed.

Another potential player in an organizational conflict is a department that works in close contact with corporate management. The purchasing department, for example, typically operates in a more structured manner and pays close attention to how much the company paid for an item and what the salesperson chooses to sell it for (remember in a true OC system the salesperson has autonomy). 
In our example it's clear to see how the OC system that the salesperson works under and the structured style of the purchasing department can cause an organizational impasse.
Rather than concentrating on individual departmental nuances, we should structure our conflict resolution on department commonalities and positive group dynamics through differentiation and integration. The goal, as suggested by Folger, Poole and Stutman, is to choose a conflict management model that ultimately leads to productive conflict [2].

One method we could use is a two phase approach to conflict management. Folger, et al. [2] suggests the first phase include a complete understanding of the participants’ positions, the reasons they believe these positions are correct as well as acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the decisions [3] (differentiation).  In our example a common goal that may come out in the differentiaion phase is an increase in profit.  The purchasing department must acknowledge and accept their role in the process.  Once they understand that they did their part in securing the best price for a product, they have to allow the other departments to opperate in a manner that is accordanance with the organizational plan.  It is in the differentiation phase that all conflict issues are raised and acknowledged.

Phase two includes an integration process where commonalities are found and possible solutions are examined.  This is not to say, however, that all potential solutions are going to be agreed upon.  Sometimes they will but often it's a give and take process.

A number of strategies, including a relational examination of conflict resolution strategies and organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) [4] to determine the best possible solution for the conflict at hand should be considered.

This is of course only one conflict resolution model that can be implemented.  In order to choose the correct model for a given conflict, case studies, problem evaluations’ and the study of all conflict management models should be considered. 

By clearly defining the problem, including understanding all issues from a personal, environmental, cultural, climate, and perspective point of view, we can begin to weed out areas of difference and concentrate on common goals and positive solutions.


1.  Leban & Stone, 2008 Managing Organizational Change, Second Edition
2.  Folger, Poole & Stutman, Working Through Conflict - Strategies for Relationships, Groups and Organizations; 2005 3.  Folger, Poole & Stutman, 2005 (p. 16)
4. “Organizational citizenship behavior (OCB), defined… as behavior that (a) goes beyond the basic requirements of the job, (b) is to a large extent discretionary, and (c) is of benefit to the organization” (Lambert, S.J., 2006, p. 503-525).